Five strategies for leveraging progressive policies and driving social impact to lead with compassion

Today’s consumers are hyper-aware of how the brands and retailers they shop with are doing business. Transparency is an expectation and openly expressing organizational values and CSR efforts have quickly become business imperatives. In a year rife with upheaval and uncertainty, consumers demand that the companies they interact with demonstrate real impact before they consider becoming a customer. With 65% of consumers reporting that the actions businesses take during this time of multiplying crises will impact where they choose to shop, it’s critical for brands and retailers to take meaningful actions to better serve their customers, employees and communities.

With this as the cultural backdrop, PSFK researchers have taken a deep dive into the subject of empathetic retail, exploring how businesses can connect with consumers by promoting progressive policies and taking compassionate actions. Here, we share a selection of the trending strategies within corporate initiatives and on-the-ground store operations that industry players are leveraging to make a real impact on the issues that matter most to their communities.

Reevaluating Representation Many brands have faced a moment of reckoning in 2020, and have specifically focused on and dedicated resources to reevaluating their company’s role in perpetuating inequity or upholding unrealistic, unfair, or dated standards. Businesses are releasing new initiatives and programs aimed at increasing racial, economic, and gender representation, and providing new opportunities to the underrepresented. Starbucks, facing an important moment of reflection, evaluated internal processes and created a plan to diversity its corporate, retail and manufacturing teams. The pledge included increasing the number of BIPOC employees by 30% at the corporate level and by 40% in retail and manufacturing for 2025, as well as a mentorship program to connect these employees with company leadership. Other brands and retailers are taking up the 15% Pledge by Aurora James, which urges businesses to assess how much of their shelf space goes to products from Black-owned companies, and promise to increase it to 15%—so far, the likes of Vogue, West Elm and Sephora are pledged.

Employee Resources & Education The events of 2020 have impacted supply chains, store operations, and retail infrastructure, but most importantly, they’ve greatly disrupted employees’ everyday lives. Aware that their frontline workforce is being asked to do more, under more strenuous circumstances, brands and retailers are creating and expanding upon programs meant to improve quality of life, provide more opportunities for specialized training, and widen the availability of vital resources–even in midst of widespread uncertainty. In the interest of mitigating the impact of the pandemic on its employees, Walmart has revamped its employee-centered program, Live Better U (LBU), increasing availability and adding options that focus on digital upskilling. Through partnerships with universities like Purdue and eCornell, Walmart employees can choose from a variety of certificates at a cost of just $1 per day.

Social Safe Spaces — As worldwide lockdowns and safety measures continue to limit large in-person gatherings, brands and retailers are leveraging the financial and spatial capacities at their disposal to fill the void left behind cancelled events. In light of many movie theatre and theme-park closures, Netflix took to building a one-hour haunted house experience in downtown Los Angeles that consumers can drive into from the safety of their cars, transporting and immersing them in the happenings of Hawkins, Indiana, where its popular Stranger Things series takes place.

Density Management To streamline their store operations, while prioritizing customer safety, retailers are leveraging in-store cameras and digital infrastructure to generate real-time crowd estimates and wait times. Subsequent measures manage store density and offer alternative shopping and waiting approaches during peak hours, or for vulnerable populations. To help keep consumers as comfortable as possible when shopping in-store, Target is not only capping its occupancy, but also providing consumers with the opportunity to view their local store’s line and estimated wait time before they arrive and secure a spot in the queue. Meanwhile, supermarket Lidl’s Ireland stores are implementing a Whatsapp chatbot that leverages real-time local shopper data to let customers simply text their date & time to receive feedback on whether it’s a quieter, average, or busier time to shop.

Carside Retail — To serve customers who are on-the-go or otherwise want to avoid in-store shopping, retailers and brands are coordinating streamlined shopping and pick-up services that don’t require customers to exit their car. These services minimize human contact and allow for more convenient and touchless fulfillment services. Nordstrom has done so ahead of the holidays in particular, helping shoppers start early and ease potential frenzy by extending curbside pickup options and even in-advance gift-wrapping, bringing ready-to-give gifts straight to customers’ trunks when they arrive.

These are just a selection of the trending strategies PSFK researchers have identified as helping brands and retailers to lead with empathy—see details about accessing the full list here