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Unleashing values through brand purpose

September 17, 2020

We buy too much stuff. The impact of consumption on the environment and society has become part of the mainstream consumer conscious. COVID-19 is forcing many consumers to think more deeply on the purpose and ethics of the organisations they support in the short-term, which will ultimately lead to more heightened expectations of brands in the long-term.

A recent study from the Capgemini Research Institute reveals that more than half of the consumers expect organisations to showcase their sense of purpose and give back to society – both during the crisis and beyond.

In a world where products are heavily commoditised, consumers are now choosing where to shop based on a brand’s values, not the range of products on offer.

Retail’s renaissance

Retailers are starting to offer new and innovative ways for customers to fulfil their social, economic and environmental values, through new experiences, services and offers. Customers prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose which reflects their own values and beliefs and will avoid companies that don’t.

In fashion, this could mean sustainable fabrics or brands which champion long-life clothing, as opposed to throwaway fast-fashion. In May 2020, Anna Wintour (Vogue editor-in-chief) said that the fashion industry is having to re-think what fashion stands for and what it should be, including “focusing less on newness and speed in fashion”.

In grocery, we see consumers increasingly focusing on sustainability and becoming more cautious when it comes to their health and wellness, with 40% preferring disposable product packaging both today and in the next 6–9 months. 67% said that they will be more cautious about the scarcity of natural resources and 65% said that they will be more mindful about the impact of their overall consumption once the pandemic is over.

French retail group, Auchan, is looking towards blockchain for food traceability. Customers scan a product with a QR code in the supermarket, and the app would show where the product came from, who handled it, and how it reached its end destination – addressing concerns on food safety as well as the carbon footprint of the product.

In these critical times of crisis, consumer look to organisations to step up and showcase a sense of responsibility towards the society and community. Coffee and sandwich chain Pret has always had a strong social purpose supporting poverty, hunger and homelessness. As well as donating unsold food to hostels and charities supporting the homeless, the Pret Foundation has helped get over 450 people off the street and into a position of employment whilst supporting other charities and projects internationally.

The retail industry has had to adapt to life in lockdown, which has required hard decisions and many short-term solutions. But in the longer-term, a sharper focus on business model innovation may be what is required for many retailers to survive this crisis, reinventing themselves with a new direction and a new sense of purpose.

For many hospitality, travel and service retailers, peer-to-peer sharing, such as ridesharing and apartment sharing, is defining a new economic model with community and individuality at its core. Purpose – a social impact agency recently acquired by Capgemini – worked alongside sharing economy companies to develop the strategy, branding, and creative content for Peers, a movement supporting the sharing economy. Within six months, Peers had gained 250,000 members, had peer groups in 90 cities across the globe, earned four policy wins in support of sharing, inspired 70 partners to join the cause, and caught the attention of 75 media outlets.

The value of having a purpose

Retailers have an opportunity to harness the power of having a purpose but must adapt and innovate their business models and how they meet customers in order to do so.

New, clear forms of value exchange for customers’ data will enable personalised and relevant experiences for them, whilst being transparent about how the data is, processed, maintained and ultimately destroyed in a way which makes customers feel more in control. In June 2020, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) created what it calls the “world’s first guide for brands on data ethics”. 74% of CMOs say data ethics will be a vital issue for them to tackle in the coming five years, with the spotlight on data collection and privacy becoming a greater priority because of COVID-19.

Greater supply chain transparency and product attribution will become a ‘right to operate’ instead of a ‘nice to have’, putting pressure on retailers to source and manufacture responsibly, as well as surfacing this information (such as material or product provenance) to customers across channels. Technologies such as AI and data analytics can help to streamline returns from e-Commerce channels. For example, IKEA is using AI to predict the best possible destination for returned merchandise. The algorithm currently covers items returned from in-store purchases but can accommodate online returns as well.

Finally, innovative ways of recognising, incentivising and rewarding positive, purposeful behaviour from customers will help to strengthen connections and prove authenticity of actions. When members of the UK’s largest Co-op shop with the brand, 1% of what they spend on selected own-brand products and services goes to support local causes through a Local Community Fund, which customers can select based on their location.

More and more, investors are putting their money into businesses with positive track records on environmental, social or governance issues, and research from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggests that these investments can also pay off. In their Financial Stability Report, researchers found the performance of “sustainable” funds is comparable to that of conventional equity funds, which is an important indicator for when these types of funds become more mainstream.

Enable your purpose through Inventive Shopping

The age of mass consumption fuelled by retail is coming to an end, and we are entering an age of purposeful consumption. Customers who once chose retailers based on product and price alone are now choosing who to shop with based on their values and how retailers support and enable these values.

Capgemini can bring together a multitude of disciplines and experiences from across the Group as part of our Inventive Shopping approach. By leveraging our tools, methodologies and accelerators we can help to evaluate and re-shape the vision & transformation plans for retailers in light of COVID-19 and broader retail macro trends, to define a new strategic north star and the future retail platform roadmap to get there.


Christopher Baird

Senior Manager – Inventive Shopping (Capgemini Invent)

Christopher works with retailers to help them better understand and engage with their customers. His experience in omni-channel retailing, digital marketing, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), loyalty and building a single view of the customer enables him to support retail brands on this transformation journey