Key Themes from the Wharton CEO Conference
How to align brand values to today’s consumer expectations was at the center of topics covered at the recent 2022 CEO Summit hosted in New York City by the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Retail Leaders Circle. The conference’s theme, “Values + Purpose: Leading the Neo-Renaissance,” offered a fascinating look into how some of the nation’s top brand and retail leaders – such as Pfizer’s Sally Sussman and Revlon’s Debra Perelman among others – are innovating today in order to remain relevant tomorrow.
Here are my top takeaways:
Gen Z’s influence continues to impact everyone ; Sustainability is sticky
Throughout the CEO Conference, every speaker touched upon issues that are being driven by Gen Z, from community building to saving the planet. First Insight’s recent survey in partnership with Wharton reveals that Gen Z is using its collective voice to influence all generations, and that is especially true when it comes to sustainability. Retailers, brands, and manufacturers need to pay close attention because by 2031, Gen Z’s income will surpass that of millennials. Gen Z values sustainability over brand name, will pay more for sustainable products, and is convincing their Gen X parents to do the same. As retailer and brand CEOs grapple with making sure that their brand continues to resonate with younger consumers, they need to actively listen to these consumers to understand how to improve their efforts on sustainability. Leveraging the data collected from these conversations is one way that companies can evolve to achieve more purpose-driven initiatives, remain inclusive, and meet both employee and consumer expectations.
Safety and Health More Important Than Ever
The pandemic brought to light so many ways we’d been doing business that simply won’t work in the future in the same way—from toxic work environments to overcrowded offices. However, the biggest a-ha moment for many was that employers need to demonstrate their commitment to health and safety to their employees and customers. These new values transcend simply providing a safe or healthy working, shopping, or dining environment. For instance, the best employers now offer resources and assistance for improving the mental and physical health of their employees. Retailers will need to continue to ensure that their customers feel safe shopping in physical retail. They can do this by expanding upon curbside pickup, same day delivery, and easy access to the most popular items. In addition, upgrading physical store locations with better technology can mitigate the exposure to too many people.
Recommerce Is the Next Big Thing
Even Boomers are embracing recommerce or purchases of previously-owned items according to the First Insight Wharton Sustainability report. Boomers are now 56% more likely to engage in recommerce models than they were just two years ago. More than half of those surveyed prefer to shop resale formats for a variety of sustainability reasons. It’s clear that the consumer has become much more complex in a relatively short period of time, and retailers will need to go the extra mile to keep up. For example, First Insight data reveal that among the various sustainable shopping methods, 65% of consumers across all generations prefer brand or retailer-operated recommerce. Yet as third-party resale brands such as ThredUp, The RealReal and Depop continue to develop brand affinity among younger consumers, brands and retailers are giving away the business that they could be generating from new retail formats. Retailers and brands must begin testing and learning with new formats today so that they can retain and attract consumers tomorrow. The best way to start is to listen to your consumers to understand the way they like to shop.
Supply Chain Innovations
One of 2021’s biggest topics and challenges for retailers and consumers alike, supply chain challenges continue to exist. Labor shortages, manufacturing challenges, inflation, and, now, the war in the Ukraine are a few of the factors contributing to challenges for global businesses. The bright side is that the covid pandemic forced manufacturers and brands to take a good hard look at their supply chain and make fundamental changes to improve it. When it wasn’t broken, there was no incentive to fix it. But now that the cracks have turned to fissures, supply chain executives realize that supply chain disruptions are just another cost of doing business. Manufacturers, shippers, and retailers know that the future supply chain must be more sustainable and highly collaborative. Maximizing labor, containers, warehouse space, and last mile within a collective will be more efficient and sustainable in the long run. Digitizing the product creation and buying process will ensure that the products that brands and retailers produce and ship will actually be the ones that their consumers want to buy when they are on the shelves.
In the end, it is clear that we are headed to a more dynamic (meaning…CHANGING) and yes less predicable time ahead. As many noted, one thing is for certain, understanding where people are “moving to” versus where they “have been” will be a new and needed skill set while remaining agile enough to listen, understand and respond.
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