The true value of CSR in retail

Understanding the current trust crisis in retail and the enormous opportunities it can bring.

Consumer trust has reached record lows. As Australians, our trust in business is amongst the world’s lowest, where we keep company with Colombia, Indonesia and Turkey. While this reflects profound challenges for retail, there lies a powerful opportunity.

As human beings, we’re wired to ‘hope for the best’. We work hard on a version of what’s worked before, believing and hoping, it will produce similar results. Yet what if it doesn’t? For many retailers, it isn’t. There’s innovation – yet what may be required is revolution. And if so, towards what?

In a world of great complexity, it’s hard to see the macro trends shaping society, and as consumers, our changing expectations of the retail brands we choose to support.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some extraordinary individuals working across media, finance, retail and the non-profit sector. From CEOs, to Order of Australia’s and award-winning journalists, these opportunities have been humbling and illuminating.

As a global trend, the following appears to be true:

• We are increasingly immune to the illusions of glamour

• We are urgently seeking authenticity

• We are building tribes around brands that resonate with our values

• We want retailers to have a clear, authentic ‘purpose beyond product’

• We want retail to be a ‘force for good’ – to also exist to help solve issues we care about

• We want to be meaningfully engaged – with 100% transparency – in a brand’s social impact. This must feel and be authentic.

• We want our purchases to create positive impact on someone, or something, greater than ourselves. And we genuinely care how products are manufactured and the conditions of workers.

Corporate Social Responsibility is evolving. Fast. As the above illustrates, this has become a consumer-driven movement asking business to deliver what it’s not designed to provide. These are not the foundations upon which retail was built. Indeed, it runs counter to the profit-driven principles at the heart of business. Or does it?

It’s consistently proven how brands that give back, engage their customers – simply and transparently – and commit to being ‘a force for good’ become more profitable. In some cases, several times more profitable than their nearest competitor.

The underlying trend this represents, is our desire for retail to reflect our humanity. No one wants to go to work, enter a store (or website) and be treated like their value is purely transactional. As we wish to bring our fullest selves to work, we wish for retailers to share our values and concerns for the world.

Yet there are pitfalls along the path. Giving back an unclear amount from one product for one month, for example, will raise much-needed funds for a non-profit, yet won’t build a tribe committed to your cause. While such initiatives may be authentic, they can often feel like marketing.

Today, aligning your brand with a non-profit can be very powerful, but must come with commitment. Why? The issue is ongoing. So a month’s support can seem ‘tokenistic’ or, at worst, insensitive. Remember, Australian consumers are among the world’s most skeptical.

We want to know the brand we’re supporting is committed to making a genuine difference. TOMS is a great example. Buy a pair of shoes, they give a pair to a child in need.

Imagine. You place an item in your basket. You teeter on the edge of purchase. Then you see the brand gives back. Your ‘purchase guilt’ becomes silent. Buying will impact someone else’s life! Your choice is larger than you. It’s now important. It’s emotional. There’s nothing more to think about. You buy.

i=Change makes it simple for brands to give back with every purchase. These brands see up to 6% of customers not abandon-cart, i.e. complete their purchase when seeing, at the critical point of purchase, that they give back. This is a fascinating, measurable indicator of how much customers care and are looking for their purchase to be validated emotionally.

Such a commitment also provides consistent content – beyond product – which can be freely shared to educate and inspire. Brands are often exponentially rewarded for efforts that don’t intend to sell anything, but simply surprise and delight their community.

The opportunity to win trust, loyalty and market share is enormous. Is this the next great frontier for retail? We’re seeing some extraordinary brands take the lead. What’s required now is to normalise the revolution. Your customers are waiting.

Jeremy Meltzer is Founder of i=Change, a tech solution that’s made it simple for online retailers to give back and engage their customers with every purchase. i=Change focuses on funding projects that empower women women & girls. Learn more at





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