BoxLunch builds a shopping mall presence with built-in charity

Discussion
Photo: BoxLunch
Dec 21, 2017
Matthew Stern

Plenty of stores run holiday efforts promoting charitable causes, but one brick-and-mortar retailer has charitable giving built into its business model and brand identity year-round. For every $10 a customer spends at BoxLunch, the retailer donates a portion of the money to providing meals at a local food bank affiliated with the nationwide charity, Feeding America.

A subsidiary of Hot Topic, BoxLunch sells pop culture-related gifts, apparel and collectibles, much of which is branded property. The company’s website indicates that it has donated more than 11 million meals since its launch in 2015. It promotes its charitable mission with the tagline “Get Some, Give Back” and an accompanying hashtag for social media.

Also unusual about BoxLunch is its brick-and-mortar expansion, which the chain appears to have pursued almost exclusively in shopping malls. Reports indicate that BoxLunch is approaching 100 locations.

The expanding concept comes at a time when shopping malls have fallen on such tough times that sources like CNNMoney have described them as “rotting away,” predicting that a quarter of U.S. malls will close within five years. Some, however, have expressed hope that new models of retail could bring foot traffic back.

BoxLunch’s charitable business model may or may not be a significant enough draw to set it apart from other successful retailers selling pop culture-related items, like ThinkGeek, but social responsibility is pertinent to its Millennial customer base.

And the fact that BoxLunch donates money to Feeding America-affiliated food banks in the communities where each store resides adds an element of localization for the national brand.

Among retailers, Warby Parker, which donates a pair of prescription glasses to someone in need for each pair purchased, is probably best known for incorporating charity into its business model.

Others examples:

  • The Company Store donates a comforter to a homeless child each time one is purchased;
  • Better World Books donates a book to someone in need for every book purchased;
  • Firehouse Subs donates a portion of sales to fund lifesaving equipment for first responders.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should more brick-and-mortar retailers consider building charity into their business model and brand identity as BoxLunch has? What are the dos and don’ts of incorporating cause marketing into a retail business model?

Braintrust
"Adding a social/charitable component to a retail business concept is a laudable idea and should be undertaken if it makes sense for the brand. "
"Not mentioned here ... since 1946, Target has given 5 percent of its income to local communities, which today equals more than $3 million a week."
"Incorporating cause marketing requires long-term consistency and authenticity for it to be effective."

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12 Comments on "BoxLunch builds a shopping mall presence with built-in charity"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Adding a social/charitable component to a retail business concept is a laudable idea and should be undertaken if it makes sense for the brand. For some consumers, connecting a purchase to a donation really does create a positive sentiment. However, what brands should be cautious of when pursuing this approach is to ensure that the cause they’re tied to remains relevant to their brand and their customer audience in the long-term since there are so many worthy causes.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Perfect “… if it makes sense for the brand.”

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

Many of the retail businesses that involve charity in their business models could do more to incorporate that commitment into the marketing communications model. That said, I don’t mean ads. I mean that inspiring customer generated stories, content and sharing should be core to the model day-in and day-out. Millennials and Gen Z do this anyway.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

This is a great strategy, provided: a.) the notion of charity doesn’t conflict with existing business practices or standards; b.) cause consumers to look “under the cover” at issues like sourcing, etc.; c.) is tied to the community the stores operate in; d.) doesn’t become some technical “nickel and dime” guilt-based “forced contribution” like Ace’s “rounding up” promotion for Children’s Miracle Network; e.) actually goes to the needy rather than local charity administration and f.) thoroughly vets the practices of the recipient charity.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

This is not new — Toms also has retail outlets and donates shoes for every pair purchased and has been doing this for awhile. I agree with Ryan that it is a good practice if following his guidelines.

Kim Garretson
BrainTrust

Not mentioned here is the fact that since 1946, Target has given 5 percent of its income to local communities, which today equals more than $3 million a week. Target also donates unsold goods to Goodwill, Salvation Army and other local thrift stores. I like the fact that Target does very little promotion around this because it’s so ingrained in the culture and community that shoppers just know it’s happening.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I think aligning your brand with the right charity can have significant benefits. This concept has already proven to be favorable with Gen Z more than traditional advertising plus there are so many positives that come from helping the needy. It gives customers a feeling that they too are helping those in need when making a purchase and creates a natural bond between the brand, the customer and the individuals who benefit from the donations. However, the retailer needs to make sure that what they choose as their charity makes sense for their brand, appeals to their customers and that the offer is generous. When they do they will see success, especially with the younger consumers.

Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

Consumers in general, and Millennials in particular, like to do business with companies that wish to do good. Integrating a socially responsible/charitable component to a brand’s business model — provided the charity’s mission clearly aligns with the brand’s values — nurtures goodwill with customers and helps set a brand apart from its peers.

Joy Chen
BrainTrust

Incorporating cause marketing requires long-term consistency and authenticity for it to be effective. Additionally, it has to be a core part of its brand positioning, like Toms shoes, because the consumer is “buying” the product and “buying in” to the brand.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Cause support is a slippery slope for marketers because value-conscious consumers know they are the ones actually paying. But the big exposure is the blending of the brand where any negative perceptions of the cause (including less-than-optimal management of funds provided) reflects badly on the supporter (read endorser) of that cause. Much caution is advised.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
4 months 4 days ago

Companies need to do good things with their profit including recognizing the truth that companies have an obligation to the communities that make their business possible. But I believe that should be kept separate from marketing message in all but a very few cases.

Consumers, in my experience, place pretty low value on charity messages — far lower than marketers. Why? Because these messages are hollow, and today’s consumers can feel like the company is trying to manipulate them with that message. It can be a very fast way to lose customer trust.

Partly, too, I believe that doing good things should be expected — is is not exceptional. The way to success is to deliver a good product that’s meaningful, pay and treat your employees well, create good stores, pay your taxes, be involved in your community and do that year after year. But I suppose I’m old school — raised when it was offensive to brag about how much you’re giving.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“Charity begins at home” is the saying, I believe, not “charity begins at the sales counter.” I think there is a problem when you try to mix the two (and the morally ambiguous — to me at least — phrase “building charity into your business model” sums up my ambivalence). Nevertheless, whether it’s a good idea or not, I believe many people will THINK it is, so I expect we’ll see a modest uptick.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Adding a social/charitable component to a retail business concept is a laudable idea and should be undertaken if it makes sense for the brand. "
"Not mentioned here ... since 1946, Target has given 5 percent of its income to local communities, which today equals more than $3 million a week."
"Incorporating cause marketing requires long-term consistency and authenticity for it to be effective."

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