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[11 comments]

Do Mobile Consumers Care About Social Responsibility?

February 20, 2013

Promising to be the first corporate accountability app, recently launched BizVizz is designed "to make corporate behavior transparent." A snap of a picture of a brand's logo on a store shelf leads to a graphic screen that reveals corporate details such as how much tax a company pays, how much it receives in government subsidies and to whom it provides political donations.

The app comes from 371 Productions, whose president, Brad Lichtenstein, is a documentary filmmaker in the Michael Moore vein. His 2012 Sundance film, We're Not Broke, exposed how U.S.-based multinational companies use offshore profits to avoid paying tax. His latest documentary, As Goes Janesville, details how a Wisconsin town survived losing a General Motors plant and how local civic leaders gave away tax dollars to a prospective company without even holding a public hearing.

"The app was born out a desire to counter the spin and effort from corporations to distract you from the fact that they have an army of lobbyists winning them tax breaks and these subsidies," Mr. Lichtenstein told Fast Company's blog Co.Exist.

The app consolidates information already collected by the Sunlight Foundation (campaign contributions), Good Jobs First (subsidies), and Citizens for Tax Justice. BizVizz currently features 300 companies and over 900 brands with plans to expand.

"This is public information," Mr. Lichtenstein said in a statement. "We're just making it visible."

The app comes as a new Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) study found 56 percent of Americans agree that, now more than ever, they're pro-actively trying to learn more about the companies they hear about or choose to do business with. Harris Interactive defined these consumers as "seekers" and contrasted them with "bystanders" who are not as active in seeking out information.

Among "seekers," 61 percent have decided not to do business with a company because of something they learned about how it conducts itself. Forty-seven percent actively tried to influence friends' and family's perceptions about a company because of something they learned about its business practices. Forty percent shared information about a company through social media or e-mail.

Discussion Questions:

Is corporate responsibility becoming more important to consumer purchasing decisions? Do mobile shoppers having access to such data raise the stakes on corporate accountability?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How much more or less important is corporate responsibility becoming to consumer purchasing decisions?

Comments:

Yes and yes. I hope many consumers will pay attention to this information and take it seriously. Conversely, I hope companies will take it seriously as well. As with most things, if the customers make it a priority, then the business will make it a priority.

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Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints

Corporate social responsibility is one of those things everyone says they are for, but nobody is willing to pay for. With the economy still in a rut, shoppers are more concerned with making ends meet than the long-term consequences of their actions.

When the economy recovers, and it will as soon as Washington understands they are creating more problems than they are solving, shoppers may become more interested in the potentially nefarious activities of some of the companies making or selling the products and services they are buying.

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Ron Margulis, Managing Director, RAM Communications

Ditto on what Debbie wrote. Heck, these companies are dissecting customers from every conceivable angle, turn about is fair play, wouldn't you think? Fabulous app!

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

I'd sure like to know if a company I patronize is a tax evader, or a polluter, or alternately, is supporting causes I believe in. Empowering the consumer is always a good idea.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

If the fate of corporations acting responsibly is held in an app, then we as a society are doomed. It's great to have this information at your fingertips; like everything else we want to know and we want to know NOW.

I don't think any of this information will be earth shattering due to the people downloading and using the app are already plugged into these media outlets anyway. It may deter a mother from buying a product that might be harmful to the environment, but if price is any indication, corporations can survive and even bounce back. (Just ask BP.)

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Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

CSR is slowly growing in importance with varying degrees of consumer penetration in different regions of the world. Mobile enabled consumers may be more savvy to research this information, perhaps. However, I believe the specific country's culture is a stronger factor in CSR's relevance.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

With the failure of so many retailers designed, staffed and maintained to provide high-end product and services, I'm thinking that price is still in the driver's seat. Riding shotgun on this highway to economic downturn is value. Back seat drivers include free delivery, easy checkout and good customer service.

I'm not hearing from the crowd of people that are concerned about corporate responsibility that are described in this discussion. But all I ever do is talk to thousands of B2B and end-user consumers all day about their needs, wants and ways of doing business.

'gjarnoldjr'

To the politically and economically motivated, this is a clear yes. Are they the majority? That would be a clear no. I love the app and believe the impact of having this kind of information will and can make a difference.

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

An app like BizVizz might change the answer to the question. A shopper need only care once by bothering to download the app in the first place and the app will ensure that awareness continues. If enough people download the app, social responsibility could evolve from sporadic to continual on a significant scale. Powerful stuff.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

CSR transparency is a commendable idea. The BizVizz corporate social responsibility rating app is likely to be "gamed" if past "green-washing" behaviors are any indication.

Shoppers have no points of reference with regard to statistics like taxes paid, or carbon footprint or PAC contributions. Most of us have little patience for interpreting qualitative factors beyond the price and product rating.

But I very much want corporations to feel equally accountable to citizens as they do to shareholders. If this app or another helps create a marketplace of reputation value, then it deserves a chance.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

What I take away from this article is that 56% of Americans are either dishonest or don't really know what "proactively" means. Sure, if people can choose between two companies, identical but for that one hunts puppies and the other doesn't, they'll choose the latter; but once a price discrepancy of, say... $.02 is introduced, their commitment begins to fade. And those who somehow clear this hurdle will be confronted by the full assault of PR department spin.

'notcom'

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