Sep 13, 2019 | By Athena Chen
The recent controversy that H&M found itself embroiled in quantifies the real business impact of socially inconsiderate decisions; while underlining the case for brands to put social issues at the core of their brand values.
H&M issued an apology last week after images of a black child modeling one of its children’s jumper with the slogan ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’, led to massive social media outrage. Consumer data from WGSN’s brand tracking tool, Barometer, shows 12% of UK womenswear shoppers heard something negative about H&M as recently as of 18thJanuary – no doubt as a direct result of the social media controversy around the image.
More worryingly, when asked whether consumers would consider buying from H&M, numbers dropped from 58% the day before the images broke to 49% just a week later; underlining the real commercial impact of such insensitive decisions.
Critically, negative sentiment towards the retailer was highest among younger consumers – H&M’s core consumer base – a fact that also speaks to a wider and more significant consumer trend. Millennials and Gen Z customers are actively engaged with social issues and care deeply about the ethos and social attitude of brands. These are values they will carry with them as they age, and will form the backbone of their purchasing decisions. As this consumer group becomes more commercially powerful (with age and spending power), they will determine the future of retail.
Bearing this in mind, retailers who succeed will be those that put social issues (such as sustainability, racial sensitivity, commitment to diversity, and supply chain transparency) at the core of their brand values.
H&M (the parent company) is painfully aware of this need, as these are values that its smaller brands Arket, Weekday and upcoming Nyden espouse.
There is no doubt that H&M is a savvy retailer, and by issuing an immediate and unconditional apology, it stemmed the potential fallout from this PR disaster – a fact that was reflected in its brand consideration score, which picked back up again to 56% a few days after the apology. It’s transparency, willingness to admit its mistake and rapid action (it also appointed a Chief Diversity Officer this week) are all actions that other retailers can learn from.
WGSN’s Barometer is used to track public perception of retailers. It interviews 350 consumers every day, yielding over 120,000 interviews a year, composed of over 100 questions
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