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New General Market: Retailers seek alignment around purpose

Retailers often strive to be purpose-driven companies, but it can be challenging to execute against that purpose across an entire organization.

For example, store-level workers often behave in unexpected ways, according to retail panelists at the recent New General Market Purpose-Driven Summit presented by Drug Store News and Mack Elevation.

“They are interacting with thousands of people every day, and not all of those interactions are going to go according to the way the handbook would like them to interact,” said George Coleman, vice president of merchandising for consumer healthcare at CVS Health.

He cited a remark recently made by Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health: even if 99% of employees are doing the right thing, that leaves a couple thousand who may not be performing by the book.

“You can’t legislate every behavior in your company, but if you have a strong enough set of core values underpinning your purpose, and if you model those as leaders and hold people accountable for those behaviors, people can internalize those things themselves and make it their own,” Coleman said.

CVS Health’s purpose, he said, is “helping people on the path to better health.” It is reflected in such corporate initiatives as the removal of tobacco products from the company’s stores and the more recent “beauty in real life” approach to marketing in which only unretouched photos are used.

Citing research showing that 80% of young girls feel worse about themselves after viewing beauty advertising, Coleman said the move away from using retouched photos is meant to address the mental health of those consumers. As a healthcare company, CVS Health has insights into the growing use of antidepressants and antianxiety medications, he said.

“Our purpose, helping people on the path to better health, really does drive us,” Coleman said. “[Eliminating] tobacco was the big headliner, but we have been building on these things every year.”

Latriece Watkins, senior vice president at Walmart, said the retailer ensures its workers are familiar with Walmart’s purpose, which is to help people save money so they can live better lives.

“Our associates know that our purpose is to save people money so they can live better. We also know that time is important to our customers, and we want to be the place they can count on us for saving time and money,” she said. “Customers still love going to our stores, and we work hard to ensure that we’re enabling them to shop however they want, wherever they want, whenever they want.”

Over time, Walmart’s brand promise has expanded beyond just seeking to offer everyday low prices to include saving people time, as well, which is reflected in such initiatives as free two-day shipping without a membership fee on orders of $35 or more, online grocery pickup and delivery, and Pickup Today. Watkins said the changes are driving the company to “reimagine the store.”

Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health, agreed that communicating the company’s purpose clearly to all associate across 18 retail banners can be a challenge.

She said that Kroger is dedicated to its purpose: to “Feed the Human Spirit.” She also said that Kroger’s nearly half a million associates serve over 9 million customers daily through a seamless digital shopping experience, 2,800 retail food stores, 2,300 pharmacies and 220 retail clinics, as well as through food inspiration and uplift, and creating #ZeroHungerZeroWaste communities by 2025.

Lindholz said Kroger Health increasingly seeks opportunities to fulfill its vision of helping people live healthier lives by creating solutions that combine health, wellness and nutrition, and connect with customers on a personal and emotional level.

“We believe food is medicine,” she said. Through our new OptUP mobile app, we are providing an easy way to make healthier food choices … it’s your virtual assistant for personalized healthier shopping.”

Chris Skyers, vice president of own brands at Wakefern Food, the retailer-owned cooperative and parent of the ShopRite banner, said achieving internal alignment around purpose can be challenging, and companies need to focus on it relentlessly to succeed.

“Stay true to your core and really focus on that,” he said. “If it is feeding the community, stay focused on that. Otherwise, what will happen is you will just be good at it, rather than great at it.”

Skyers said collaboration and trust are key to internal alignment around purpose.

“It’s really about getting the right people on board and then giving them the freedom to make mistakes,” he said.

This story is part of a Special Report on the New General Market Purpose-Driven Summit — to read more insights, click here
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