Improve Retail Reputation - Lessons from Amazon, Barnes & Noble

US Retail RepTrak Amazon and Barnes and Noble


Corporate reputation in the US took a 3.7-point reputation score dip in 2018, so it’s not surprising that the US retail industry also declined by 1.1-points.

Amazon is down, Barnes & Noble is up. In perhaps a surprising turn, Barnes & Noble beat out Amazon for this year’s most reputable US retail company because it performs stronger on key dimensions like Governance and Citizenship. 

Barnes & Noble has a stronger emotional connection with the general public. Amazon is no slouch. The company outperforms on the rational side of the coin, or book (Nook?) — including the most heavily-weighted dimension of Products/Services, but that’s not enough to win on reputation.

Here’s what the research shows US retail companies can do to improve their reputation in 2018: 

  • What you sell matters. While all dimensions impact reputation, the three that stand out are: Products, Citizenship, and Governance, with Products as the single most important driver, up 1.4% from last year. These three drivers are increasing in their importance since last year, up 1.2% and we predict that they will continue to become more prevalent well into 2019. When we see the change in weights over time, it is increasingly apparent how important Products/Services, Citizenship, and Governance are in impacting reputation. This means US retail companies must: not only offer high-quality Products and Services, but must also behave ethically and be viewed as a positive influence on society.
  • Offer high-quality products at strong value. While the economy is prospering, and wage growth is increasing slightly, US consumers are saddled with more debt now than ever before. Thus, offering products that are a good value is the single most important attribute, impacting 6.6% of retail company reputation. Retail companies must prioritize, as their score in this area has declined since 2017. Retail companies should not only care about this attribute solely because it’s the biggest impactor of reputation, but also because it directly ties to purchase intent. The top 5 companies who score highest on this attribute have an audience with a 4% higher willingness to buy than the rest of retail combined. 
  • Embrace consumption with a conscience. The public increasingly cares about the ethics behind the goods they purchase, wanting to understand if the products are created with integrity and if the companies practice moral policies. If retail companies do not act in such ways, they will lose on reputation. That is why the following Governance and Citizenship attributes are important to the public: positive influence on society, fair business practices, and ethical behavior. The actions leaders take to be a company that shines in these areas are broad - from the way employees are treated to the environmental policies. The general public does not think the retail industry is living up to their expectations. Reputation scores have dropped in these areas, with an average decline of 2.2-points in Governance and Citizenship – a great opportunity for retail companies to grow.
  • ​​​​​​Go beyond products, build brand purpose. Purpose-driven retail companies with enhanced brand strength have a higher reputation. Across the retail industry, brand strength has decreased by 3.6-points since 2017 – during a time when being purposeful is more important than ever. The traits that create brand include: standing out from the crowd, appearing genuine/authentic, and delivering a consistent experience. Companies who do well in these three areas score highly in brand strength. But brand and reputation are complementary; aligning them brings synergy in the minds and hearts of the public.
  • ​​​​​​Deliver a consistent experience. From product quality to digital and brick and mortar shopping and customer support, retail companies must ensure top-notch experiences for their customers or risk losing to competitors in an oversaturated market. Delivering a consistent experience has a +10.1-point pulse score impact on retail companies. Our data is a reinforcement that brand and reputation must be aligned: culture, engagement, what you stand for, how you deliver, all combine to make one consistent and cohesive experience.
  • Attract prospects by understanding what they value. Customers universally give higher scores and higher support than non-customers: they are companies’ brand ambassadors. They act as evangelists and carry their opinion to others, which is arguably the most impactful way to market. However, customers and non-customers prioritize different traits when evaluating reputation. While both non-customers and customers value Products/Services and Governance the highest, their third most influential dimension differs. Customers value Performance while non-customers value Citizenship. To attract non-customers, retail companies must earn high reputation scores in these areas: supporting good causes, having a positive influence on society, and protecting the environment. 

Retail companies have increased their reputation score by 3.5-points since January of this year, however this is not the time the industry to rest on its laurels. US retail companies that ranked high on reputation, outperform primarily because they succeed on the key insights listed above.

As the most reputable in retail, with a score of 81.3, Barnes & Noble is the only company with a reputation score in the excellent range, and the #2 company in delivering a consistent experience. Barnes & Noble appeals strongly to the emotional component of reputation, playing off nostalgic ideas of what books and imagination mean to the American public.

Download the full US Retail Report

Meghan Burke

  Meghan Burke

  Research Analyst
  Reputation Institute

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