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Retail + social media: Let’s get ethical

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Laybuy’s co-founder, Alex Rohloff, has written many interesting pieces for this blog around the differences in terms of what today’s generations of shoppers are looking for versus those that came before them. The truth is, there’s many differences in the way we consume now in comparison to our retail behaviours twenty or even ten years ago. We rely on the convenience of ecommerce. We crave in-store experiences when we are willing to leave the house to shop. We shop whilst we scroll on a variety of social media channels.

Another big difference that Alex discussed in his blog last week is that we now crave ‘relationship status’ with the brands we engage with. Shopping is no longer merely transactional – the purchases we make, and who we choose to make them with, have become an ethical and emotional choice. This might be in some cases due to the fact that we want to go with a company that has our own best interests at heart based on our personal wants and needs. Yet very often the decisions we make when we consume nowadays are also based on the good that brands do for the world. In short, we want our brands to ‘get ethical’.

It’s not necessarily the case that a decade or two ago people didn’t care about how the retailers they purchased from behaved morally. What’s definitely the case, however, is that it used to be so much harder to know about a brand’s ethical behaviour - the online forums that we now use to air our grievances with brands simply didn’t exist.

A customer complaint used to exist as just that – a single complaint housed in the records of customer service logs. This is no longer the case. One complaint online can spiral into hundreds within minutes. One bad experience tweeted about in anger can go viral within the hour.

This may sound like a challenge for brands, but in reality it is an opportunity – and many brands have embraced it as such, and admirably. Back in May 2018, Starbucks closed 8,000 stores across the U.S. for a morning to implement racial bias training after an incident at a Philadelphia store went viral. Now it has been reported that Sephora is also planning a morning closure of its 1,100 stores for a similar undertaking after an incident in which a woman in California claimed on Twitter to have been racially profiled in one of the make-up giant’s standalone shops.

Without social media it is unlikely that anyone, including those with the power to make a difference at Starbucks and Sephora, would ever have known about these incidents. But because of it, these brands have not only been able to work to make themselves more ethical enterprises, but have been able to demonstrate their commitment to doing so to their customers who care deeply about how such moral issues are handled, inspiring brand loyalty.

It doesn’t stop at ‘big impact’ one-off statement activities like these either. Take sustainability and the environment as an example. This week alone, it has been announced that Ted Baker and Farfetch are amongst a group of fashion retailers to start working with The London Waste and Recycling Board to develop more sustainable business models. The partnership forms part of the Circular Fashion Fast Forward project, under which the retailers will explore circular business models such as clothing hire, product resale, repair and rental services to create value and profit whilst reducing environmental impact.

There’s no doubt that the spread of knowledge via social media and otherwise has led to consumers caring more than ever before about ethics when it comes to retail. But far from being dragged kicking and screaming into making changes for the moral good, what’s great is that many brands are embracing the opportunity to listen to the issues their customers care about, and to make really impactful changes to better themselves as companies and improve their relationships with customers as a result. Long may it continue.

 

You don’t need a miracle to survive in retail – just ask the unicorns

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Gary Rohloff

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