Are you responsible?

I was lucky enough to be part of the judging panel for the Scottish Local Retailer Rewards this week. It was great to see so many independent retailers doing great work throughout their stores and across their communities. One of the categories was to reward the best retailer for ‘responsible retailing’. It was fascinating to go through the entries as each one was different with each retailer focussing on what they believed responsible retailing meant to them. It got me thinking about the phrase ‘responsible retailing’ as it’s sure to be one of the biggest trends in retail over the next 18 months.

Andrew Thornton’s Budgen store has replaced over 1700 SKUs with plastic free packaging

A quick scan through some of the leading convenience retailer websites shows that there are many interpretations of what responsible retailing means. For the Co-op for example it ranges from offering essential services to funding local causes and making an impact in the communities they serve. They also talk about reaching out globally, supporting Fairtrade, ethical sourcing and environmental projects around the world.Spar believe their sense of responsibility lies at the heart of the SPAR strategy, that we are ‘Better Together’. They focus on 6 key principles; health, ethical sourcing, community, environment, climate and people. Morrisons say that their diverse corporate responsibility programme helps them to take good care of the environment and make a positive contribution to society.

So far so broad.

For the award category entrants, we also saw them focus on best practice implementation, when it came to age-restricted sales, awareness of sugar levels in soft drinks, pro-active relationships with local police to help tackle retail crime and a strong focus on staff training and development.

It’s enough to make your head spin and clearly the concept of responsible retailing is a complex one with a multitude of layers ranging from the global (climate change) to the local (staff development). One thing is for certain though – that it will be the yardstick by which consumers will measure a company. For the consumer of today and tomorrow are increasingly becoming influenced by the beliefs and ethical actions of a company – more so than the products they make or the look of their stores.

The biggest driver of this change is by far and away, social media. 67% of the UK population are active social media users  – who spend on average 1hr 50 mins per day scrolling, liking, commenting and sharing.

The medium has opened the everyday consumers’ eyes to the impact that ‘bad behaviour’ is having on our environment – from images of plastic-filled oceans, vast deforestation, food wastage on the streets, low-paid supply chains, and unfair treatment of staff. Not only can people see more readily and vividly the impact of their actions and the actions of businesses, but they can ‘show off’ the positive changes that they are making – be it ditching a plastic straw, using a reusable coffee cup or marching for the campaign against climate change.

Iceland were the first major retailer to commit to removing plastic packaging from their own label range of products

We all believe we can make a positive change and make an impact. This for me is the key to responsible retailing in terms of connecting it with the consumer. As it’s very hard for a consumer to engage with calls to ‘help stop climate change’ or ‘improve the health eating habits of the nation’. Keep it simple, keep it actionable and if it’s ‘shareable’ then you’ve got the holy grail. For example, the UK is likely to be throwing away about 295 billion pieces of plastic every year, much of which cannot be recycled. A huge issue. However, there are very simple things that retailers and consumers can do which directly tackles this issue and can make a rea tangible difference. Reducing unnecessary use of plastic packaging in store, banning plastic carrier bags, encouraging use of reusable cups, deposit return schemes, are all actions that can be implemented by retailers and consumers. Iceland were the first major retailer to commit to removing plastic packaging from their own label range of products, but they certainly won’t be the last. Independent retailer, Andrew Thornton’s Budgens store in Belsize Park, London, now offers more than 1,700 SKUs of plastic free packaged products. Store sales are up, and every retailer is looking at this store as their inspiration for the future. What 5 years ago would have been seen as madness is now revolutionary.

Responsible retailing is about tackling the big issues of our time, but if we don’t start with achievable goals we won’t get the engagement of our consumers and without them we won’t be able to go on the journey together. Keep it simple, keep it actionable and make it shareable – as this will create the impact in order to make an impact.

Blake Gladman, Strategy & Insight Director

Blake Gladman

Hi, I'm Blake, Strategy & Insight Director at KAM. I look after all our research products and manage the collection and delivery of insight throughout KAM. I love long runs and good food (the perfect life balance).