NRF 2021: Social responsibility critical for keeping retail customers engaged

Discussion
Ulta Beauty is among the top corporate partners of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation - Photo: Ulta Beauty
Jan 19, 2021
Ron Margulis

The pandemic and the U.S. presidential elections overshadowed what would have been the biggest story of almost any other year — the social movement that was triggered by the death of George Floyd and was amplified by subsequent race-related incidents. Even with COVID having a near existential impact on many retailers, their reaction to these events continues to be closely watched by consumers who are voting with their dollars on what kinds of companies they want to support. This has placed a focus squarely on corporate social responsibility (CSR) like never before.

The National Retail Federation Chapter 1 event held virtually this month featured a session titled “Social responsibility initiatives at The Home Depot and Ulta Beauty build authentic relationships” that made clear CSR is no longer a nice to have for retailers.

Being a socially responsible company is table stakes, according to Ron Jarvis, chief sustainability officer at The Home Depot, and it’s what keeps him up at night. “We know that our stakeholders — customers, employees and investors — are paying close attention to how Home Depot is impacting the world,” he said.

The session provided a framework for CSR:

  1. Develop a set of standards as if you are the industry leader;
  2. Seek and secure senior leadership sponsorship;
  3. Craft a plan that has realistic goals but also reflects a commitment to continuous progress;
  4. Align your strategies to your sustainability and social responsibility goals (not vice versa);
  5. Take a stand, unified alongside your vendors and customers; listen to what your customers are asking of you;
  6. Collaborate — seek out peers as partners, setting competition aside for societal betterment.

In terms of who needs to be involved with corporate social responsibility issues, companies need to go beyond just a few staff members. “This needs to be driven by the leaders of the company. But if we only listen to ourselves, we’ll never get it right, so we need to bring in our team members. We need to also bring in our guests to really understand the world around us,” said Dave Kimbell, President of ULTA Beauty.

Mr. Jarvis added a final bit of advice to his fellow retailers: “Time is critical. If it’s a social responsibility problem, we need to be working on it. Your goal should be to have zero issues pop and surprise you. Stay ahead of the curve.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are companies being held to higher standards by consumers when it comes to proving commitments to corporate social responsibility? What is required of companies looking to establish credibility and trust with stakeholders when it comes to CSR initiatives?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Consumers today are just starting to ask their neighborhood chain stores to uphold similar social participation and community values they once expected (and took for granted)."
"To me it is obvious today that companies must be socially aware and take action. My fear is that too many companies will play the “flag waving” or “greenwashing” games."
"A well-informed consumer has the advantage of choice, and unless your brand or products better align with their fundamental beliefs, they will certainly look elsewhere."

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9 Comments on "NRF 2021: Social responsibility critical for keeping retail customers engaged"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

As values and priorities change – and they are changing – it has become more important for retailers to demonstrate that they are in tune with their customer base. The environment, gender equality, and racial equality are factors in this trend. Powerful and widespread communications tools put almost all businesses under a new, inescapable microscope through which their customers are looking.

Di Di Chan
BrainTrust

Big companies are not being held to a higher social standard today than what customers expected of businesses before. When giant chain stores replaced many neighborhood mom and pop shops, they were mostly regarded as impressive business conquests that won the market. Their growth was so remarkable that they were often admired from a “winner-takes-all” perspective (especially if the winners offered much cheaper goods). Enough time has gone by that the massive market-grab growth model isn’t that new and impressive anymore. Enough time has gone by for many people to notice and miss the business community they once had. Consumers today are just starting to ask their neighborhood chain stores to uphold similar social participation and community values they once expected (and took for granted) from their local businesses.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This phenomenon is not new. The first big department stores in cities were hailed as wondrous places to go while at the same time forcing smaller retailers to close. When malls first came on the scene they became a great place to experience, while Main Street closed. Today we are seeing the same trend in the massive online retailers and how it hurts local stores.

Social responsibility concerns will not change these trends. However these big guys must reflect, at least internally, those social concerns asked in the poll. If they do not, in the end they will pay.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I listened to a lecture on Martin Luther King Day about this topic, social responsibility and justice. The speaker made a comment that stuck with me, will we experience a “Social Justice Coachella” in this country, lots of show and celebration but no real change or will we all, business included, have the courage to bring about the changes needed in our society? I’m very pleased to hear from the C-suite at Home Depot and others that they’re taking this responsibility seriously. Having a plan in place is great, holding themselves accountable and being transparent about their work, even better. I think we’ll find this is good for business as well.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

To me it is obvious today that companies must be socially aware and take action. My fear is that too many companies will play the “flag waving” or “greenwashing” games. They will not take the initiatives as something that is basic to their culture, but will sit with the advertising agency and say “this is a hot topic, how can we take advantage of it?”

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

COVID-19 and its fallout are causing consumers to more carefully consider where and what they purchase. Retailers that don’t have a CSR statement – or worse don’t adhere to one – will loose out to others that are addressing societal concerns.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

As retailers and brands serve a modern consumer who is socially, environmentally, politically, ethically, and morally conscious, so should their corporate social responsibilities shift to reflect the paradigm shifts. Consumers are attracted to brands that leverage their platform for positive reasons that extend well beyond the products or services they offer.

A well-informed consumer has the advantage of choice, and unless your brand or products better align with their fundamental beliefs, they will certainly look elsewhere. Social responsibility originates at the executive level. It will take a significant undertaking to extend this strategy throughout the organization so that the store associates are essentially brand ambassadors for the company’s values.

Matthew Pavich
BrainTrust

Today’s consumers are much more informed and spend with their conscience accordingly. The retailers that succeed in these initiatives will be the ones who genuinely make a commitment and practice what they preach. It’s no longer enough to have an Earth Day promotion or release a PR statement when events occur. The evolving consumer community knows who is authentic and who is paying lip service. They know where retailers are donating political contributions, where they stand on key social issues and how they support diversity initiatives. Retailers will always thrive when they listen to their customers and align with their needs and values. Like assortment planning, promotions or any other retail initiative, it is important for retailers to offer consumers something that they can feel loyal to.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m not going to say this is a bad thing, or that retailers should ignore societal issues. But I will say that IMHO, most customers don’t care about them and it’s easy for HQ to get wrapped up in its own agenda. In brief: by all means worry about what the few care about — since they may care very passionately — but not at the expense of what the many care about.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Consumers today are just starting to ask their neighborhood chain stores to uphold similar social participation and community values they once expected (and took for granted)."
"To me it is obvious today that companies must be socially aware and take action. My fear is that too many companies will play the “flag waving” or “greenwashing” games."
"A well-informed consumer has the advantage of choice, and unless your brand or products better align with their fundamental beliefs, they will certainly look elsewhere."

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