The Brighter Side of Retail

Returning to the “real world” after NRF it’s always interesting to reflect on which retail predictions and trends of yesteryear have come to naught and which are now an integral part of the retail IT landscape.

Something that has been building in intensity and importance for years now, but inarguably reached its tipping point in the last couple of years, is social and ethical responsibility in retail.

On the one hand, consumers are fed up hearing stories of how their favourite scarf was the result of what amounts to slave labour, or stories of how their beloved brands actually treat the workforce appallingly, so a much greater emphasis on supply chain visibility and workforce physical and mental health is pretty much de rigeur for leading brands today.

Retailers are under pressure to use resources responsibly – to lead by example.  In the UK the levy on single-use plastic bags has been seen as, on balance, a big success.  In fact I think it’s fair to say that single-use anything is going out of fashion, fast.

And Sainsbury’s recent announcement that it has joined the growing list of British grocers offering ‘reverse vending’ in store (enabling consumers to recycle plastic bottles and aluminium cans via dedicated machines and receive a coupon – typically worth about 5p for each item – to spend instore on their shop that day) means most of the biggest UK retailers are now committing to it.

All of this places a far greater level of accountability and visibility on the extended retail value chain. But it’s very far from being a one-way thing: a rapidly increasing number of consumers are actively keen to play their part.  2020 has started with what can only be called some challenging headlines for retailers, so in the spirit of bucking that particular trend, here are some examples that have caught my eye in the past months of retail-focused projects being a positive force for good.

Going Green: An Ethical Approach to Retail

Sustainability is important business in the retail verse. Today’s consumers seek brands that publicly champion values that align to their own and, increasingly, they demand socially conscious mission statements and sustainable business practices. With the future of the planet and the future of retail tied to the sustainable message, it is little surprise that an increasing number of brands are using their customer-facing platforms to champion a message of ecologically-friendly practices.

  • ASOS announced a new clothing range called recycled denim that aims to cut down on the water consumption.
  • Veja is a new brand of trainers that source rubber not from petroleum but from renewable resources.
  • Zara announced its entire range will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025.
  • LEGO committed to start selling sustainable, plant-based blocks back in 2018.
  • Cheerios continues its long-standing commitment to saving the bees, off the back of success in 2017 giving away free wildflower seeds.
  • Unilever is on-track to meet its goals to convert all products to recyclable packaging by 2025.

The moral responsibility that stems from adopting ethical practices is one that I believe will continue to thrive as the new decade accelerates.

Retail: A Bastion for Diversity

Diversity comes in many forms: gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background and many more, and all these elements contribute to an individual’s unique experience of the world. In the retail sector, it’s no secret that workers do not always feel valued for who they are, but the good news is that the industry has taken note.

In an illuminating study from Green Park, it was found that the retail sector leads the way in gender diversity, scoring an impressive 19.9% on the gender diversity score. Meanwhile, research from Accenture found that retailers can expect better performance when they cultivate a culture that champions inclusion and diversity.

In the current retail market, where consumers have the power to expel unwanted retail stores from shopping malls over diversity issues, it’s never been more important for retailers to get there messaging about inclusion and diversity right. The good news is that nobody appears to be taking this situation lightly.

Pennies: The Digital Charity Box

Founded in 2010, Pennies is an award-winning FinTech charity that leverages the digital world to make giving accessible, affordable, and feel-good. In our increasingly cashless society, the charity has tapped into the power of micro-donations, nudging people at point of sale to add on those extra pennies to “round up” their bill – and raising increasing amounts for a wide variety of charities.

In its tenth anniversary year the charity is going from strength to strength, providing an opportunity for donors to give their small change a big purpose. At last count, Pennies has raised over £20,000,000 for UK charities, acquired from over 80,000,000 small change donations made by consumers, including online through websites such as Domino’s Pizza, Zizzi’s, and Travelodge.

While retail charities aren’t an unfamiliar sight, with great work being carried out by the likes of retailTRUST, the Charity Retail Association, and many more, it is the ambition and growth potential of Pennies that means it stands out as one to watch – it’s making a real difference right now.

The Future is Bright

At a time when what I might call the challenging side of retail is making regular headlines, it’s important to celebrate the positive. The examples above are just a handful of the many reflecting the progressive attitudes driving many people in the industry; my hope is that they come to define retail in the 2020s.

These are the values that we at McDonald Butler hold to be true, which is why we’re so passionate about our charitable work with Pennies and Mellon Educate – a development charity committed to changing the lives of children in South Africa. If you’d like to find out more about the charity work we do, or are interested in joining the cause, please don’t hesitate to contact me at