Public sector shrinking, high streets emptying and trust in big business declining is the backdrop of the new research by RSA 2020/Asda entitled “Shopping for shared value” launched recently.
The research into the impact of supermarkets on their local communities suggests that new retail models can bridge the gaps caused by austerity whilst at the same time possibly generate social value.
Nearly 50m retail transactions in the UK take place each day resulting in businesses being hard pressed to interact with their public. Peoples shopping habits are changing and the growth of online shopping is causing our shopping centres to empty. These, together with economic and environmental challenges, are the issues facing our town centre retailers and communities.
The RSA worked for six months with Asda exploring how the retailer could reconnect and strengthen the communities that live near their stores. Research focused on Tilbury, Battersea and Oldham and some local communities wanted their local Asda to offer for example a wider range of health services and help tackle nutrition, food budgeting and teach cooking skills.
Every community has it’s own individual characteristics and challenges and it’s been long recognised that top down doesn’t work. As Asda’s director of external affairs Paul Kelly said: “The opportunity is for retailers and communities to work together on issues that are holding communities back.”
It was found that they wanted not only value for money but also social value from their local supermarket.
Free space in Asdas 570 stores used by community groups may be a real possibility, including allocating 22 hours per week of paid staff time to coordinate local engagement and work with local communities.
In a nutshell it means that a social mission needs to be embedded in the corporate culture and business plan. This social mission is already being embraced by staff who work on the Community Life programme who openly stated that they want to give and not take.
I must admit it was refreshing to sit in the Great Room at John Adams Street listening to Asda staff (Community Champions) tell the audience of their experiences with local communities. Their enthusiasm shone from the platform and their new role clearly gave them great job satisfaction.
But the more important question of whether you can measure the delivery of social value through an organisation that is focused on competitive advantage has yet to be examined.
by Lily Barton