Companies With the Best (and Worst) Reputations

24/7 Wall St.

American consumers have a higher opinion of Amazon.com than any other company. For the second year in a row, the online retailer held the top slot, beating out popular brands like Apple, Coca-Cola and Walt Disney, according to the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient survey.

Many of the nation’s most reputable companies are major players in the technology sector. Microsoft, Sony, Samsung and Apple make the computers, smartphones and TVs that many Americans enjoy in their spare time.

In most cases, these companies are also market leaders for these popular products. Samsung and Apple are the number one and two sellers of smartphones globally, while Microsoft and Sony make the two most popular video game consoles.

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According to Robert Fronk, Senior Vice President at Nielsen, what distinguishes the nation’s most reputable companies is that they are able to transcend their industry. Referring to Amazon and Apple, he asked, “are they still technology companies?” These companies “hit on some of the best attributes of different industries and, combining that with a customer focus, certainly have a leg-up on positive reputation.”

Top rated companies often emphasize social responsibility as well. Notably, Whole Foods’ perceived dedication to social responsibility -- which outranks every other company, according to the Harris Poll -- helped make it one of the nation’s most reputable companies. Such dedication clearly resonates with many consumers. Two separate groups tracking brand valuation, Interbrand and BrandZ, both cite Whole Foods’ commitment to healthy and organic food as driving the strength of the company’s brand.

A number of companies with weak reputations are in the financial services industry. This year, Bank of America, AIG, Goldman Sachs, and J.P. Morgan Chase all had some of the worst reputations among the nation’s most visible companies. During the financial crisis, each of these firms received money from the federal government as part of its efforts to stabilize the U.S. economy following the 2008 financial crisis.

Some companies with poor reputations might not have been among the nation’s most visible if it wasn't for certain events that triggered public scrutiny. Halliburton, which provides services to oil-producing companies, does not do business with the public directly. The public became aware of the company after its former CEO Dick Cheney was elected Vice President and Halliburton won controversial contracts in Iraq. Similarly, Goldman Sachs and Monsanto provide services and products that do not target end consumers, but both have among the worst reputations.

A number of the companies with the worst reputations, however, did have customer-facing lines of business. These include Sears, DISH Network, Sprint, and two major banks -- Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase. And many of these companies scored poorly for customer satisfaction, measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). A high share of customers also gave DISH and Bank of America a “poor" grade for their customer service, according to a survey published by MSN and conducted by Zogby Analytics.

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Long held negative opinions about some companies continue to haunt them. While Monsanto has played a prominent role in the debate regarding genetically modified crops, according to Fronk, Halliburton’s reputation “is one of the most perplexing.” Fronk noted that the company is not consumer-facing, and while some companies “spend a fortune to actually be known, Halliburton does everything possible to not be known.”

Still, in many instances, companies -- even in the financial sector -- have been able to improve their rankings. Fronk noted that the four largest gainers in the study “were all financial services [companies]: AIG, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.” He added that, while challenges for the financial sector persist, “perhaps there is a sneak peak of light coming through the dark cloud that has hung over the industry the last five or six years.”

To determine America’s most and least reputable companies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ), which has measured how Americans perceive the most visible U.S. companies every year since 1999. The study consists of two parts: a nominations stage in which consumers identify the nation’s most visible companies, followed by a ratings stage in which each company’s reputation is measured. Scores consist of six dimensions of how customers perceive companies: social responsibility; emotional appeal; products & services; vision & leadership; financial performance; and workplace environment.

These are the companies with the best and worst reputations.

Companies with the Best Reputations

10. Sony
> Reputation score: 79.77
> 2013 score: 78.29

While the Japanese electronics giant slipped from its spot as the eighth most reputable company in 2013 to 10th most this year, its reputation score improved slightly. Last year, Sony Corp. (SNE) released the PlayStation 4, the largest console launch in video game history. The launch may have helped the company further entrench its reputation. This month, Sony announced it had sold 7 million PlayStation 4 units. In January, Microsoft reported that it had only sold 3 million of its competing Xbox units through the end of 2013. Additionally, nearly 35% of consumers rated Sony’s customer service as “excellent”, according Zogby Analytics, more than most other major companies. Still, Sony may not be the consumer products behemoth it once was. Apple and Samsung, for instance, received higher ratings from consumers for the reputation of their products and services. According to Interbrand, the value of Sony’s brand has fallen considerably and is worth barely half of what it was in 2000.

9. Microsoft
> Reputation score: 80.11
> 2013 score: 76.46

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) improved its reputation, ranking ninth this year after missing the top 10 in 2013. Despite the unsuccessful recent launch of its Xbox One gaming console, the public and investors still consider the software giant favorably. In the third quarter of Microsoft’s fiscal year 2014, the company reported $20.39 billion in revenue and 63 cents earnings per share, both in line with analysts’ expectations. The company’s consistently strong results may be why it was ranked among the top five for the Harris Poll’s financial performance measure. In addition to financial performance, Microsoft also ranked high for workplace environment and social responsibility.

8. Whole Foods Market
> Reputation score: 80.45
> 2013 score: 78.65

More than 31% of Whole Foods customers gave the company an “excellent” rating for customer service last year, a higher score than over two-thirds of companies reviewed by Zogby Analytics. Despite this high mark, the company’s customer service, as well as customer satisfaction measured by the ACSI, trailed other grocers. No company reviewed by the Harris Poll scored better for social responsibility than Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM). The company supports a number of causes, including, GMO labelling and the humane treatment of animals. Whole Foods also ranked 23rd among all retailers for brand value this year in a study by Interbrand, and 13th among retailers according to a similar study by BrandZ. Both groups cited the company’s commitment to healthy and organic food as a major source of brand value.

7. Samsung
> Reputation score: 80.65
> 2013 score: 77.70

Like many of the companies with the best reputation, Samsung is a market leader in several product categories. The Korean electronics giant has the largest market share in both the smartphone and flat screen TV segments. Customer satisfaction among Samsung consumers has also been improving. The company’s ACSI score improved considerably between 2012 and 2013. More than 36% of Samsung customers said their experience with the company was “excellent” last year according to a Zogby Analytics study. Globally, Samsung smartphones are by-far the most popular, accounting for more than 30% of all shipments in the first quarter of 2014. This was nearly double the next-closest competitor, Apple.

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6. Costco
> Reputation score: 80.75
> 2013 score: 77.95

Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) is one of the top-rated companies in the nation in both overall company reputation and the Harris Poll’s emotional appeal measure, which gauges the degree to which shoppers admire, trust and feel good about the company. Many customers love the discount retailer because of the unique shopping experience -- Costco’s inventory of steeply discounted bulk items is always changing. For these reasons, no specialty retail company had a better ACSI score. Costco’s brand appears to also benefit from the industry-beating wages it pays its employees and the employee benefits it provides. Costco ranked 14th among retailers for brand value last year, according to Interbrand, and 12th among retailers, according to BrandZ.

5. Honda
> Reputation score: 80.87
> 2013 score: 74.22

Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s (HMC) reputation has improved considerably in recent years, climbing from 25th last year to the top-five this year. A number of Hondas made Edmunds.com’s recent 50 most popular cars list, including the Honda Accord in the number one spot. The CR-V has also performed very well in recent years, leading all SUVs in U.S. sales last year. Honda’s reputation may be well-deserved, considering the outstanding reviews for reliability its cars received. Honda and its luxury brand Acura were both rated among the nation’s most dependable car brands by J.D. Power’s 2014 Vehicle Dependability Survey.

4. Walt Disney
> Reputation score: 81.50
> 2013 score: 82.12

The Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) reputation has slipped down from third place last year to fourth this year. Still, the media and entertainment company is one of the world’s most recognizable brands, and for the fourth consecutive year had a reputation score of just above 80. Disney World in Orlando, Fla., remains among the most popular vacation destinations in America. Disney's theme parks generated more than $14 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2013, while its interactive division, which produces console and mobile games, revenue rose by more than 26% to $1.06 billion that year, making it the fastest growing division in the company. Disney has an exceptionally strong reputation for financial performance as well as social responsibility, and leadership, according to the Harris Poll.

3. Apple
> Reputation score: 81.76
> 2013 score: 82.54

For more than a decade, Apple Inc. (AAPL) has been at the forefront of innovation as the iPod, iPhone and iPad revolutionized their markets. As a result, Apple became one of the nation’s most reputable in recent years. Apple even toppled Coca-Cola as the world’s most valuable brand last year, according to Interbrand, and was also BrandZ’s most valuable brand. The technology giant received higher marks from the Harris Poll for its products and services rank than any other company except for Amazon.com. Apple also received high marks for its financial performance, hardly surprising given its exponential growth.

2. Coca-Cola
> Reputation score: 82.68
> 2013 score: 80.39

The Coca-Cola Co. (KO) has received a reputation score hovering around 80 for all 15 years the poll has been conducted. This year, the company's reputation among consumers is unique. No other company ranked in the top five in each of the six reputation measurements in the Harris Poll. Coca-Cola was the poll’s top rated company for its financial performance, as well as in vision and leadership. Coca-Cola has long been one of the world’s most recognizable and valuable brands. While it lost the top spot last year to Apple, prior to that, it was the world's most valuable brand for 13 consecutive years, according to Interbrand.

1. Amazon.com
> Reputation score: 83.87
> 2013 score: 82.62

For the second consecutive year, Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is the most reputable company in the United States, with a reputation score of 83.87, an improvement from its score of 82.62 in 2013. The company also scored first in the emotional appeal, products and services and workplace environment categories. Amazon.com started as an online bookstore in 1995, when online shopping was still in its pioneering days. Since then, it has become the world’s largest e-commerce company. Last year, Amazon.com had the highest customer satisfaction score of any company tracked by the ACSI, tied with Mercedez-Benz. The company also received the nation’s top score for customer satisfaction, with more than 57% of respondents to a Zogby Analytics poll deeming service excellent, by far the best score of any company.

Companies with the Worst Reputations

10. Sprint
> Reputation score: 62.33
> 2013 score: 63.25

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is hardly known for good customer service. Last year, 12.8% of consumers surveyed by Zogby Analytics said they felt Sprint’s customer service was poor, among the highest percentages in the nation. Additionally, no wireless provider received worse ratings from Consumer Reports in 2013. However, Sprint conducts business in a sector where most companies are poorly rated -- competitors Verizon and AT&T also do not perform especially well by most consumer satisfaction or service measures either. Last year, Sprint merged with Japan-based SoftBank, which owns the majority of Sprint shares.

9. JPMorgan Chase
> Reputation score: 61.08
> 2013 score: 58.20

Just like most firms in the financial sector, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) reputation score improved slightly from 58.2 last year to 61.08 this year. But most firms in the sector still have generally low reputations following the financial crisis, and JPMorgan Chase is no different. The bank is seen as one of the architects of the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, it has recently agreed to pay $13 billion for its part in misrepresenting the quality of mortgages that culminated in the mortgage meltdown. Since then, JPMorgan Chase has failed to steer clear of new controversies, including the recent London Whale trading scandal.

8. Sears
> Reputation score: 60.30
> 2013 score: 63.54

Sears Holdings Corp.’s (SHLD) reputation quotient dropped notably in the past year. Sales have been steadily declining for years. In each of the past three years, the company has also posted an operating loss. Some Wall Street analysts expect Sears to have no other recourse but close hundreds of stores. Customer service was not especially strong by some measures, with nearly 10% of customers rating the retailer poorly. This was worse than the majority of companies reviewed by Zogby Analytics. To many Americans, Sears and sister brand Kmart often appear outdated in the competitive retail world. However, the company’s ACSI score was roughly in line with other department and discount stores.

7. AIG
> Reputation score: 58.26
> 2013 Reputation score: 48.57

American International Group Inc. (AIG) is among the nation’s least admired companies due to its role in the 2008 financial crisis. No company, aside from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, received more Federal Government money to help it remain afloat during the crisis. In all, AIG received more than $67 billion from the U.S. Treasury, and more than $100 billion in other commitments and asset purchases from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Despite those investments returning a sizeable profit to the government, AIG’s reputation remains poor. Additionally, the company’s decision to award bonuses following its bailout was seen by many as adding insult to injury. Despite the poor score, AIG’s reputation score improved more than that of any other company in the past year.

6. Goldman Sachs
> Reputation score: 58.09
> 2013 Reputation score: 49.39

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) was yet another financial giant that received federal funds during the financial crisis. While the bank returned the money within a year, its own activities leading up to the crisis were heavily scrutinized and criticized. In 2009, Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi famously described the bank as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” As most banks' reputations improved the past year, so did Goldman's. According to Interbrand, while Goldman’s brand value rose 12% in 2013, the company “will need to manage its reputation carefully to avoid further damage.” While the bank continues to struggle with public perception, its reputation score improved the second-most among the 60 companies measured by the Harris Poll.

5. Dish Network
> Reputation score: 58.06
> 2013 Reputation score: N/A

Poor customer service and disappearing channels have helped Dish Network Corp. (DISH) earn a mere 58.06 reputation rating from the Harris Poll. Last year, 19% of respondents to a Zogby Analytics poll deemed Dish’s customer service “poor," among the worst percentages for any company. However, Dish outperformed a number of other major cable and satellite companies, including Comcast and Charter, in the ACSI. While Dish is hardly the only TV service provider that customers dislike, it also suffers from poor relationships with its employees. Based on a 24/7 Wall St. analysis of data published by career website Glassdoor, Dish was rated as the worst company to work for last year.

4. Halliburton
> Reputation score: 57.29
> 2013 Reputation score: 52.51

Halliburton Co. (HAL) was the target of controversy in the 2000s, after Dick Cheney resigned as chairman and CEO of the company to run for Vice President of the United States. However, outrage against the company reached a pitch during the Iraq War, when a number of groups alleged the company’s Kellogg, Brown & Root subsidiary received lucrative, no-bid contracts for work done in Iraq. Not helping Halliburton’s image, the company was also involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf Coast. It had worked as the cementing contractor on the rig up to the 2010 blowout and oil spill. The company’s cementing technology director later pled guilty to deleting data related to a post-spill review of the disaster.

3. Monsanto
> Reputation score: 57.27
> 2013 Reputation score: 61.70

Although Monsanto Co. (MO) is not a consumer-facing company, few businesses have had such a long-running negative public perception. The company’s promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been controversial because many consumers remain suspicious about crop engineering. Monsanto has also actively worked to protect seed patents, including suing farmers who have used its seeds without permission and proper payments. The company’s opposition to proposed GMO labeling laws, which require that foods sold to consumers containing GMOs include a label, has also not helped its image.

2. BP
> Reputation score: 57.00
> 2013 Reputation score: 56.55

BP’s PLC (BP) reputation took a major hit in 2010, after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers and leaked an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The fallout against the company was immense. In late 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency barred BP from bidding on oil leases in the Gulf, although, that ban has since been lifted. In 2013, the company pled guilty to manslaughter in connection with the Deepwater explosion. BP paid billions in regulatory fines, Clean Water act payouts, and settlements with area residents.

1. Bank of America
> Reputation score: 55.34
> 2013 Reputation score: 55.85

Bank of America Corp. (BAC) is the least reputable company in America, according to the Harris Poll. Since the financial crisis, the bank, as well as its acquisitions -- mortgage lender Countrywide and investment bank Merrill Lynch -- have repeatedly had to settle cases brought by regulators, states and investors. Aside from its role in the financial crisis, which damaged the reputation of many firms in the sector, the bank is also unpopular with many of its customers. No major bank received a lower ACSI score last year. Additionally, 23.4% of customers rated the bank’s customer service as "poor" in a Zogby Analytics poll -- a higher percentage than any other company.

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