It’s that time of year again. The fairy lights are twinkling, the festive songs are playing and, in the next few weeks, we’ll hit the high spot of the retailer’s year – Christmas.
It’s that time of year again. The fairy lights are twinkling, the festive songs are playing and, in the next few weeks, we’ll hit the high spot of the retailer’s year – Christmas. And of course, this is the time when retailers and manufacturers consider the role of charity, both as a spiritual balance to the longed for excesses of spending, or as part of cause-related marketing and a contributor to the general feel-good atmosphere of the season.
We’ve seen some great retail-led charitable campaigns in recent years. The more imaginative ones burrow into the nation’s psyche and contribute to the fun of Christmas. I’ve enjoyed watching the charitable approach conceived by Innocent, which came up with the brilliant Big Knit campaign. What can be more appealing than to see hand-knitted woolly hats popped on top of smoothie bottles. The bonding effect of staff ‘knit-ins’ was as successful as the resulting donation to Age UK, which received 25p for every bobble-hatted bottle sold, with the strap line: ‘Make winter warmer for older people’.
In many ways charitable giving has become part of our Christmas retail experience. But regardless of how engaging these campaigns might be, they feel to me like something of the past. They fail to realise how the paradigm of corporate responsibility has changed. After all, doing good is not the same as being good. Transparency and honesty are not just desirable but expected and, in an era of unprecedented consumer empowerment, there are big implications for retailers.
That is why this summer I was very impressed to learn more about Toms. It’s a shoe manufacturing company set up by the young American entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie – who lives on a boathouse near Los Angeles. He founded Toms on the premise that buying equals giving. With every pair of shoes you purchase, Toms will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for one.
It’s a great concept, and so simple to convey. Blake was moved to think creatively after being horrified by the extreme poverty he witnessed while travelling in Argentina in 2006. He saw children walking without shoes and was inspired to do something about the situation. He took the simple Argentine alpargata shoe and adapted it for the US market. During its first year the business sold 10,000 pairs of shoes and by last year it had sold over a million. Toms now gives in over 20 countries and works with charitable partners who incorporate shoes into their health, education, hygiene and community development programmes. It’s an entrepreneurial approach that gladdens the heart and shows that giving need not be just something thought about at Christmas.
It’s clear that spending and giving are part of the same activity and have been shown to work successfully. However, in order to have positive social impact beyond the seasonal ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling, companies need to bring social responsibility into the way their business operates and take on the concept of ‘not only for profit’. As we gear up for another festive season, this approach is something that more retailers should consider, long after the tinsel and lights have been packed away.
- Moira Benigson, Managing partner, MBS Group