The invasion of Ukraine, as with COVID before, is showing us the ‘Ethical DNA’ of our favourite brands & retailers

There are 4 reasons why retail and consumer brands behave ethically and “change for the better.”

  1. It is simply in their DNA.
  2. They respond proactively by asking customers and staff how they should change.
  3. They respond reactively when falling customer loyalty, sales and profits force them to change.
  4. They only change when legislation makes them.

In essence they react ethically and commercially, in various combinations.

Ethical perception depends on the context of the situation.

People’s opinions and what they want to see from their favourite brands will depend on their priorities. On whether we are speaking about environmental actions and the survival of the planet; pandemics, lockdowns, public health and the survival of those at risk; or the war scenario in Ukraine and the imminent survival of individual people, families and communities.

It is also true, of course, that some customers don’t care whether retailers behave in ethical or sustainable ways. That depends on their own moral compasses. There is rarely a black & white. Nor is there any definition of what ‘behaving correctly,’ or in fact what ‘better’ is.

Many customer now expect an ‘ethical reaction’

However what we have seen over recent years, and what is being intensely highlighted currently, is that customers do expect appropriate and compatible responses from the brands they buy from. Likeminded individuals and brands are attracted to each other. Whilst brands that behave in ‘unacceptable’ ways are publicly criticised and privately spurned by customers with different values.

Where choice can be afforded, it will be the growing number of retailers who have been born with the new ethical retail DNA, and those proactively trying to change their ways to behave appropriately, that will be taking more and more customers with them on the next step on the retail evolution curve.

Either way, it is best to be honest with the customer about who you are and what your values are. Even when your actions and motives are not always ‘popular,’ then at least honesty can be commended.

Let customers be the judge.

The responses to the Ukraine invasion have been varied. These have spanned public announcements and heartfelt corporate statements, charity donations and activities, direct support for the Ukrainian public, closure of Russian shops and operations, and the removal of Russian goods from shops.

In many ways it is not just the actions themselves, but the speed with which they have been implemented that perhaps reveal the ethical DNA of a business. Whilst protecting commercial investments is always a consideration for every business, responding quickly to public sentiment has sometimes been pre-emptive and in other cases painfully slow, whilst those truly inspirational brands seem to have know instinctively what to say and what to do.

I commend Retail Week for publishing as comprehensive a summary as i have seen on how different retail brands have acted and reacted over recent days.

‘Ethical DNA’ in action

Here are a few examples that for me show the ‘ethical DNA’ of certain enlightened retail brands shining through. Brands that are being generous financially but also finding many other ways to be ‘ethical.’ Brands to be admired and brands to be rewarded with our custom.

But you be the judge of that. You, and every other potential customer, always will. And my apologies to all those other amazing and generous businesses not mentioned below.

Currys has donated £100,000 to the Red Cross. Its virtual mobile network, iD Mobile, will also provide free text and calls to Ukraine-based numbers for UK customers, as well as free calls, texts and unlimited data for customers in Ukraine.

Chief executive Alex Baldock said in a statement: “My horror and revulsion at the invasion of Ukraine is shared by thousands of Currys colleagues and we share a determination to help the victims of this act of aggression.”

Etsy is cancelling $4m (£2.99m) worth of outstanding fees for its sellers based in Ukraine in a move to support creators financially impacted by the invasion.

British footwear retailer Kurt Geiger has donated 100% of its store profits from last week to the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal. The donation of £50,000 will be used to repair infrastructure and damaged homes.

Lush closed all 15 of its Ukraine stores and distributed its products to Ukraine’s citizens affected by the invasion.

Marks & Spencer has created a £1.5m support package for Unicef’s Ukraine appeal including an initial £500,000 donation to UNHCR plus a further £500,000 for matched fundraising enabled through its Sparks loyalty programme whereby each time a member shops with the retailer, M&S will double the donation.

M&S has donated a further £500,000 of coats and thermals to families in need in the region.

Lidl has donated €3m (£2.48m) in both monetary and product donations and is now increasing its donation to €10m (£8.26m). It said in a statement: ”With non-perishable foods, home textiles, hygiene products, and other urgently needed products, it aims to help supply provisions to the refugees in the border regions of Ukraine as quickly as possible.”

Boots is “sending 1.4 million essential hygiene products and first aid kits to support the humanitarian effort for Ukraine.”

The Ikea Foundation has made a €20m (£17m) donation to help refugees from Ukraine and those who have been displaced by the war. Inter Ikea Group and the Ingka Group are giving €10m (£8m) each to provide support in products and other assistance to UNHCR, Save the Children and local organisations.

Brico Depot Romania is fundraising and donating products, while the Brico Foundation is making donations to the Romanian Red Cross and homeless charity FARA Foundation. In Poland, Castorama is providing power generators, chargers and torches, and its teams are volunteering to help refugees at the border. The Castorama Foundation is working with the Polish Red Cross, Polish Mobile Clinic and the Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation to help renovate refugee shelters.

Which group do your favourite brands fit into…?

There are 4 reasons why retail and consumer brands behave ethically and “change for the better.”

  1. It is simply in their DNA.
  2. They respond proactively by asking customers and staff how they should change.
  3. They respond reactively when falling customer loyalty, sales and profits force them to change.
  4. They only change when legislation makes them.

Which group do your favourite brands fit into. And does that matter to you?

…and does that matter to you?

‘The reasons why retailers change for the better′ is featured in the book ‘Meaning in the Retail Madness: How to be an Essential Retailer.’ by Tim Radley. If you would like to read more about the new ways that retailers are re-organising their structures, re-aligning their processes and empowering their workforces, then you can find all of this and more in ‘Meaning in the Retail Madness.’

Available worldwide across all amazon platforms and popular online booksellers from Waterstones, Blackwell’s & Foyles to Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository.

For more information, click here.

'Meaning in the Retail Madness: How to be an Essential Retailer' Out now. Available worldwide across amazon and popular online booksellers