Pandemic-Era Altruism: 3 Lessons From Pedigree, Kroger, Zappos and More

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By: Bryan Pearson |

Posted on November 6, 2020

The Pandemic Has Taken A Lot Out Of Us. So More People Are Giving Back.

With the pandemic earlier this year effectively shutting down the nation’s economy, forcing people indoors and separating families, people have evidently had a lot of time to reflect. And what they see, or want to see, is something better than what their memory recalls from 2019.

Nearly 23% of shoppers said they are more likely to give to social and environmental causes since the effects of the pandemic, an August survey of 1,500 Americans by the research groups Element54 and Maru/Blue has found. Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Just 11% of respondents said they regularly donated to social and environmental causes before the pandemic; 21% did so occasionally.
  • 27% of those surveyed consumers said they are now, since the pandemic, more likely to shop retailers and brands that support social causes. That compares with 16% of respondents before the pandemic, a 68% increase.
  • 27% said they are now more likely to shop retailers and brands that support environmental causes, up 50% compared with 18% who regularly contributed before the pandemic.
  • Among respondents ages 18 to 34, 42% are now more likely to shop companies that support environmental and social causes. That’s an increase of 68% since before the pandemic, when roughly 25% did. That nearly one in two people in this cohort thinks this way is an important bellwether for retailers and brands.

Indeed, charitable donations to Schwab Charitable, one of America’s largest philanthropic funds, rose 46% in the first half of 2020 to more than $1.7 billion, marking the most generous giving recorded in the fund’s history.

Yet the pandemic has forced many retailers to back-burner social, environmental and governmental issues as they are still scrambling to maintain safety protocols, deal with continuing inventory issues and reinforce their e-commerce initiatives for a potential second wave – all while trying to overcome dramatic sales losses.

Retailers Are Rising To The Crisis

Many brands and retailers adopted charitable measures to encourage consumer spending when shoppers were worried about making enough money to pay the bills – such as options to pay for purchases in installments. However, some companies are standing apart by creating altruistic programs that should show marked social differences. Among them:

Pedigree to the rescue. Dog food brand Pedigree has introduced the One True Loyalty Program to encourage more shelter adoptions by covering the fees (up to $200 per adoption) incurred by those who adopt a dog. To qualify, members must purchase two bags of Pedigree dog food (15 pounds or more). The program, launched Aug. 1, runs through Oct. 31. (In other loyalty efforts, 7-Eleven suspended the expiration of its 7Reward points to Aug. 31, recognizing many of its members were shopping less due to financial and health concerns.)

Williams Sonoma WSM +1% keeps kids fed. The kitchenware retailer in the spring ensured that its long-running partnership with No Kids Hungry program served children during school closures. In August, Williams Sonoma launched the program’s sixth annual Tools for Change celebrity-designed spatula fundraiser with the goal of raising $3 million, which will pay for 30 million meals.

Crocs CROX +2.8% and Zappos provide shoe leather support. Early in the pandemic, the shoe manufacturer and retailer partnered on a pledge to donate 10,000 pairs of shoes a day to healthcare workers, and Crocs invited customers to donate a pair of workwear Crocs for 30% off. Since then Crocs has provided more than 860,000 pairs of shoes to healthcare workers and continues to encourage shoppers to donate. DSW, New Balance and Aerosoles also donated shoes to frontline workers.

BlackCool cares in installments. In 2019, 30% of consumers held “buy now, pay later” installment accounts. That figure is likely on the rise, and some retailers and are teaming with “buy now, pay later” payment services to encourage customers to donate to pandemic-related causes. Atlanta-based lifestyle and apparel brandBlackCool recorded a 600% sales increase after offering installment payment options.

Kroger KR -0.5% passes the test on. Kroger Health, the healthcare division of supermarket chain Kroger, has expanded its COVID-19 testing to more than 220 clinic locations. The division also plans to launch an employer health and wellness program to expedite employee testing, called COVIDCare Plus, in 17 states (Kroger’s reward program is called KrogerPlus). The program will supply employers with Kroger Health’s COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kits, which enable self-testing with virtual assistance by licensed healthcare professionals.

This Altruism Shouldn’t End With The Vaccine

Hopefully, by this time next year kids will be in school, office plants will be thriving and the pandemic will have been a learning moment. Retailers indeed have learned they can adopt radical changes faster than expected (and effectively!).

The pandemic-inspired lesson to more heartily support social, environmental and government causes should remain as part of retail’s foundational makeup as well. Here are four important reasons why:

  • This heightened sense of altruism isn’t expected to be short-lived38% of global consumers said the brands helping people now, during the outbreak, will influence their purchases after the pandemic.
  • Altruism extends to other “do-better” acts. Slightly more shoppers plan to continue buying brands that are fair trade and ethically made now than before the pandemic – 39% compared with 38%, according to research by WSL Strategic Retail. Further, 56% of global consumers are buying more locally sourced products since the pandemic – 84% plan to continue to do so long-term.
  • But the future exists beyond the calendar – it’s a demographic. Younger shoppers are more likely to expect brands to give. Nearly 90% of Gen Z shoppers think it’s “necessary” that brands aid in pandemic-related relief efforts. This group not only is gaining spending power as its 20-something members enter the workforce, they can influence the purchase decisions of their Gen X parents.
  • It’s a solid investment in many ways. Large financial investors, as well as players in the equity markets, are making significant efforts to factor in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) activities of companies in their investment portfolios. BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager, made headlines by declaring sustainability “a new standards for investing.” Not only does doing this make sense from a consumer perspective, but the financial markets might also be looking for such actions before making key investment decisions. 

Lastly, the more retailers and brands support these causes now, the better we as a society will be prepared for the next crisis. Every opportunity retailers and brands seize now to improve their logistics, fulfillment, technology and leadership will pay off multi-fold.

Bryan Pearson is a Featured Contributor to The Wise Marketer and currently serves as a director and strategic advisor to a number of loyalty-related organizations. He is the former CEO of LoyaltyOne.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Be sure to follow Bryan on Twitter for more on retail, loyalty, and the customer experience.