Through the retail lens: Shopper response to retail’s racial reckoning

Kantar Retail SVP Todd Szahun on authentically communicating values to consumers

Todd Szahun, senior vice president of Kantar Retail, recently conducted research into the retail response to the current racial and social justice movement. The report, “Race, Social Justice and Retail: A shopper lens on the retail response,” details shoppers’ attitudes toward retailer reactions, how shoppers themselves have responded to the issue and what retail strategies will drive shoppers to spend more.

Szahun leads Kantar’s ecommerce and emerging retail insights team. He spoke with NRF to provide further insight on the findings.

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Todd Szahun of Kantar
Todd Szahun, SVP of Kantar Retail

What are the biggest takeaways from your recent research into the role retail plays in social justice and race issues?

The first big takeaway from our research is that shoppers care about social injustice, and they expect retailers to act: 61 percent of respondents said they think retailers should take a stance on social justice issues, while only 21 percent believed retailers shouldn’t do so. That opinion only got stronger when broken down by generation, race and location with the strongest sentiment from Generation Z (78 percent), Black (83 percent) and urban (70 percent) respondents, all most likely to favor a response.

The other important takeaway is the importance of authenticity in retailer responses. Shoppers are very aware of how retailers have responded and want to see them commit to real and sustained change, not just a social media post, which is often met with high levels of skepticism.

What are customers saying about how and why they expect retailers to respond?

While shoppers want to see retailers respond by supporting more diverse products, investing in sensitivity training and social justice programs, and using social media to take a stand, overwhelmingly, shoppers want to see retailers take more action in response to social injustice by supporting people, which we define as the retailer’s employees, customers, suppliers and communities.

Shoppers’ top priorities were local (36 percent) and national (31 percent) partnerships, and initiatives to drive diversity both in stores (23 percent) and within senior corporate management (18 percent).

You outlined some ways that retailers can respond in a meaningful way. How did you settle on those four ideas?

We aligned on the 4 Ps framework of promotion, products, policies and people by assessing both how retailers were already responding and what shoppers noticed. Once we took a step back from what we and the shoppers in our survey were observing, clear trends emerged around how these touchpoints were connected and could be mapped to a framework that was compatible with retailer strategy and actionability.

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What are the risks of inaction, and do they outweigh any potential missteps that a retailer might make in responding?

This requires breaking up the respondents into two large subsegments: shoppers who do believe retailers should take a stand, and shoppers who don’t believe retailers should take a stand.

Shoppers who do believe retailers should take a stand are more likely to project negative opinions onto retailers that remain silent. Shoppers who don’t believe retailers should take a stand believe that even when retailers take a stand, it may not change how shoppers evaluate them.

The takeaway here is that the risk of inaction is greater than the risk of action when it comes to retailers responding to social injustice. Further, shoppers are already changing their buying habits to spend more with retailers that align with their values, and they are willing to spend more money with retailers that embrace diversity.

What are the long-term implications of this of-the-moment issue?

The long-term implications are clear coming out of this study. Demographics are changing across the United States. We are more diverse, more urban and younger from a generational perspective. As purchasing power shifts between generations, geographically and across a wider range of diverse populations, retailers who identify, listen and connect with their future shoppers have an opportunity to develop relationships with shoppers who respond to the power of purposeful brands.

Retailers who do this right will be rewarded with loyalty. Retailers who do not embrace purpose will find shoppers may choose to purchase elsewhere, driven by increases in low-friction retail options including wide product selection, seamless ecommerce, flexible fulfillment and last-mile delivery partners – all trends that have accelerated since mid-March of this year.

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