NRF 2021: Social responsibility critical for keeping retail customers engaged
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:
- Develop a set of standards as if you are the industry leader;
- Seek and secure senior leadership sponsorship;
- Craft a plan that has realistic goals but also reflects a commitment to continuous progress;
- Align your strategies to your sustainability and social responsibility goals (not vice versa);
- Take a stand, unified alongside your vendors and customers; listen to what your customers are asking of you;
- 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?