Retail is in the midst of a “seismic change” caused by technology that is making mobile “mission critical”, Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz said at the NRF conference on Monday.

He said any retailers ignoring the shift would be unlikely to survive. “There is a seismic change happening that is linked to technology. Any company today that embraces the status quo as a business proposition, of traditional marketing PR and communication, is facing a collision course with time. Investment in these new platforms, especially mobile, is mission critical to our respective companies. It cant be an afterthought. That capability must have a seat at the big table and must be funded.”

Retailers also need to take a leading role in “re-imagining capitalism,” according to Schultz, Wholefoods co-chief executive Walter Robb and The Container Store chairman Kip Tindell, who were speaking on a panel on conscious leadership.

Robb said the world is changing as people get more access to information, and added there is an opportunity for ‘re-imagining capitalism’ to prove it can be a force for good. He said engaging employees is an important first step: “You need to think of labour not as a unit cost but as the heart and soul of the business. Our voluntary turnover last year was less than 10%, because people like and believe in what the company stands for.”

Schultz said brands should work to alleviate the general public’s current lack of trust in public institutions and companies at large. He said: “There’s a lack of trust in public institutions and companies at large. Those companies that have transparency are able to create level of emotional attachment and engagement that goes far beyond traditional marketing.”

He added there is an appetite for more socially conscious brands. “The consumer is hungry to attach themselves to something they believe in. If a brand stands up for something relevant in their community you have an effect that is very powerful. If you can link that with the power of social and digital media that will have a significant effect on your core business.”