What Taking Corporate Social Responsibility Means For Your Retail Business

Monique Mahler | July 22, 2020

To succeed in today’s market, customers need to know exactly what they’re buying when they make a purchase. What you’re selling is more than just your product — it’s your company’s positive or negative influence on the marketplace at large. 90% of Gen Zers believe that companies must help social and environmental issues, with 75% of them actively doing research to see if organizations are being honest when they take a stand on issues. And it’s not just the youngins who care; research shows that 90% of Americans overall would purchase a product because a company supported an issue that they care about.

“Research shows that 90% of Americans overall would
purchase a product because a company supported
an issue that they care about.”

Corporate social responsibility (or CSR) in retail has evolved from an employee retention strategy to a necessity for longevity in the retail industry. In a nutshell, CSR is when a company’s operations enhance society and the environment. Types of CSR include environment sustainability, improved labor conditions, corporate activism, and charitable donations.

Corporate social responsibility in retail diagram showcasing different examples

What Successful CSR Looks Like

In most cases, engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility in retail comes at the expense of short-term profitability to commit to long-term values. Because of this cost, lots of companies simply talk about CSR but over the past decade, more and more are putting their money where their mouth is.

In 2014, CVS stayed true to their purpose of “helping people on a path to better health” by ending tobacco sales at all 7,600 locations nationwide – a move that cost them over $2 billion in revenue. In 2018, when Patagonia received an unexpected $10 million tax cut, the retailer donated the entire sum to fight for the environmental resources that inspired its foundation back in the early 70s. In 2019, Starbucks met its pledge to hire 25,000 military veterans and spouses, completing their goal six years ahead of schedule.

How to Develop a Retail CSR Strategy

Having the same deep pockets as giant corporations isn’t a prerequisite for having a great CSR strategy — any size retail businesses can still have a significant impact within their local community. Start by:

  • Identifying the causes that your team members care about, as well as those that your operations are already contributing to, either negatively or positively. By working together to choose a CSR initiative, employee engagement and buy-in are increased, resulting in better long-term outcomes.
  • With this insight, decide how you’ll improve your operations. For example, if your goal is to become more environmentally sustainable, you could source your products from more responsible merchandisers or replace your packaging with a more environmentally friendly alternative.
  • Once your plan is in motion, inform your customers — they’re 4.1 times more likely to trust a brand that has a strong purpose. Alongside standard messaging, keep the public in the know about what you’re up to behind the scenes. The more invested they are in your journey, the more likely they are to support (and spread the word about) your organization and mission.

As we adjust to the reality of COVID and the societal changes happening around the world, now is the time for your retail business to adopt a CSR program and mindset. No matter the size of your operations, the outcomes are overwhelmingly positive, helping to pave the way for a brighter future in the industry and within your community.

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About The Author

Monique Mahler is the CEO of interviewstream. She is an avid researcher of facts, a self proclaimed marketing geek, and an equestrian in her spare time.


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