Chapter 10

Think bigger than your brand

This chapter looks at environmental and social issues in retail. Consumers are far more environmentally and socially aware than they ever have been, and they want to buy from retailers who share the same principles.

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By Chris Tanner & Derek O'Caroll

What's Inside

This chapter looks at environmental and social issues in retail. Consumers are far more environmentally and socially aware than they ever have been, and they want to buy from retailers who share the same principles.

Being in the retail industry, manufacturing and selling consumer goods, it’s even more important that we think about ways to operate more sustainably and responsibly.

Within our children's lifetime (and yours too, if you’ll be around in 2050) there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Recent data shows that, in 2015, global demand for resources was equivalent to 1.5 times what the earth can support in one year.

An economy based on growth is a dead end, and in direct competition with sustainable environmental policies.

And here we are, in a book about ‘omnichannel retail excellence’, talking about improving conversion rates and discussing ways to get people to buy more stuff. It doesn’t really fit, does it? If you’re a conscientious business owner, no doubt you’ll have wrestled with the same demons.

As retailers, we are at the heart of the economy, and at the heart of a ‘take, make, discard’ culture. We spend our days making a living from fuelling a consumer society. How can we sleep at night?

Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature. ― Naomi Klein, ‘This Changes Everything’

Fortunately, the modern consumer is becoming much more demanding in their buying behaviour. They want to buy products that impact the environment less, from companies that have good ethics.

A recent study shows a full third of buyers now make their choice based on social and environmental impact.

That’s great. But it’s up to us, the retailers and manufacturers, to actually make change happen.

Think bigger than your brand

Our panel of retail experts discuss each chapter in detail with the authors of the Omnichannel Survival Guide

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While the amount of stuff that people buy is a problem, it’s not the biggest problem, and it’s not the problem we should be tackling first.

It’s the throwing away. The inconsiderate discarding of goods because they are out of fashion, unrepairable, unwanted, or have reached the end of their ‘designed life’.

People do need to buy things. It’s argued that even luxury goods have an important place in modern society . While I’m a strong advocate of minimalism and buying less stuff, suggesting that all retailers shut up shop and go and live in a cave is a step too far.

We need to produce and sell high quality products that last a long time, and when they finally reach the end of their life, we need to ensure they end up somewhere other than landfill.

I’m using the term ‘quality’ here to mean strong, tough, reliable, fit for purpose, a joy to use or wear. Beauty is superficial, subjective, and fashions change. High quality items can often be beautiful, but not all beautiful items are high quality.

Quality products will last beyond a single user - like baby buggies that get passed on to the next parent in the second hand market because they are still going strong. People who want to buy second hand will almost always buy used items - I don’t think that retailers are losing out on sales by promoting reuse. It’s better for brands to impress customers (new and second hand) with high quality products.

As well as building and making things well in the first place, making them repairable rather than disposable should be high up on the design priorities for manufacturers. For retailers of other brand’s products, it’s a case of choosing to stock those that can be repaired more easily.

Considering what happens when an item breaks is something that more brands are starting to do. Delaying for as long as possible the point at which the item finally reaches the end of its life. Helping customers say “that was a great product. I got excellent value for money, it lasted for years”.

Packaging currently represents about a quarter of the total volume of plastics used, yet nearly all plastic packaging material value is lost to the economy after a short first use. Only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. Read on to find out why retailers must be drastic, and drop plastic.

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