Why are public trust and transparency so important for retailers?

For any company, but particularly one operating in a fiercely competitive market aiming to reach customers on the high street and online, reputation and public trust are of paramount importance to the long-term growth prospects of the business

For retailers to successfully maintain their reputation and credibility with the public, the challenge is twofold. Firstly, they must do everything possible to ensure each and every product they sell is sourced in a responsible and ethical manner. Secondly, they need to make customers aware that all the information they need about their product is available and easily accessible.

The first of these, sourcing responsibly, is no easy task when we consider the often long and complex supply chains through which a product or its component parts may travel before finally reaching the customer. Nevertheless, in the age of mass information, shoppers are just a click away from an ever-expanding wealth of information about the product they intend to buy, even before they have set foot in store or go on the web.

Given the increased attention people are paying nowadays to how goods are produced, where and by whom, thanks in part to greater media scrutiny, retailers are investing ever-greater amounts of time and effort to ensure that everything they sell has been manufactured in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner.

The key is to make freely available information which is both credible and capable of withstanding scrutiny

This is why retail businesses are at the moment, for example, working closely with supply-chain partners at home and overseas, devising guidance documents and sharing best practice to ensure certain minimum standards are met in the tens of thousands of factories from which retailers source their goods around the world.

Last year, the British Retail Consortium  hosted a series of seminars collectively titled “Great Expectations” with a range of participants from the business world, academics, government and consumer groups to give some detailed thought on how to respond to the challenges posed by the modern supply chain, to reflect on our roles and responsibilities as an industry, and to consider some ways forward.

One of the seminars reflected on the issue of business transparency and the participants concluded that transparency is not simply a matter of providing more and more information to the consumer. Rather, the key is to make freely available information which is both credible and capable of withstanding scrutiny, and also looking at how best to convey that information to the consumer – be that on the product itself in the form of a new label, online or even through direct engagement via social media.

Many retailers are nowadays, for example, heavily active on Twitter, communicating through images, videos and text what they are doing across a host of areas, and engaging with people to answer their questions and concerns.

Apart from the positive environmental and ethical benefits, therefore, putting in the time and resources to ensure your company is more transparent simply makes good business sense. In an evermore competitive market, in which a negative story in one small corner of the globe, such as an ethical labour issue or an environmental catastrophe, can go viral within minutes, being able to stand confidentially over your corporate reputation can be vital to the long-term survival of your business.

Shoppers quite rightly expect retailers to address all their concerns regarding the supply chain and retailers must ensure they meet public expectations in this regard. With a wealth of shops and websites to choose from, the knowledgeable consumer will be aware of one company’s achievements and another’s failings, and in such a competitive environment, no retailer can afford to lose public trust.