The shopper of the twenty-first century is quite unlike that of any previous generation. Customers today are better informed than ever before, with instant access to a vast array of information on the products they buy, how and where they are made and by whom.
With the click of a mouse or by tapping a smartphone, we can find out so much more about a product than simply what is printed on the label.
With such a wealth of information at his or her disposal – most of it freely available — the twenty-first century shopper is more conscious than ever before about what they buy and how it came to arrive in the store or on the website. Retailers, keenly aware of this, work hard to keep pace with the ever growing needs and expectations of their customers.
Maintaining the trust of the customer is critical to the long-term survival of any retailer in the age of mass information. Key to keeping that trust is making sure the business is as transparent and open as possible. It should come as no surprise, that the most successful retailers are those which make transparency a top priority, both in times of crisis when something does go wrong and also, crucially, in the ordinary course of business.
Delivering that transparency is however an increasing challenge given the long and often complex chains of suppliers which are essential for retailers to offer their customers a diverse range of products at affordable prices.
Nevertheless, consumers still have a right to expect that the product has been manufactured in a way that meets both environmental and ethical labour standards. With this in mind, retailers work closely with suppliers and NGOs to ensure such standards are met, and to make the information available to customers so they can interrogate how retailers source their products.
This raises another challenge however: how best to provide the customer with product information or, at the very least, make them aware that it exists. The British Retail Consortium’s Great Expectations roundtables in 2014 comprising participants from the worlds of business, NGOs and government, concluded that there is a limit to the amount of information that can be squeezed onto an already packed product label without confusing consumers. On food products for example, BRC member companies provide detailed information on the pack, such as nutritional content, country of origin and traceability. To add more to the product label risks ‘information overload’ for customers.
Retailers are therefore are continuing to make greater use of other tools such as dedicated webpages and social media to help customers feel confident and assured about what they buy. They know that this is a never-ending journey and one where the ultimate arbiter is the customer who will vote with their wallet if their trust is lost.