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On the Rise: Brand Loyalty Through Mobile


By Stephanie Crets
 

Customers want options when they’re out shopping. They want to check their phone to see if their purchase could be cheaper at a different store, if they can get a better deal by buying it online or if there are any coupons available.

SessionM, the self-described market leader in mobile data management and engagement tools, recently conducted a survey of more than 50,000 randomly selected mobile users. The purpose of the study was to gain a better understanding of how using our mobile devices impacts and influences decision-making while shopping for consumer packaged goods (CPG).

I was surprised to read that 82 percent of people still prefer to shop for CPG in store. Going to the store seems like such a hassle when I can get everything delivered to my home, but there is more of an instant gratification attributed to in-store purchases. Regardless, one-third of those surveyed said they planned to make a purchase via their mobile device this year, so perhaps that percentage will be lower next year.

The study also found that 65 percent of consumers used their mobile devices for a variety of things to enhance their shopping experience, such as searching for coupons, comparing prices and accessing a shopping list. That number seems almost low, considering the prevalence of mobile technology used in our daily lives.

Patrick Reynolds, vice president of marketing at SessionM, tells RM that brand-specific apps and mobile coupons can both be beneficial to driving mobile shopping. “If you have a high frequency of purchase relationship, like Starbucks, where people often visit every day, a brand-specific app is ideal,” he says. “Lower frequency brands might consider banding together ala plenti to reduce app clutter and increase utility.”

SessionM works with clients as part of a coalition, along with standalone apps. “The real differentiator isn’t whether or not the app is brand-specific, it is whether or not it is delivering perceived value,” Reynolds says. “That often comes down to personalization and engagement specificity.”

Loyalty programs have grown in popularity with the expansion of mobile shopping with 65 percent of consumers belonging to at least one brand loyalty program. And most consumers aren’t loyal unless they’re getting something beneficial from it. Seventy percent of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a brand’s product that they don’t currently use in exchange for points that could be redeemed for a reward.

SessionM suggests five ways that brands can use mobile-first loyalty to strengthen their consumer reach:

  1. Connect and familiarize: Customize and tailor the campaign across all channels to better connect with consumers.
  2. Influence: Offer customers coupons, product information and more while they shop and “give them purpose on their path to purchase.”
  3. Reward: Offer rewards and loyalty points for buying brand-specific items.
  4. Build: Mobile allows companies to access data to analyze purchasing trends and understand the kinds of campaigns that work.
  5. Start now!

“Consumer preferences when it comes to receiving deals really runs the gamut, depending on factors like demographic and retail type,” says Reynolds. “The best advice is to give the customer options, or let them self-select based on their individual preference.”

The Power of Reviews: Bringing In New Business

When prospects want to learn more about your company, they typically head directly to your website. If they like what they see, the next stop is online customer review pages to confirm that the claims you make about your offerings are factual.

But what if you don’t have any solid reviews out there for potential customers to view? There’s a possibility they may have doubts and take their business elsewhere.

Unfortunately, obtaining reviews from customers may be quite challenging if you’re crunched for time or don’t know where to start. Here are some ideas worth considering:

Get Active on Review Sites

Although there are tons to choose from, customer feedback from review sites are frequently viewed in the cyber world by curious prospects. Some reputable review sites include Angie’s List, Google Reviews, City Search, Yahoo Listings and Yelp. Also, confirm you haven’t missed any industry-specific review sites. After all, you wouldn’t want to be absent from Zagat if you own a restaurant.

Include Feedback Requests in the Sales Cycle

Once checkout is complete, encourage customers to leave a review in exchange for an incentive. If you’re a brick and mortar establishment, communicate to employees this should be done when handing over the receipt. (You could even print the incentive directly on the document). By contrast, online businesses can include a link to review sites or to a fillable form on their website at the top of the order confirmation page.

Leverage Your Company Website

Along with publishing genuine reviews on your website, you’ll also want to invite customers to share their own thoughts. Create a fillable form or post a direct link to your profiles on outside review sites. The responses received will serve as instant credibility boosters from the moment visitors enter the site.

Companies, like LifeLock, also dedicate a page on its website to customer reviews to demonstrate that its offerings live up to all the hype.

Use Social Media

Social media is an efficient and often effective way to request reviews. You can send out a tweet, ask Facebook followers to leave a detailed recommendation using the built-in tool, or use the option on the LinkedIn products and services page to share feedback.

And once your customers leave reviews, retweet, favorite or share them and respond to their specific comments or concerns if needed. The idea here is to single the customer out for going the extra mile, address any issues, and thank them for doing business with you. And by going the extra mile, chances are they’ll do business with you again and tell their friends about your company. Furthermore, other fans will be inclined to do the same to garner the same attention. (Even if the feedback is negative, fess up to your mistakes and use it as a learning experience to improve).

As the old adage says, closed mouths don’t get fed. And the same principle applies to your business with regards to customer reviews. If you sit back and expect the feedback to come rolling in without exerting any effort, don’t look forward to an overwhelming amount of feedback. But if you put in the work and express your gratitude towards customers for taking time out their busy schedule, the positive feedback will continue to roll in, and so will the sales.

FusionOps Offers New Supply Chain Analytics


By Stephanie Crets
 

Retailers offer so many different means of purchasing, from in-store to online to smartphone apps and more. So much so that retailers are getting bogged down in the complexity this creates throughout the supply chain. Their data and metrics get mixed up and this makes it harder for them to figure out what’s working and what isn’t.

To make retailers’ lives easier, FusionOps has introduced its newest analytics suite, FusionOps Retail, designed specifically for the retail industry. This cloud-based analytics platform is meant to give retailers complete end-to-end visibility of their supply chains, so they can streamline their operations, improve finances and optimize customer fulfillment.

FusionOps is a leading provider of cloud-based supply chain analytics, so offering a retail option was a natural fit. Thanks to the cloud, retailers can deploy their solution in weeks instead of months and they can see the immediate impact.

“Retailers are having to rethink their supply chain strategies to truly benefit from the new multichannel sales and distribution model,” says Gary Meyers, CEO of FusionOps. “FusionOps Retail will be a critical element of their enterprise analytics strategy because it delivers retail-specific analytics out-of-the box to drive improved customer service while maintaining profitable margins in the new multichannel environment.”

FusionOps Retail will provide detailed reports that include:
• Demand fulfillment
• Order status
• OTIF root cause analysis
• Life of an order
• Inventory coverage
• Allocation preview
• Book reporting
• Seasonal product availability
• Inventory coverage
• A/R reporting
• Customer exposure
• Gross margin by channel

FusionOps Retail provides this detailed data through multiple systems, such as SAP ECC (AFS and IS Retail), Oracle and Warehouse Management Systems.

This program is offered through an annual subscription, which is an interesting choice because many cloud-based systems are allocated monthly or hourly due to their scalability. But considering FusionOps is in the business of cloud, they can predict how much is needed per each customer to keep costs low across the board.

Wearable Technologies


By Stephanie Crets
 

Are you ready to use your skin as a touchscreen? To have your brain signals measured by a wearable meditation device?

At FMI Connect this week in Chicago, the Technology Pavilion offered a number of interesting technology-driven topics to give retailers greater insights and hopefully make their lives easier. They also offered a look into the sorts of devices that might become part of our lives in the very near future.

One of those topics was “Wearable Technologies” by Dahlia El Gazzar of The Meeting Pool.

“Wearables” come in a number of different categories:
• Smartphones
• Fitness and health
• Infotainment
• Industrial
• Military

Several examples immediately spring to mind, such as the Apple Watch, FitBit and Google Glass. Some of these devices offer a sort of virtual reality through their immersive experiences, while others offer a glance into the information you want and give you full control over it.

By the year 2020, there will be 24 billion connected devices in the world, says Gazzar. And with the influx of new wearable technologies, it won’t be long before everyone with a smartphone eventually has another piece of wearable technology.

Gazzar says the new technology “makes kids smile and scares old people.” Considering the kinds of wearable devices ready to become available very soon or those already on the market, this seems to be an accurate assumption:

Muse: A health and fitness tool that measures brain signals and guides you through meditation.
Bluesmart: A luggage tracker connected to your mobile device. It can also be used as a battery charger.
Myo: An armband that measures your muscle movement through gestures and motions to control a presentation.
Circret: A bracelet that projects the information from your smartphone onto your arm and turns your skin into a touchscreen.

Some companies are even embracing fashion and fashion accessories, offering chargeable garments. So, if you have your phone in your pocket, it will charge the battery – handy for those of us who must always be connected and drain our mobile devices in hours.

The great thing about wearable technology is that it makes everything accessible “at the moment.” While you might only need a glimpse into something, others might need constant assistance. If you’re traveling to a new country, a wearable device could help you smash language barriers with instant translations. Just ask your device, “How do I say ‘hello’ in Japanese?” And the answer could be literally right before your eyes.

Having information so readily available will likely make us rely on our devices even more. This could be problematic if there’s ever a malfunction, but pretty soon we’ll probably have enough wearable technology on our person that if one fails, we’ll have countless backups.

Walgreens Collaborates with Challenged App for Video Beauty Contest


By Stephanie Crets
 

As viral video and video engagement become standard in our social media lives, more companies are utilizing its potential. Walgreens recently announced that it was partnering with social media competition app Challenged to drive social engagement and boost beauty sales. Walgreens believes mobile and social are important components to connecting with its customers in today’s socially driven marketplace.

The Challenged app delivers a creative experience for people to challenge their friends or compete in challenges from celebrities and companies. This is Walgreens’ first foray into utilizing the app.

Through the app, Walgreens is challenging users to “bring their best summer beauty tip to life” by creating a 12-second video using CIRCA Beauty or Nonie Crème Colour Prevails, brands and products available exclusively at Walgreens. The challenge runs from June 9 to July 8.

All submissions must:

• Use CIRCA and/or Colour Prevails items as primary component of the look;
• Demonstrate clear steps to achieve the look; and
• Create a summer-relevant look.

The competition has a clear target demographic, but Senior Director of Mobile for Walgreens Adam Kimec believes this collaboration will be an “effective and unique approach to reaching a key consumer audience and driving omnichannel conversions.”

Laura Locsmondy of the Walgreens Social and Content creative team and beauty expert will judge the top three viewed Challenged videos and pick the winner. The chosen submission will receive an assortment of best-selling products from CIRCA and Colour Prevails.

“Being focused about who we’re connecting with is a key to what’s made us successful in digital,” Kimec tells Retail Merchandiser. “It’s all about context. The app is one part of many digital touch points we’ll leverage to drive success.”

Although the app is currently only available for iOS customers, Kimec isn’t concerned about losing a specific audience. “This initiative is one of many forward-thinking efforts we’ve looked to engage in the mobile and social space,” he says. “Some will resonate more with iOS users than others who are more Android platform-driven. We feel comfortable that we’re reaching the right audience, on the right device with the right context.”

You can download the Challenged app for free from the iTunes App Store and find the Walgreens challenge available. When you submit your Beauty Challenge videos, make sure to use the official challenge hashtag: #BeautyChallengeContest

DreamWorks Fires Up Retail Engagement with Creative Company Omelet

By Stephanie Crets
 

With popular titles such as How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek, DreamWorks is already a household name. But now it’s teaming up with LA-based creative company, Omelet, to completely reinvent its retail strategy and engagement. The four-year deal gives Omelet all the rights to promote DreamWorks’ intellectual property with retailers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Latin America, utilizing both physical and digital experiences.

Omelet has a diverse background and has been responsible for many successful retail campaigns, such as the customized Game of Thrones season three DVD box sets given to celebrities, Whole Food’s “Love Local” program to connect larger brands with local communities and the Xbox One commercials featuring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.

This partnership will launch Summer 2015. Omelet’s new Sports and Entertainment division, led by Charles Croft, plans to take all of DreamWorks existing assets and create more fan-driven customer engagement campaigns. DreamWorks’ characters are already hugely popular, so Omelet will use that as a jumping-off point to drive fans of all ages to stores for these unique retail experiences.

“What’s exciting about a DreamWorks promotion is that we are tapping into a global fan community. This is not just about younger audiences, it is about the fans – all fans,” Croft tells Retail Merchandiser. “They have an insatiable appetite for experiences and there’s a shared love that connects individual fans with a broader community. We love fans because they are inherently social and they share their favorite content across their social media networks.”

To do this, Omelet is working on adding digital experiences to bring “easy and instant fulfillment” to DreamWorks’ fans through digital rewards, virtual reality experiences and customizable content. Omelet plans to tie the physical aspect of shopping with a digital campaign so that people continue to be engaged with the DreamWorks products and characters long after they’ve made their purchases.

“A DreamWorks fan engagement program will widely distribute content as part of the communications packages designed to attract people to the retailer,” Croft says.
“What excited Omelet about working with DreamWorks is that the nature of DreamWorks’ best loved characters mean they are loved by some of the widest demographics, and we plan on reaching out to all of the influences across the social media landscape.”

According to DreamWorks Head of Global Licensing Partnerships Brian Schwartz, Omelet will be the perfect “disruptive” force. “We’ve found the perfect partner for this exciting collaboration and look forward to a long and successful relationship,” he says.

Both Omelet and DreamWorks are ready to convert fans’ passion for the characters into action to drive even more engagement. “Omelet has built its reputation by not only creating all forms of content but also understanding how the content is consumed across different media platforms,” Croft says. “We understand the role of influencers and their networks and we plan on using content to get people talking about a retailer before the promotion begins and long after the promotion ends.”

Apple Jumps on the Music Streaming Bandwagon with Apple Music


By Stephanie Crets
 

I recently bit the bullet and subscribed to Spotify premium as it had become my go-to listening platform on my iPhone 6 during my morning and evening commutes. And frankly, I got sick of hearing ad after ad telling me to try Spotify premium every few songs. At $0.99 for the first three months, I thought I’d give it a go. (Actually, it was more like, “Fine! I’ll do it already! Leave me alone!”)

Now Apple is jumping on the music streaming service bandwagon with Apple Music. I’m honestly surprised it took them so long, considering they practically pioneered on-the-go listening with iPods. (Not counting Walkmans and portable CD players, of course.) You’d think that streaming services would come naturally to them. But Apple announced at WWDC that it would be releasing this service on iOS devices come June 30, along with its next iOS update. Android and Apple TV users won’t get it until the fall.

The subscription will cost $9.99 a month or $14.99 a month for up to six subscribers in one family and includes:
• Live music streaming that “learns” your music taste;
• “For You” tab that includes previously purchased songs and saved songs you liked via streaming;
• 24/7 live “Beats One” radio; and
• Social interaction with your favorite artists through Apple’s “Connect,” where artists can upload exclusive content to their fans.

Although Apple Music will be free for users for the first three months, there’s no word on whether or not there will be other free tiers. Limiting certain aspects of the music service would likely be beneficial to Apple because people would become frustrated by not having access to all the services and eventually subscribe to the full service. As I did with Spotify.

But the main question on everyone’s mind with this news: Is it too late for Apple? Is music streaming old news? With other programs like Spotify and Pandora already dominating the market, it’s hard to see how Apple can retake control.

The social aspect with “Connect” will draw in a lot of people, especially if there will be songs only available through Apple Music. Artists who have not been signed with a label will also be able to share their music with new fans, which show that Apple is trying to have a vested interest in promoting both bigger-name artists and the unknowns. Perhaps this is a new trend for Apple as it gets back to its music roots.

Either way, I’ll let the reviews roll in before giving it a try. But depending on the costs compared to Spotify and the benefits of other features, I may jump ship to Apple Music.

Retailers, Stay on Offense

Early to Build Distribution Networks that Live Up to Intense Holiday Demands

“Ship from Store” fulfillment requires an integrated real estate strategy to meet retailers’ omnichannel objectives. Source: JLL.

Guest blog by Kris Bjorson

Delayed packages and mismatched orders characterized the 2013 holiday delivery debacle and last year saw retailers starting holiday planning months ahead. To compete effectively during the 2015 holiday season, retailers are taking a more holistic view of their supply chain real estate.

The journey to a flexible, functional distribution network is a dynamic model, and it’s vital to have the right real estate strategy in place to support growing omnichannel expectations.

For those beginning to shop for the right retail distribution real estate, we’ve captured some key changes executives can expect in today’s market:

  • Supply chains are now customer-facing. In omnichannel retailing, the supply chain is no longer hidden; it’s as customer-facing as the check-out counter. Retailers are applying systemic changes to the entire supply chain not only to streamline fulfillment and delivery, but also to make it as cost-effective as possible. Retaining flexibility in the supply chain has become critical as competitors are using the customer delivery experience as another way to delight consumers and win market share. According to JLL research, seven out of 10 retailers are still shaping their omnichannel strategy and customer commitments.
  • Network strategies are now constantly being re-evaluated. Implementing a smart distribution network strategy has forced retailers to re-evaluate their entire supply chain every three to six months rather than every two to four years. Many have brought the supply chain analysis function in-house to ensure a constant tweaking of scenarios. Supply chain executives are also being more proactive about repurposing existing property assets by investing in technology for front to back-end systems support, and creating dynamic inventory deployment strategies.
  • Advance testing has become essential. The monthly Global Port Tracker report, released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, predicts that shipments, on average, will rise nationwide during the first six months of 2015. This is a chance for retailers to test their supply chain strategy before holiday crunch time. For example, with the congestion and recent port closures on the West Coast retailers continue to diversify their distribution networks to the East Coast. This means competition will intensify for space near East Coast seaports and force rents to rise in locations such as New York/New Jersey, Savannah and Charleston. Retailers, with only West Coast operations, will bring in cargo earlier than usual in an effort to minimize supply chain disruptions. It is important to have distribution centers (DCs) in the right location to meet the ever-increasing and more aggressive delivery demands.

Alternative distribution locations lurk beyond the coasts. With more than 60 tenants currently seeking big box DCs of one million square feet or more nationwide, space is at a premium and demand is outweighing immediate, available buildings and sites by nearly three to one. Furthermore, the supply of distribution space is not rising as fast as in previous ‘boom’ cycles. Approximately 171 million square feet of new industrial space is expected to be completed nationwide this year. However, these new deliveries represent the highest level in seven years, but still fall below the 40-year average of 178 million square feet delivered annually. As an alternative to coastal port locations, for example, one major retailer decided to build a fulfillment center in Indianapolis in close proximity to a new CN and Indiana Rail Road intermodal terminal. The Indianapolis fulfillment center will leverage a one-day drive time to 50 percent of the US population, including a reasonable drive time to Chicago, and close proximity to FedEx’s second largest ground and air cargo hub at Indianapolis International Airport.

  • Secondary markets aren’t so secondary anymore. Leasing space in secondary and tertiary markets is a way to avoid the competition for highly coveted real estate in close proximity to ports. These markets offer tax incentives and improved, entitled land sites for new construction giving retailers options to pursue and reap the benefits of modern space ready at a lower price. Locations such as Indianapolis, Phoenix and Kansas City continue to benefit from these alternative market strategies.  
  • Smart supply chains follow smart negotiations. Know your options and cost trade-offs before going into negotiation for lease terms and conditions. With transportation and inventory being the largest costs, smart clients are widening their search areas by diversifying transportation and inventory deployment strategies for each new location.  With constrained real estate supply, this year is a landlord favorable market. So, a flexible supply chain strategy means you’re not locked into a set location, which can give you flexibility for getting the best deal with the right real estate and workforce solution. Given that the labor markets are tightening faster than the real estate markets, you may consider paying more for the fixed cost of real estate rather than paying a premium on the ongoing, variable cost of your workforce. This is typically a submarket (side of town) decision within a larger market. It is critical to consider all costs and qualitative factors in a holistic, integrated manner.
  • Seasonal space is at a premium. For seasonal space, you need to start today not only to understand the real estate options in the desired market but also lay some relationship ground work for in the long-term. For short-term deals, consider executing a temporary use agreement instead of a real estate lease, or negotiate a contract across multiple locations with a national or global landlord. You can also offer to pay the entire gross rental amount up front in exchange for a discount. For your potential long-term real estate needs, perhaps a pre-commit with a preferred landlord will unlock seasonal space today.
  • Lines are blurred between stores and distribution facilities. On the store front (excuse the pun!), retailers are rapidly turning to their physical locations for “last mile” fulfillment and delivery.  In fact, we believe that in the near future, about 30 percent of a retailer store footprints will be converted to mini-fulfillment operations for e-commerce purchases. “Ship from Store” delivery strategies take advantage of stores to reach customers more rapidly, providing package pick-up and ship-from-store services.  This strategy helps retailers with both the when and where of delivery. Additionally, some locations that might otherwise have been stores can act as non-customer-facing DCs or ‘dark stores’. Dark stores are often retail facilities that were underperforming stores and have been converted in to small DCs. The strategic location of dark stores allows the retailer to house goods near customers to fulfill online purchases and delivery in a shorter time frame than their closest distribution center hubs.

It’s never too early for retailers to start planning their distribution real estate strategy for the holiday season or the future especially when the location of fulfillment centers can make or break delivery commitments to customers and help shape the overall customer experience.

Kris Bjorson is international director, head of retail/e-commerce distribution, JLL

Companies Give a Whole Lot of Damn about Their Reputations

By: Stephanie Crets

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When companies suffer from something like a data breach or lose their relevancy to customers, their reputation takes a hit as well. A new study released by the Reputation Institute – “2015 U.S. Retail RepTrak: Reputation Leaders in U.S. Retail Industry” – analyzes what makes or breaks a company’s reputation.

Reputation is all tied into sales and if your reputation is tanking, you’ll lose the customers that trust you to deliver a specific service or product and, ultimately, your business altogether.

According to the study, there are seven reputation drivers that companies must focus on. They must:

  • Offer high-quality products and services;
  • Make or sell innovative products or be innovative in the way they do business;
  • Treat employees well;
  • Behave ethically and transparently;
  • Support causes and protect the environment;
  • Have visible and effective leadership; and
  • Deliver excellent financial results.

The top ten retail companies that met these criteria were:

  1. Amazon
  2. Publix
  3. Whole Foods
  4. Tiffany & Co.
  5. Costco
  6. Lowe’s
  7. The Home Depot
  8. Ace Hardware
  9. Cabela’s
  10. Ahold

Amazon maintained its top reputation status in the industry because it targets all of those reputation drivers. With a user-friendly website, seemingly endless inventory and innovative platforms – such as the Amazon 1-Click, Recommendations, Storyteller, Instant Streaming and more – it’s no surprise people keep coming back.

Many other companies are learning that increasing effective reputation practices are key to staying afloat in this ever-changing industry. And some are vastly improving with four new retail companies joining the industry’s top-10 list. The average reputation score of industry leaders has also increased throughout each of the last three years, which means they’re doing something right.

“While high-quality products and services are extremely important, we found that the corporate attributes are becoming more and more important as the key driver of reputation,” says Brad Hecht, chief research officer at the Reputation Institute.

“People care more about the company that stands behind the product. The companies in the top 10 have done both well – they offer a great experience at the retail level, while also being perceived as a company that exceeds at corporate governance, workplace environment and having a positive impact on society.”

But every year, it’s getting more difficult to stay at the top. According to Hecht, even if companies are maintaining, they’re still falling behind because the leaders are exceeding at the corporate aspects.

After a rough year suffering from its disastrous holiday season data breach, Target has worked hard to reclaim its strong reputation (going from a 62.7 reputation ranking to 73.5 in one year), making it to the seventh-place spot on the most reputable big-box retailers list. Although the company initially wouldn’t own up to its mistakes, Target is working hard to rebuild customer trust and loyalty. Recently, Target invested $100 million in chip-and-PIN technology for customers’ debit and credit cards. And to keep its employees happy, Target raised starting wage to $9 an hour.

“We have bolstered our efforts in three key area: people, technology and enhancing our process,” Target CEO Brian Cornell says. “We are committed to being an industry leader in the evolving data security space.”

Barnes & Noble, while not suffering something as daunting as a data breach, has lost much of its reputation over the years due to lack of innovation, according to the Reputation Institute. Part of the problem is that people just aren’t buying physical books anymore. And if they are, they’re buying them from Amazon in one click because that’s much easier than going to the store.

If Barnes & Noble wants to boost its reputation, it must learn to integrate more relevant technologies into the way it does business. Who would want to have to compete with a juggernaut like Amazon, though?

Consumers Pave the Way Toward Sustainability – Can Retailers Keep Up?

Guest Blog by Leela Rao-Kataria

The global movement toward sustainability went full-throttle in April. Earth Day fell on April 22nd, just prior to the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. This was followed shortly after by the earthquake in Nepal. The combination of these events created more discussion around sourcing, forcing people to take a closer look at the repercussions of manufacturing products abroad.

As the public was bombarded across channels – from social media to commercials, articles and celebrity activism – it got me thinking: Have you ever heard the expression “it takes 1,000 whispers to make a shout”? Well these 1,000 statements caused a collective moment toward awareness around ethical sourcing. There were several dialogues that set-off the wave of conversation in April. Here’s what came out of them:

Patagonia Takes a Stand on Earth Day
No one goes against the tide more than the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. In honor of Earth Day, Chouinard took out a full page ad in the New York Times that said, “Don’t Buy Our Clothes!”1 This promotion caused quite the stir and set the stage for Patagonia’s refined version of the pop-up store, called Worn Wear Wagon. The wagon is a mobile garment shop that will make its way throughout the country, stitching, mending and fixing any clothing previously purchased from the brand. Chouinard believes this initiative is what separates Patagonia from other brands in that the retailer is actually living the values it preaches to reuse and recycle. “I’ve always felt guilty about making consumer things. So I have a sense that it’s my responsibility to help people wear them as long as possible,” Chouinard stated in an interview with the Today Show following the release of the ad.

Other retailers made waves on Earth Day, too. ModCloth launched its eco-friendly style collection, which minimizes waste through repurposing fabric and highlights the fair wage and comfortable work environment of their Balinese sourcing.2 L’Oreal was featured in Green Retail Decisions for lowering its CO2 emissions by 57%, the majority of which was achieved using renewable energy in facilities.3

Fashion Revolution Day Emerges
Fashion Revolution Day revolution emerged in response to the tragic Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013. Fashion Revolution Day4 occurred on April 24th, marking the two year anniversary of the disaster. Consumers were asked to wear their clothes inside out on that day in order to make the labels visible. The nonprofit organization behind the awareness movement stated, “Social and environment catastrophes in our fashion supply chains continue. Fashion Revolution says enough is enough.” The organization emphasizes the need to value people and the environment, accomplishing this through transparency and education. The day was accompanied by a notable social media push to promote the hashtag #whomademyclothes5.  Retailers who implement practices aligned with this thinking were promoted on the Fashion Revolution website.

 

John Oliver Takes Aim at the Apparel Industry

Millions tuned in to watch John Oliver berate the current state of consumerism specific to the apparel industry. Oliver claimed that people are interested in only shopping for the lowest prices possible, willing to sacrifice ethical work conditions and fair trade wages for apparel manufactured abroad. However, he failed to mention the steps that several retailers are taking to achieve greater visibility into their sourcing and to ensure that labor practices are ethical. This is an issue retailers have faced for some time, and will continue to face for the foreseeable future.

Getting insight into what’s happening at the factory level has been a priority for many retailers who understand that consumers won’t support brands that don’t practice ethical treatment of their employees. Oliver didn’t showcase the retailers that are prioritizing the manufacturers, including brands like Everlane whose value proposition is that true costs are revealed to customers using transparent sourcing. Photos of factories, as well as the stories of employees, are featured on their website, along with clear diagrams of the price their consumers pay for the material, production, etc. and how that contributes to the final price. Activists like Angelina Jolie support the brand and wear its products frequently.6

Levi Strauss & Company7 is another brand that had made strides on this front. Levi’s has partnered with the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) to secure better interest rates for its manufacturers. This allows them to purchase raw materials without the burden that comes from bank loans with exorbitant interest rates. Suppliers are rewarded with better rates based on a responsibility score card. Levi’s features this partnership on its website as a “shared prosperity,” with a mutual belief that suppliers should be rewarded for doing the right thing.

The consumer movement toward ethics and sustainability is in full force. How fast retailers will be able to respond to the demands of the public is still to be seen and will depend on their ability to prioritize investment around these initiatives. Retailers like Patagonia and Levi’s that are ahead of the game in this regard are finding their investments to already be paying off. Those that have fallen behind and fail to create a transparent sourcing model for their consumers will be left behind, as millennials continue to lead the charge toward a new model for apparel manufacturers.

Leela Rao-Kataria is Retail Marketing Manager for GT Nexus