Consumers are loyal to Amazon because they see the company as emotionally appealing, a new study finds.

The a.network Brand Trust Index Retail Report by marketing technology developer Soulmates.ai asserts that consumer perception can be measured through a combination of emotional and scientific means.

Decoding Consumer Trust

Soulmates.ai determined the top 10 US retailers by sales revenue and presented 4,054 US consumers with a variety of emotion-based statements designed to measure levels of trust and the underlying reasons. Instead of simply asking whether a consumer trusts a brand or not, respondents were asked to rank how they agreed with statements such as, “[Brand’s] creativity is what makes them a good brand” or “[Brand] is only interested in making money.”

This “read between the lines” approach to brand trust was developed for a.BTI by Galen Buckwalter, Ph.D., chief science advisor at Soulmates.ai and the psychometrician behind eHarmony’s matchmaking technology.

“The process of what I went through in developing a measure of brand trust was exactly the same one I would go through if I were developing a measure of openness in people or honesty,” Dr. Buckwalter told AListDaily.

The a.network Brand Trust Index (a.BTI) defines trust along three key dimensions: Brand Loyalty, Brand Reliance and Emotional Appeal.

Loyalty is earned through shared values and similarities with a consumer and a perceived service competence. Reliance is perceived when a brand consistently meets expectations, which may include social responsibility, honesty, consistent success and innovation. Emotional Appeal, meanwhile, is earned when a brand engages consumers on a social level or gives them something to aspire to.

For this study, survey responses were analyzed and assigned a number in each key dimension. Based on those results, an overall trust score was assigned to each brand.

Rely On Amazon, Aspire To Costco

Out of the 10 retailers in this study, approximately 30 percent of respondents selected Amazon as their most trusted brand. Amazon scored 96 for reliance, 98 in terms of loyalty and 99 overall, 25 points higher than Costco, the next most-trusted brand in the study.

Best Buy, Target and Kohl’s rounded out the top five brands in the a.BTI findings with trust scores of 66, 66 and 63 respectively.

At 60, Apple was one the most polarizing brand in the study, Soulmates.ai said, which is why the brand comes in at the center of the list. Consumers ranked the brand as very high or very low in terms of trust.

Dollar General came in last in terms of consumer trust with an overall score of just 24 but scored higher in individual factors with low-income respondents.

Soulmates.ai found that similar brands can be perceived very differently. For example, Costco scored 73 points in Emotional Appeal compared to Sam’s Club at 57.

Trust Is Like A Cake

“Trust is a very complicated issue [but] can be customizable in terms of how it is relevant to brands,” Soulmates.ai director of analytics and data products Johanna Tam told AListDaily. “Different components of trust are important and that varies across demographics.”

Scoring brand perception varies across demographics like income, gender, political affiliation and age group, Tam noted. “For college students, service competence may not be as important as honesty.”

Brands wanting to shape their image will need to decide which individual trust dimensions are most important.

“For different industries, trust is like baking a cake. You’re going to need eggs, butter, sugar and flour but how much? It depends on what kind of cake you want to make. The idea is that all of these components are important but they have different weights [depending on a brand’s goal].”