A combination of greater consumer discretion and the infinite accessibility granted by the information age has resulted in an era that demands transparency from businesses. Sometimes referred to as corporate transparency, this approach allows a company’s actions to be visible and accessible to people both inside and outside the organization.
But why is this so important for modern retail businesses, and what can business owners do to provide more transparency to their customers and stakeholders?
The Benefits of Transparency
First, try not to think of transparency as a new requirement, or as an expense that needs to be paid. Instead, transparency is an opportunity. There are many benefits to your business by offering more transparency to its workers, partners and the general public, including gaining more trust, building a more ethically sound reputation and, in some cases, outcompeting other businesses.
There’s also significant external pressure for businesses to adopt transparent practices:
- Modern consumer distrust: Thanks in part to the Great Recession of 2008, modern consumer trust in corporations is at an all-time low. Just 36 percent of consumers see corporations as a source of hope for the economy, and actively distrust most for-profit organizations.
- The availability of information: Thanks to the internet, information is everywhere and can spread like wildfire. Accordingly, people are more demanding of complete information, delivered quickly, and they’ll favor businesses that can provide that to them.
- Sheer competition: Finally, since more businesses are working toward building greater transparency, there’s more pressure on competing businesses to follow suit.
How to Become Transparent
What can modern retailers do to become more transparent? Here are five steps to consider taking:
- Check your labeling. First, do a thorough review of how you’re labeling your products. If you’re selling items that come from other providers, you may have limited control over this variable, but otherwise, you can order your own custom labels to ensure customers are getting complete information about the products they’re buying. List exactly where the product comes from, how it was made, and what customers can expect from using it.
- Create proactive press releases. Every once in a while, your business will get some bad news or make a mistake that compromises its brand reputation. This isn’t the end of the world, so long as you handle it properly. Try to submit press releases proactively before news spins out of control. Explain the situation in full detail, admit fault if you’ve done something wrong, and let people know what you’re doing to make up for it.
- Stay active in the community. You can build more trust and be seen as more open and transparent if your business is more active in the community. Volunteer services or donate to various local causes, and take part in local events. Talk to people in your neighborhood, and try to get to know people on an individual level. The more involved your business is in the community, the more you’ll feel like a neighbor — and the less worried people will be about how you’re operating.
- Show your operations. You can also make more of an effort to show how you’re operating. For starters, you can make your staff more visible to potential customers, offering more windows and visibility into the entire store; restaurants where customers and cooks could see each other ended up with a 17 percent improvement in customer satisfaction, as well as 13 percent faster service overall. You could also include signage throughout the store about how your staff is expected to operate, or publish documents about your operations that are made publicly available.
- Respond to queries openly. Finally, if anyone questions something about your business, make sure to respond to them fully and openly. For example, if a journalist walks in and asks to see your back room, or asks how you source a specific product, show them, and talk openly about your operations. The less you try to hide things, the more comfortable your customers and the general public are going to be — even if your business isn’t perfect.
It doesn’t take much to improve the transparency of your retail business, and the benefits of doing so are potentially enormous. Take a moment to reveal the visibility of your organization’s operations, and question whether you’re doing enough to make that information publicly available to individuals. A little extra time and money spent making sure you’ve earned public trust could be enough to improve both your brand reputation and eventual sales.
Anna Johansson is a freelance writer who specializes in social media and business development.