Amazon is No. 1 again. For the second year in a row the online retail behemoth takes the top slot in a comprehensive company reputation survey conducted by Reputation Institute (RI), an 18-year-old reputation management consulting firm based in New York and Copenhagen. RI surveyed more than 23,750 U.S. consumers between March 19 and May 1 about their feelings about some 600 big companies, in an effort to glean which companies consumers most trust, admire and respect.
According to RI’s head of research Brad Hecht, the general public doesn’t care about the negatives associated with Amazon, like the fact that it has run hundreds of small bookshops and other mom-and-pop stores out of business, that it’s invited negative publicity about working conditions in its vast warehouses or that it’s strong-armed publishers like Hachette over the price of e-books. “Amazon provides an excellent, high-quality product and service,” he says. “The company itself and the mantra of the CEO are entirely focused on the consumer.”
To put together its list, RI looked at consumers’ perceptions of companies. That contrasts with other good-company lists we cover, like the most ethical or most trustworthy rankings, which examine corporate responsibility programs and accounting transparency. Rather RI has come up with a survey that asks respondents to answer four basic statements: “I trust this company,” “I admire and respect this company,” “I have a good feeling about this company,” and “This company has an overall good reputation.” (There is a threshold question that screens for companies the respondents know well.) The respondents rate each statement on a scale of one to seven. Then they rate seven different statements including, “this company makes or sells innovative products or innovates in the way it does business.” Each company earns points on a scale of 100. This year Amazon got a score of 84.08, up nearly two points from 2014.
Full disclosure: Forbes allows Reputation Institute to use the Forbes brand on its literature when it distributes the report and companies that promote the report using the Forbes logo when touting their reputation ranking, pay Forbes a licensing fee. A colleague in charge of licensing tells me this is standard practice for such lists. But I guarantee that company payments do not affect my reporting on any of these companies. One other aspect of the list that’s important to note: Many of the companies, including three in the top 10—Lego, Hershey and Levi Strauss—are RI clients and the list clearly promotes RI’s consulting business. Amazon is not a client.
It’s striking that Amazon invites such admiration from consumers when the company is not known for philanthropic or corporate responsibility efforts. The Amazon Smile program, where you order select products through the Amazon smile portal, allows you to donate .5% of the price of eligible purchases to charities like Doctors Without Borders, but I’d wager that most customers don’t go to the trouble to use this feature. (Writing this prompts me to do so in the future.) Hecht says that what puts Amazon on top, aside from its great service, low prices and vast selection, is CEO Bezos’s openness about how his top priority is to benefit buyers. “Consumers have an overwhelmingly positive experience with this company,” he says.
In second place: Kellogg’s, the cereal maker that traces its roots to 1898 when brothers W.K. Kellogg and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg accidentally flaked wheat berry and created Kellogg’s corn flakes. Customers like the folksy history but the company has had to confront the fact that many of its cereals, like Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, are packed with sugar and processed carbohydrates. “They’ve made a conscious decision to get in front of the health perception challenge,” says Hecht, like producing a Frosted Flakes alternative that’s made with whole grains and reduced sugar, and a brand of Special K that is billed as “high protein.” Also the company’s W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports causes related to the company’s products, like education and nutrition and poverty-alleviation programs aimed at families with young kids. “The foundation seems authentic in a way that reinforces Kelloggs’ positive reputation,” says Hecht.
At Lego, No. 3 on the list, Hecht points out that 11 years ago, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy, but it has come surging back with an emphasis on educational play among children and families. “Lego has been able to ride the wave of the idea that it is more than just a toy but a toy company that’s focused on learning as you play,” he says. It’s also released building block sets for older children, like its architecture series, which includes models of the UN building, the Sydney Opera House and the Guggenheim museum. Then there was the popular Lego movie in early 2014 that catered to all ages.