In an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, retailers are trying to differentiate themselves through their “culture” of shared values, practices and objectives. Many retailers have struggled to convey a culture that enables them to identify with their target market but the way some have reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic has given shoppers a more tangible insight into their culture in a way that expensive marketing campaigns, experiential retailing efforts or widely publicised sustainability policies could not.
As Covid-19 took hold in the UK, retailers that were swift to support the relief effort by providing NHS workers on the front line with care parcels (John Lewis, M&S and Primark) and food deliveries (Tesco) or those repurposing their factories to produce ventilators (Dyson) or medical gowns, scrubs and PPE (H&M, Barbour, Burberry, Dunelm and Mulberry to name but a few) because they thought it was the right thing to do have earned the gratitude of the nation. However, retailers that openly flouted Government guidance and kept stores open or used tenuous loopholes to do so, those that ignored staff safety concerns, financially secure retailers needlessly utilising the Government’s furlough scheme or those withholding rent having just posting bumper profits may have misjudged the public mood to such an extent that they have permanently alienated a significant proportion of their customer base. As we gradually return to the ‘new normal’, it will be interesting to see whether retailers that have successfully conveyed a positive and supportive culture in response to the challenges posed by Covid-19 will reap the rewards of a wider fan base.
There was a time when sceptics, me included, might have taken the words ‘company culture’ with a large pinch of salt. Seen as a tactic to help businesses stand out as unique versus their competitors and more attractive during the talent acquisition process, the concept of culture felt, in many cases, to be backed up more by PR spin than evidence. Coronavirus, and the responses of certain companies to the challenges it has posed, have helped to dispel such myths.