Consumers increasingly want to connect with retailers. How do you attract socially conscious shoppers who want to spend with socially conscious businesses?
[caption id="attachment_17986" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Lars Petersson says IKEA has a mission[/caption] Was it just Monday that a panel at NRF’s Big Show was talking about how Gen Z cared not just about what you’re selling, but what your company stands for? It turns out those in the Gen Z crowd are not the only ones. IKEA’s Lars Petersson and the Honest Company’s Christopher Gavigan spent the late afternoon at NRF’s Big Show talking about the importance of connecting with socially aware customers. Consumers are paying a lot more attention to where companies get their material and products, how they treat their employees and how they look after the environment. The two did not lay out a step-by-step guide to attracting the socially aware, but during their time on stage, a number of ideas did emerge. Here’s how we see them: Don’t talk about your product. Talk about your purpose: Shoppers can buy stuff from anyone. What you have isn’t necessarily going to impress them. Why you do what you do? That’s another story. “Consumers, in particular, are looking for someone to be their friend, their advocate and trusted partner,” Gavigan said. “ Again, they’re looking for a partnership.” Walk the walk: If you’re going to talk about your purpose, you better have one. And it has to be real, like really real. “You can’t call yourself authentic,” Gavigan said. “You can show up every day and you can have a level of commitment.” Petersson explained that IKEA shows its level of commitment by contributing and working with a number of organizations, such as a refugee aid organization in Texas and Save the Children. But customers expect social conscience to start at home. So Petersson, who is president of IKEA’s U.S. operation, said the company has adopted a pay plan that ensures workers earn a better-than-living wage and provides four months of paid maternity or paternity leave to salaried and hourly workers in the United States. Speak up when you fall short: “We’re not the perfect company,” Gavigan said. “We’re the Honest Company.” The company is occasionally in the news when questions are raised about particular ingredients and particular products. Recently, questions came up about the efficacy of one of the retailer’s sunscreens. Gavigan said the Honest Company went into education mode, explaining to consumers that the lotion had a consistency that was different from most sunscreen and needed to be applied as explained on the product label. Transparency is acknowledging when you are failing, where you need to improve,” Gavigan said. “I encourage brands to have that conversation. It’s not where you are, but where you want to go.” For his part, Petersson talked about a recent voluntary recall of dressers that could tip over if not properly attached to a wall. The company ran television commercials and print ads pointing out the problem. And for good measure, Petersson urged those in the audience at NRF to make sure they’d taken proper precautions should they have one of the dressers in question. Tend to your values: Values don’t take care of themselves. They have to be a living part of the organization. As the organization grows, the values have to be passed on, not just on a piece of paper or in a digital doc. “When you had the whole company sitting in the same room, it was a lot easier,” Petersson said. But now the company is global and growing. The values are part of the curriculum for new hires. “It’s clear how we apply them and what it is and where it comes from,” he said. Consistency is important. Gavigan said Honest Company’s values were written eight years ago. “It hasn’t changed. You bring in investors; you bring in board members; you bring in new people. You’ve got to stay locked on who you are.” But you can’t blindly cling to your values, just because you always have, either. “In our company, many of the values have evolved, because the world Is changing. We cannot talk about how we did things in 1943, because it’s not actual anymore.” Remind yourself and your team why you do what you do: The honest company holds monthly company-wide roundtables, Gavigan said. They’re a chance to share “why we work stories.” For instance, employees recently read a story from a mother in Peoria, Illinois, who’d solved a problem with one of Honest Company’s products. “It rallies the troops,” Gavigan said, “like nobody’s business.” And you're going to want that army behind you as you work toward building your reputation in the eyes of consumers who are expecting a whole lot more than they once did. Photo by Mike Cassidy Mike Cassidy is BloomReach's storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.