As Black History Month comes to a close in the UK, here at Stellar we’re looking forward and thinking about the ways we can continue to support, promote and empower black people in our industry. Because one month a year is not enough.
For real change to take place, to completely eradicate racial prejudice and discrimination, we have to make it a priority all 365 days of the year. Blackhistorymonth.org.uk encourages us to ‘dig deep, look closer, think bigger’ in a bid to push this message, spark conversation and transform our society.
Articles in this month’s edition of the Black History Month (B : M) magazine also make a point of reminding readers that black history should be considered and discussed all year round rather than confining it to a four-week period every 12 months. And this is no different in retail. From consumers to employees to brand owners, the black community is one that has historically been overlooked and significantly underrepresented time and time again in the world of retail.
At Stellar, it is our mission to ensure diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of everything we do, all year long. This means ensuring representation, endorsing equity and equality, and challenging prejudice of any kind. In this article, we take a look at why championing black people in retail is critical and how to do this in your business. Let’s dive in.
Meeting the consumer demand
There is a rising demand amongst the younger generations of shoppers for brands to show greater diversity and inclusivity not only in their product lines but also at an organisational level. Research carried out on consumers and their buying decisions highlights the significance of this demand:
- 90% of Gen Z consumers think companies should address racial equality.
- 51% of Gen Z are more likely to become a customer of brands that advocate for racial justice.
- 60% of Millennials want brands to take a stance on racial justice
- 47% of Millennials are more likely to buy from brands committed to diversity and inclusion.
It’s clear that this next generation of shoppers is basing their purchasing decisions on more than just price and quality — they’re far more likely to devote their loyalty to brands with a progressive, inclusive ethos — better still, those who make a noise about it and use their platforms to campaign for change.
Therefore, failing to acknowledge and champion diversity within your organisation is a surefire way to lose customers fast.
Representation must be reflected through the recruitment of sales assistants and store managers from diverse backgrounds who, together, create a global culture and far-reaching appeal. Populating your team from the ground up with individuals from all walks of life will not only help promote inclusion, but also grow awareness, educate, and demolish preconceived prejudices.
Employees expect higher standards of support, empathy and understanding from the brands they work for and will seek out those who share their values and treat them fairly. Brands failing to move forwards or open their minds to the cultural needs of the individuals they employ will quickly feel the repercussions. At the same time, a zero-tolerance policy for any type of hate speech, racism, bigotry and the like should be implemented and strictly adhered to and applied to all, whether staff or customer.
Much more needs to be done to redress the balance at the top too. As the British Retail Consortium reports, 81% of UK retailers still have all-white boards and 68% have no ethnic minority leadership on their executive committees. When 12.5% of the UK population identifies as belonging to an ethnic minority, this imbalance of representation across retail executive teams becomes a real issue.
By taking important steps to address imbalances and ensure staff and products are representative of the customers they serve, you will not only bring benefits to your business, but you will also promote a supportive, inclusive environment that challenges discrimination and empowers your team to be themselves and thrive.
Equality in customer experience
Exceptional customer experiences are crucial to building long-term loyalty among shoppers. Yet, in retail, there still exists a major divide between the way white consumers experience shopping and the way black consumers experience shopping.
According to a report by Deal Aid, more than 90% of Black or African American consumers have experienced racial profiling whilst shopping. Another study commissioned by French beauty brand, Sephora, found that shoppers from minority groups adopt certain behaviours to avoid being falsely accused of shoplifting, such as not touching product samples, dressing smartly for their shopping trips or even forgoing in-store shopping to browse online instead.
This kind of discrimination is so widespread and ingrained in society — singer Leona Lewis has even spoken out about her own personal experiences — that it has been given the term ‘shopping while black’.
Brands and retailers must work hard to mitigate racial bias and ensure all customers feel safe, welcome and valued. Staff training, resources to raise awareness, and Diversity and Inclusion programmes can all help to create an enjoyable shopping experience for shoppers, regardless of their ethnicity.
Bringing black-owned brands to the fore
Today’s savvier brands and retailers understand the complexities of the 21st-century consumer. They expect so much more from shopping experiences, regardless of how they engage with a brand, and that includes representation in the form of products, imagery, promotions, social posts, product experts and brand culture.
Brands can no longer stock their stores (physical or virtual) with products that might appeal to customers from a purely aesthetic, practical or financial viewpoint. They need to speak to a much deeper connection, whether culturally, ethically or emotionally.
In an article for Business Insider, Mita Mallick, head of diversity and inclusion and cross-cultural marketing at Unilever, suggests launching a supplier diversity programme. She says, “This is an opportunity to bring innovation and differentiated products and services to your store, and a critical step to ensure diversity of representation exists on your shelves.”
One company leading by example is Sephora. Their brand incubation programme, Sephora Accelerate, invites Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) brand founders in the beauty industry to join a six-month long bootcamp where they will master key business skills, before launching their products with Sephora.
Stocking products from or working in partnership with black-owned businesses not only helps your brand grow its audience but it also gives these business owners much-needed support to grow their own customer base and explore new opportunities they are all too often excluded from.
Bringing black-owned brands to the fore
Though we’ll have to wait another 12 months to celebrate Black History Month in the UK, there’s no need to wait on taking action. Fighting racial bias and championing black people in retail must happen today, tomorrow and every day.
Catherine Ross, editor of B : M magazine, says, “To get to a better tomorrow, we can’t just focus on the past. The past is in the past. We can acknowledge and learn from it, but to improve the future, we need action, not words. We need to come together around a shared, common goal to achieve a better world for everyone.”
With consumer demand for greater diversity and inclusivity in retail on the rise, brands have a responsibility to act on this and put in place the values, the training, and the support needed to champion black communities in the retail space. Whether it’s advocating for employees within your business, partnering with black-owned brands or creating exceptional experiences for your customers, your brand has the power to make a difference.