Retailers may make a lot of their money at Christmas, but for them, the season of goodwill lasts all year round as they contribute in a wealth of ways to the communities and consumers they serve.

Here we celebrate a selection of the industry’s great initiatives  – 12 gifts from retail – that sum up how the industry enhances the quality of life for so many people.

Food on the table for all

A special meal on the big day epitomises Christmas, but many have struggled because of the high cost of living. Food retailers have stepped up to the plate to help those in need by donating to food banks and similar schemes. 

In partnership with FareShare, retailers had supplied 22,000 tonnes of food to organisations including community centres and schools by late November – that’s 57 million meals for vulnerable people.

Nobody left out

While parties and get-togethers mark the festive season, Christmas brings isolation for some. John Lewis Partnership is donating £1m this Christmas to bring festive cheer to those on their own, such as the 1.5 million older people thought to feel more lonely than at any other time of the year.

It’s the latest initiative in JLP’s Community Matters programme, which over the last 15 years has distributed £40m.

Battling unfairness

Retailers have always stood up for their customers in all sorts of ways. This year, Marks & Spencer and partner Wuka campaigned for the abolition of VAT on period pants. Their classification as clothing incurred a 20% tax rate, hitting women’s budgets and failing to recognise sustainability benefits.

The campaign, also backed by retailers George at Asda, Primark, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, secured victory when the tax was scrapped following the chancellor’s autumn statement.

Pet project

Pet specialist Jollyes began selling social enterprise BillyChip tokens, enabling customers to buy a £2 chip that can be exchanged for dog food for homeless pet owners, thought to be between 5% and 25%.

The ‘street currency’, created to overcome some of the concerns people have about giving cash to the homeless can also be used to buy food and drink in cafes and restaurants. The chips can either be given directly to homeless people or deposited at the till.

Circular economy

Reuse, pre-loved – call it what you will, retailers are finding ways to give new life to second-hand products. WHSmith, in partnership with buyback service Zeercle, is taking that approach with books.

Customers can trade in unwanted books and receive a WHSmith e-gift card in return. The books are then resold through Zeercle.

The scheme reflects WHSmith’s “commitment to championing literacy and a love of reading across the communities it serves” as well as reducing environmental impact.

Individuals making a difference

It’s not just at corporate level that retailers act. Countless individuals go much further than their job description to be a positive force in their neighbourhoods and the annual Retail Week Awards, sponsored by Salesforce, recognise their impact.

This year’s Community Hero Awards winner, Russet BP Connect store manager Ganesamoorthy ‘Nithiy’ Nithiyakumar, was recognised for his fantastic work on everything from helping the elderly to countering anti-social behaviour.

Retail can be proud that across the industry there are many more like him.

Net zero ambition

While the government has faced some criticism for its approach to sustainability, retailers have not deviated from their drive to achieve net zero.

Through the BRC’s Climate Action Roadmap they are committed to achieving net zero by 2040 – that’s 10 years earlier than the government’s target. As well as reducing their own impact, retailers are helping end-consumers do the same.

Kingfisher-owned Screwfix’s use of hydrotreated vegetable oil to cut fleet emissions, and Currys’ repair and takeback services for consumers, are just two examples of how the industry is making the supply chain more sustainable.

Looking after staff

Retail relies on its frontline staff. Companies have not just upped pay to reflect the increased cost of living, they have expanded employment benefits to reflect contemporary life and attract the best talent.

Just this week, for instance, Lidl said it had set “a new benchmark” among supermarkets as it doubled full-pay maternity and adoption leave from 14 to 28 weeks.

It said the change showed its “dedication to fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace.”

Toys for Christmas

Retailers’ business partners and customers mirror the industry’s efforts to ensure a happy Christmas for the less fortunate.

This year, Woking’s Victoria Place shopping centre, for example, collected 8,020 toys – far exceeding the 2,800 donated last year – to be given to three local charities.

The centre said: “All these donations show just how important giving back is for people this year.”

Ethics front of mind

Alongside sustainability, ethical business has climbed up the agenda for some years and retailers have sought to raise the bar where they source goods as well as in their own immediate operations.

Primark has long taken a proactive stance. Last year, for example, Primark ran a skills development programme in 17 factories where there are 29,224 female workers, and took a number of steps to advance the cause of a living wage for workers in its supply chain.

Long-term partners

Retailers provide good causes with long-term support, helping them to make a difference over a sustained period and becoming trusted and valued partners.

Such support is all the more vital when charities themselves may face financial pressure as higher costs affect their operations as well as donations from individuals.

Tesco has supported the British Red Cross for more than 25 years and over that time has donated £25m.

Keeping prices low

As the cost of living has weighed down on customers, retailers across the board have done all they can to keep prices as low as possible and protect shoppers from the full effects of inflation.

The year ended with slowing inflation. This week, official data showed that inflation was 3.9% in the year to November – the lowest level in more than two years. 

Easing food price inflation helped, along with lower prices for some household products.

While inflation is still a concern for many consumers, its reduction will be a welcome Christmas present and the hope is that it will flow through further in the new year.

Happy Christmas from all of us at Retail Week, and all the best for the new year.