The ethical buyer drives retail strategy

  • 50 per cent of retailers will focus on the ethical buyer in the next two years
  • Brand reputation is the main driver behind ethical action, closely followed by attracting and retaining customers
  • Over half of retailers see reducing their carbon footprint, sustainable supply chains and being a conscious employer as the most important social and environmental issues
  • However, only a third see reducing the environmental impact as a priority for the next two years.


New research from RSM reveals that the ethical buyer is having a significant impact on future retail strategies. 

The survey revealed that the ethical buyer was the joint top area of focus for retailers in the next two years, combined with demand for more flexible and faster delivery – highlighting the impact consumer behaviour has on future retail strategy.  

Brand reputation was the top response (37 per cent) when retailers were asked about their motivation for considering their social and environmental impact. Attracting and retaining customers closely followed with 36 per cent. 

In addition, more than half (55 per cent) of retailers see reducing their carbon footprint as the most important social and environmental issue that retail businesses need to address; with sustainable supply chains (53 per cent) and being a conscious employer (52 per cent) making up the top three most prominent issues. However, only 37 per cent of retailers said that reducing environmental impact was a priority for them – highlighting a slight mismatch between views and action. 

RSM’s What’s in Store? spoke to 250 retail executives to gauge what issues and consumer trends are driving boardroom conversations and business priorities for the future. 

Jacqui Baker, head of retail at RSM UK, said: ‘The importance of strong ethical credentials to consumer-facing brands can’t be overstated. The ethical buyer spends with brands that have a positive impact on society and are more likely to buycott brands that fall short. 

‘So, it’s not surprising that brand reputation is the main driver for social and environmental changes as high-profile naming and shaming for poor treatment of staff and suppliers not only creates a reputational and commercial risk, but it can make it much harder to attract new staff and customers. Being a conscious employer goes way beyond brand reputation, it needs to be embedded into the fabric and culture of the business to really resonate with employees and consumers.’ 

Anna Blackburn, managing director at Beaverbrooks, added:
‘I couldn’t agree more. We take a people-centric approach to business, which has been invaluable during the pandemic. It has not only allowed us to put the safety of our colleagues and customers first; but we’ve safeguarded the business and continued to grow and invest. Being an ethical business with integrity, community and people at the heart of what we do builds trust and loyalty, which in turn has a positive impact on the bottom line.’

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