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COVID-19: Values Over Transactions

By Miller Zell

Edelman’s 2020 “Trust Barometer” noted that 73 percent of its respondents believe “A company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities where it operates.”

This and similar surveys delivered a clear message: doing the right thing is good and, by the way, also good for the bottom line.

Those surveys, of course, took place well before the COVID-19 pandemic spawned international anxiety and economic uncertainty at a level we’ve not before experienced. Edelman updated its most recent survey with a special report, and it spelled things out in starker terms: “71 percent agree that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.”

The good news is that many business and retailers are not putting profits over people. Many are doing right by their employees, their customers and their communities, even as they face their own existential uncertainty.

Miller Zell isn’t surprised. In fact, this follows notable positive trends in the relationships retailers have developed with shoppers and how they’ve been changing customer interactions within the physical store. They thus set a stage for better connections, ones that go beyond the transaction itself.

Trust matters. Values matter. And they did even before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last year, we broke this down into four facets of value that are still relevant, even during these turbulent times: experience, authenticity, purpose and simplicity.

Experience is obviously much different at present. Previously, Kantar ShopperScape Research survey revealed that 67 percent of shoppers said, “I’m doing more of my shopping now at retailers that provide a gratifying experience.”

At present, customers venture forth to stores only for essential items — and only if they can’t obtain them by delivery. “Gratifying” is now about product availability and ease and safety of transaction.

Yet customers can still experience brands through other forms of messaging and communication, such as press releases, advertising, email, text messages and apps. This presentation needs to be thoughtful and informative. How can customers obtain your products if your stores are closed? What precautions for customers and associates are you taking if your stores are open? What are protocols for BOPIS? Or checking the availability of items?

This incorporates simplicity also. Under normal circumstances, 64 percent of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it provides simpler experiences and communications, according to Global Brand Simplicity Index Report. Hard to believe those sentiments aren’t close to unanimous now.

Further, the messaging needs to feel collaborative, imparting the idea that customer and brand are in this together. These are not times for the hard sell or opportunistic leveraging of demand.

This obviously trickles down into authenticity, and in this instance an awareness of a unique context.

“Brands that act in the interest of their employees, stakeholders and society at large will reinforce their expertise, leadership and trust and immeasurably strengthen the bond they have with consumers,” Edelman’s report said.

That bond will be rooted in a shared sense of purpose. Or not.

While consumers are fighting through a fog of worry right now, they will remember how brands made them feel. They want local action. They want a commitment to help and support employees. They want retailers to reflect their values and they will hold them accountable when we reemerge after this crisis.

Editor's note: This story was published in April of 2020.


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