1. ESG

Corporate Social Responsibility: What Retailers Need to Know

Corporate social responsibility (CSR), once a differentiator for brands, is now the norm. Today’s consumers expect those they do business with, including retailers, will have positive impacts on the world. In fact, Gen Z consumers are three times as likely to say that the “purpose of business is to serve communities and society” rather than “make good products and services.”

To meet consumer expectations — and earn their trust and loyalty — retailers must consider how their brands approach the following CSR topics.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Creating a culture of inclusivity starts internally with meaningful representation at all levels of the organization. From a call center to the C-suite, building a staff that better reflects society is imperative — but it’s just the beginning. It’s important to demonstrate not only what a company is doing today, but how the organization is committed to diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the business.

Nike’s ongoing efforts to “be a leader in building a diverse, inclusive team and culture” include a $1 billion investment in suppliers representing diverse populations; a goal of 30 percent representation of racial and ethnic minorities at the director level or above in the U.S. by 2025; and a variety of partnerships dedicated to advancing racial justice.


With the climate crisis intensifying and consumers growing increasingly leery of “greenwashing,” companies face increased pressure to produce, package and distribute their products in sustainable ways. This trend promises to continue as eco-conscious Gen Z shoppers gain more purchasing power.

An example is Grove Collaborative, which built its brand on making environmentally friendly decisions easy for its customers. With strict sustainability standards for products and partner brands, a plastic-neutral model and a commitment to be entirely plastic-free by 2025, Grove provides its customers with home delivery of a variety of eco-conscious products and a brand that’s creating loyal advocates thanks to its commitment and mission.

Political Issues

Historically, brands have shied away from public statements on political issues such as racial justice, gun control, or LGBTQ+ rights. But in this new era of corporate political responsibility, silence is no longer an option for brands that claim to be socially responsible. For many consumers, especially millennials and Gen Zs, silence from a brand on key issues is a deal-breaker.

Ben and Jerry’s, an ice cream brand with more than 200 retail locations, has a long history of taking a public stand on issues often sidestepped by other brands. Among its stated core values are human rights and dignity, social and economic justice, and environmental protection.

Employee Conditions

Fair wages and working conditions have always been important to employees, but in a culture of growing social awareness they’ve become differentiators for customers, too. According to a McKinsey study, how a company treats its employees is an increasingly important factor in consumer purchase decisions.

Earn customer loyalty with three best practices:

  • Authenticity: Consumers want to buy from brands that share their values and expect those values to be supported with actions and policy. Consider how your CSR efforts align with your company’s mission, business model, policies and practices. Consumers will notice if the values you promote aren’t lived out within the company.
  • Transparency: Customers may forgive an imperfect track record on social causes, but they’re less likely to do so if they perceive a brand is dishonest about it. Be forthright in how your company has handled CSR issues in the past and in your plans for addressing them in the future.
  • Measurability: Determine a set of metrics — a combination of internal metrics, industry benchmarks, or certifications from outside agencies — for measuring CSR success. Check in frequently on your progress and adjust your strategy as needed.

Whether increasing efforts in DEI, sustainability or other areas, authentic CSR practices can improve financials, drive employee engagement, increase customer loyalty, create branding and PR opportunities, and, most importantly, have a positive and lasting impact on the world.

Stephanie Hoch is senior copywriter for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based data-driven loyalty, experience, and customer engagement agency.

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