Earning trust in a changing world |Chain Store Age


When Benetton launched its “All are United” campaign in the 1980s, it was a sign that retailers were starting to respond to broader changes across society. Since then, social attitudes have continued to evolve. With the transparency of today’s society, it is impossible to play down the importance of inclusion and diversity (I&D).

And yet, while most brands understand and talk about the significance of I&D, it would be fair to say that some have made more progress than others in their efforts to become more representative of a truly diverse population. What will it take to inspire these slower moving brands to take action?

For many, a big step forward would be to recognize that I&D plays an increasingly important part in building customer loyalty. In a recent survey, for example, we found that four in 10 consumers were turning away from brands that didn’t reflect their values around I&D. Indeed, they were buying at least 10% less from such brands in the last year.

In turn, retailers that “live” I&D through their marketing, products and the shopping experience they provide will earn greater trust while giving consumers the chance to support something they believe in. Around 40 percent of ethnic minority and LGBT+ consumers tell us they would switch to a retailer that is committed to I&D, for instance. Moreover, 42% of all consumers would actively pay a premium of 5% or more to shop with a retailer committed to I&D.

So, what does this mean in practice – and where should retailers direct their I&D activity? In our view, there are core things that they should focus on getting right.

Products and experiences that chime with diverse consumers
Consumers’ strongest and most meaningful relationships with brands are those in which they feel they are being listened to and engaged with as an individual. In a world where people engage with retailers across a range of online and physical touchpoints – from marketing and advertising, through the products on offer, to the customer care provided by employees – this is more important than ever before.

We find that store environment, along with products and services, top the list of reasons why shoppers choose to switch brands. The majority (62%) would change retailer if they felt unwelcome or unfairly treated and half would switch if the brand didn’t offer products for diverse needs.

Many retailers are making strides to close these gaps. Take Japanese retail giant Aeon Co., as one example. With a shifting customer base resulting from Japan’s aging population, Aeon Co. redesigned several of its stores, offering earlier opening hours, early-bird discounts and in-store experiences all geared toward including seniors and fostering a sense of community.

The product set is equally important when it comes to forging a connection with consumers today. Nike provides a good example. The sports brand launched the first-ever performance hijab for Muslim female athletes, designed to meet cultural requirements and improve female participation rates in sport in Middle Eastern countries where women and girls “still face barriers and limited access to sport”.

A clear position on complex issues
Contemporary culture is being shaped by multiple, complex discussions around ethnicity, gender, and personal belief. According to our survey, 60% of shoppers want their brands to be part of the dialogue on these types of issues.

U.K. health and beauty retailer Boots garnered praise recently for moving away from traditional advertising by launching a series of ads featuring real women and men with diverse backgrounds. Instead of the traditional aesthetics and how products looked on your face, the campaign, which featured a number of ‘faceless’ people dancing, focused on how products made you feel.

Conversely, shoppers are holding brands to account for their actions, with three-quarters of shoppers believing that retailers must take responsibility for a negative incident relating to I&D. Starbucks was commended worldwide for its decision to close 8,000 stores across the U.S. to conduct anti-bias training for more than 180,000 employees. The decision to do so followed an incident in which a store manager from Philadelphia called the police on two African-American men who were waiting in store for a friend but had not made a purchase.

An authentic – and consistent – purpose
Authenticity has always been important. But, today – thanks to social media – retailers need to understand that every single facet of their brand is constantly being publicly examined.

What this means is that retailers are ultimately only as strong as the sum of their parts – including the range of products and services, store experience, marketing, and advertising – and those should all consistently reflect a clearly defined brand purpose.

Fashion retailer David’s Bridal provides a good example. The company launched an advertising campaign across television, radio, and digital to acknowledge the evolution of marriage. The campaign, called “Rewrite the Rules,” featured non-traditional couples, including a lesbian couple, an interracial couple and a couple with their child at the altar.

Conclusion: Consistency across all brand experiences
Retailers have much to gain from supporting I&D, and a lot to lose if they don’t. As this article makes clear, ‘what you do’ is more important than ‘what you say.’ Consumers are and will be evaluating brands based on the range of products, the advertising and the store experience. Above all, earning consumer trust is built overtime by reflecting the values of today’s consumers and being consistent across all brand touchpoints.

Brands that get it right will be rewarded with the most valuable prize in retail: the trust and respect of their customer base. Those that don’t may find themselves rapidly falling out of favor.

Jill Standish is senior managing director and head of Accenture’s Retail practice.

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