Activism motivates today's shoppers

Consumers are more likely to support a brand with a good cause than boycott one with bad values. (Kaique Rocha/Pexels)

Consumers are increasingly making purchase decisions based on values. According to a recent survey from Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, consumer activism is now playing an important role in shoppers' decisions to support or boycott specific brands. 

As part of what's being called the "BUYcott movement," 8 in 10 consumer activists in the U.S. and 83% in the U.K. agree it is more important than ever to support companies that do the right thing by BUYcotting. 

"Retailers should be aware that BUYcotting is a new strain of activism that is fast-growing," Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist, Weber Shandwick, told FierceRetail. "Customers want to mobilize in support of companies and help lift their reputations when they take actions that customers agree with."

She recommends that retailers become more familiar with some of the newer online activist groups that have emerged and recognize that customers are eager to be constructive. 

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"As always, retailers should be attuned to what customers are saying, communicate their corporate social responsibility initiatives to build trust and attentively monitor social media sentiment," he added.

So while 59% of shoppers believe in participating in boycotts, many shoppers think it is more effective to BUYcott, or support those retailers and manufacturers projecting good values. Another 37% of BUYcott respondents said they are more likely to take action in activism in the next two years versus 28% of boycotters who plan to take action. 

Almost half, 48%, of BUYcott behavior is attributed to supporting a company's reputation, while boycotters, 36%, are looking to change the way a company does business, or harming, 35%, a brand's reputation. 

But could a retailer taking a stand on a social issue backfire? 

Gaines-Ross reports that Weber Shandwick’s two studies on CEO activism found that there is support for CEOs and their companies to take a stand on important and often contentious social issues. However, there are still risks.

"Nearly 40% of U.S. adults in our research believe that CEOs have a responsibility to speak out on hot-button issues," she said. "But the survey also showed that chief executives need to show caution with the topics about which they choose to speak out because 32% of respondents have a less favorable opinion of CEOs who speak out on issues that are not tied to their companies’ respective line of business." 

In addition, other Weber Shandwick research found that 47% of millennials believe CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to society, yet only 28% of Gen Xers and baby boomers agree. 

In some research on CEO activism, employees in the retail industry are more likely to say that if they agree with their CEO’s public stand on a social issue, it will increase their loyalty to their employer (29%) versus decreasing their loyalty to their employer (19%). 

"Companies and their leaders need to proceed with a healthy dose of caution if they engage deeply on issues that are squarely and controversially in the public realm," said Gaines-Ross. "For the retail industry who interfaces with the general public, companies should be prepared for backlash and criticism but they must also realize that their employees and customers might expect them to stand up for the retailer’s values. For a CEO’s and company’s activism to enjoy credibility and rally support, it is important to overarticulate why this issue is related to the company’s mission and values and conduct a risk-benefit analysis on the effects on company reputation and sales."