Disrupting Traditional Retail Management: How to Embrace Ethical & Sustainable Inventory Selection

Wooden Shipping Pallets; Ethical Inventory; Supply Chain Management

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures at http://pixabay.com

Like all other industries, retail companies have the ability, opportunity and power to make the world a better place.

Having just completed a course on retailing management, I’ve realized just how much planning and strategizing goes into running a successful retail business. And admittedly, it’s a little overwhelming.

Though the retail industry is competitive, it doesn’t mean that company’s within this sector are exempt from driving social change.

And we know that it’s not impossible either. There are many examples of retailers that are trailblazing, disrupting and leading the way in scaling positive corporate impact.

It’s impossible to cover all of the ways a retail company can scale positive impact in one blog post. However, there’s an important trend emerging within the retailing industry, which is worth exploring.

That trend is ethical and sustainable product assortment.

The big question is this: what makes inventory selection ethical and sustainable?

The easy answer is to say that it is the process whereby retailers purchase products that are ethical and sustainable. But this answer is just too simplistic. Not only should retailers be stocking their shelves with ethical and sustainable products, but they should also be phasing out and eliminating the unethical and unsustainable ones.

Awhile back I wrote a review on a book titled Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business: Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia. John Mackey, Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, mentions this issue. What should retailers do about products that aren’t so good? What if customers demand them despite their negative impact? Should a retailer discontinue and boycott certain products?

For years, retailers have lived by the mantra the customer is always right.

But is the customer always right?

Maybe not it seems.

If your retail company is looking to scale its positive impact, expanding product and inventory selection to include ethical and sustainable products is only half the battle. It’s important to also phase out harmful, unethical and unsustainable products from your inventory.

But how can this be done if customers are demanding and purchasing such products?

Below I’ve shared some ideas to help your company embrace disruptive retail management:

1. Educate your stakeholders.

Educate your employees, board members, investors, vendors and customers. Tell them why the company is compelled to phase out certain products. Justify and explain. Disperse information across all of your communication channels.

2. Promote better products.

Don’t put your unethical products on sale. Strive to make bad products obsolete. Think of your company’s unethical products like a VHS player. People will eventually stop buying a product if it’s outdated (and if it isn’t on sale)!

3. Form strong relationships with vendors.

Vendors not only need to be looped into your selection process, but they also need to become part of the solution. Let them help with strategy. Knowledge-sharing, transparency, cooperation and problem-solving, as business partners, is key to success.

4. Meet your stakeholders halfway.

Be honest and analyze your company’s strategy thoroughly. Is there a huge price variance between your ethical and unethical product assortments? Are ethical products optimal for purchase (are they ripe, fresh and well stocked)? If you really want your customers to buy your ethical products (which will help you phase out your not-so-good products more quickly), be sure to meet them halfway. That means providing them with good alternatives.

Retailers have the opportunity and the power to change the landscape of business as we know it. Though consumers have immense purchasing power, retailers also have the power to disrupt the status quo and change the world for the better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions and takeaways in regards to ethical and sustainable inventory selection, in the comments section below. Follow the blog for automatic update notifications and follow me on Twitter @CSRtist for regular tweets on corporate good.

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