What a difference a year makes! So many changes occurred at an unprecedented rate, as consumers and retailers quickly adapted their practices to deal with pandemic restrictions. The result: consumer habits, priorities and expectations have shifted markedly. Along with a sharp rise in “buying local,” a heightened awareness of environmental and social issues is now impacting shopping decisions in a big way. Consumers are indicating with their wallets that they want to do business with companies that share their values and lead positive change.
The acronym for this new purchasing criterion is CSR, for Corporate Social Responsibility. It covers the same wide range of issues as ESG – Environmental, Social, Governance – an equivalent acronym most often used at a corporate level or to rate companies for investment purposes.
CSR is becoming a dominant trend that retailers ignore at their peril. According to the latest PwC Canada survey on the future of Canadian retail, nearly half of Canadians choose to buy from companies supportive of protecting the environment and intentionally buy items with eco-friendly or less packaging. Today’s consumers also want products that are cruelty-free and free of forced labour, among other ethical considerations.
If U.S. findings are any reflection of how strongly Canadians feel about CSR – and our two markets tend to move in lockstep – watch out! While 87% of American consumers will deliberately purchase from a company because it advocates for an issue they care about, three-quarters of them will refuse to buy from a company that supports issues contrary to their beliefs. Clearly, doing good makes good business sense. That’s why it’s worth looking for ways that you can align your business with ethical and eco-positive practices and social causes.
But beware of greenwashing and hype – of making misleading or exaggerated CSR claims. Today’s consumers are not easily fooled and Millennials, a key target market for our retailers, are the savviest of all. More than three-quarters of Millennials will check online to validate the authenticity of a company’s CSR (compared to two-thirds of consumers as a whole). Their younger counterparts, the Gen Z’ers, the so-called digital generation, are even more conscientious. They will not buy from, or even work for, a company that takes no action on pressing issues.
Although some investment may be required to reduce your ecological footprint, just a few simple changes can improve your CSR record – and may even result in operational savings. Consider switching to energy-efficient equipment, lights, and appliances. Minimize paper usage by digitizing as many processes as possible, including asking shoppers at the cash if they would prefer an emailed receipt. Substitute sustainable packaging for conventional and usually environmentally damaging materials – one of the most credible ways of displaying a sustainable practice and differentiating yourself from competitors. We recognize that “zero packaging” is not a realistic goal for most of our dealers, but incorporating the “3 Rs”– reduce, reuse, recycle – will signal your commitment to positive change.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT AND SOCIAL CAUSES
While many of our independent retailers have been giving back to their communities for years, this is no longer optional. Many consumers now believe that companies have an obligation to take action on issues that may not even be relevant to their everyday business practices. If you’re not already doing so, look for causes that you can support in your neighbourhood and consider launching a retail event for it. Sponsor a local event or donate products or a portion of your revenues to raise charitable funds. There are so many ways to raise your CSR profile while benefiting your community.
INVEST IN YOUR WORKFORCE
Social responsibility also applies to your employees – not just how you treat and compensate them but whether your hiring practices reflect cultural, ethnic and sexual diversity. Consumers will judge y ou on these factors, too, and reward or punish you as a consequence. Fortunately, retailers who invest in their workforce in socially responsible ways have more motivated employees providing better customer service – and tend to be more profitable.
YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN
More and more consumers care how products are sourced and manufactured. In fact, many of them are willing to pay more for merchandise produced responsibly and ethically. While Cantrex will not knowingly partner with vendors who flout accepted labour and environmental standards, we suggest you do your own due diligence, especially if you intend to capitalize on the sustainability and ethics of the brands you stock.
ACTIVELY MARKET YOUR CSR ACTIONS
Market your CSR efforts as you would for any event or promotion – with in-store decals, posters, signage, articles in your newsletter and a social media campaign. Create a dedicated CSR webpage. Be sure to celebrate your CSR successes since customers love to hear that their money is supporting a worthy cause.
THE FUTURE IS CLEAR
Socially conscious consumerism is not a passing fad. All forecasters agree that it is set to grow. You can expect consumers to keep raising their CSR expectations and seek out retailers involved in positive environmental, social and governance action – all under the scrutiny of social media, which will increasingly influence perception and reputation.
While all this may seem daunting at a time when your business is still reeling from the pandemic hit, remember: Cantrex Nationwide has your back. For example, in 2020 and 2021, we helped our Ontario dealers participate in a federal government rebate program to customers purchasing Energy Star appliances. At a corporate level, we are continually enhancing our sustainability program – reducing paper, moving to digital platforms for our day-to-day operations and online meetings – while adhering to the highest moral and ethical governance standards as set out in our Code of Business Ethics. Together, we can make a difference – a difference that will benefit the planet, our communities, and ultimately your business.
Jeannine Ghaleb is President and COO of Cantrex Nationwide, which represents Canadian Members of Nationwide Marketing Group