Does "Retail Activism" Work? Yes and No

half wasted photo

Photo: B. Alter
"Retail activism" is the new catch-phrase that refers to stores getting involved with political issues to raise awareness, raise money and presumably sell stuff.

But does it really have any impact? Do people change their habits, get involved, and learn something because of a supermarket or department store's campaign? Or is it all green wash. A study of a London department store's initiative reveals that YES it does work in this case...but not in all instances.

sea horses photo

Photo: B. Alter

Recently Selfridges, a department store in London, pushed out the boat with a five week campaign called Project Ocean to save the oceans from over fishing. They had all their store windows filled with fish-related images, held exhibitions, lectures and films, and sold only certified fish in their food hall.

The results are in and the store believes that they changed customer buying habits. They raised £90,000 for a conservation project in the Philipines, nearly double the amount they had expected. However most of this was amassed through employee/employer competitions such as a "wax your manager" challenge, raffles and bungee jumps. Apparently "huge" number of ticket sales were made to Selfridges' staff who wanted to see their managers depilated.

store selfridges photo

Photo: B. Alter

They distributed 45,000 of the Marine Conservation Society Fish Guides, a little booklet listing good fish to eat and buy. The sustainable fish selling policy also had an effect. According to the Creative Director of the store, "We have seen green-rated alternatives at our fish counter gaining popularity. Sales of lemon sole are up more than 50 per cent. So is squid. And pollack is replacing a quarter of cod sales."

She also committed to keeping unsustainable fish off its counters in an effort to convince more people to change their buying habits. She said the campaign led to a "wide-scale look at the environmental impact of all of Selfridges' activities and how these might be reduced."

That's the good news. However other food stores have also tried to change people's buying habits and eating habits--particularly around types of fish that they will eat--and it hasn't worked as well. A recent study shows that fish shoppers remain set in their ways. According to the Guardian,"nearly half (41%) of Britons eat cod at least once a month while a fifth of people eat tuna at least once a week. Some 43% of fish eaters are put off trying a different type of fish if they were unsure about its taste, while 31% of people admit they would not try a new fish if they did not know how to cook it."

In the next month Sainsbury's supermarket is kicking off a 'Switch to Fish' campaign that will try to convince shoppers to branch out and eat more than just the standard 5 fishes. They will even offer shoppers free sustainable fish in exchange for the more traditional ones. Jamie Oliver will be the public face of the effort.

forever fish photo

Photo: marks & spencer
Marks & Spencer will be using the profits from the charge on plastic bags to finance a 'Forever Fish' campaign that will promote the use of sustainable fish in more than just the standard format: cooked on the plate. They will encourage people to buy it when used in fresh and frozen meals. They will be promoting lesser known and more plentiful species such as Dab and Flounder. Money will go to the WWF to help clean up beaches and support endangered species.

More On Selfridges and Project Ocean

Washed Up is a Show About Endangered Coral
Project Ocean Is " Retail Activism " at its Best
London Department Store Features Eco Jewellery Successes
Seed Bombs are a Business Now

Does "Retail Activism" Work? Yes and No
But does it really have any impact? Do people change their habits, get

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