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Do Mobile Consumers Care About Social Responsibility? Featured

  • Written by  Tom Ryan, Managing Editor, RetailWire

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Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire's recent online discussions. Each business morning on RetailWire, retail industry executives get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a panel of retail industry experts.

Promising to be the first corporate accountability app, recently-launched BizVizz is designed "to make corporate behavior transparent." A snap of a picture of a brand's logo on a store shelf leads to a graphic screen that reveals corporate details such as how much tax a company pays, how much it receives in government subsidies and to whom it provides political donations.

The app comes from 371 Productions, whose president, Brad Lichtenstein, is a documentary filmmaker in the Michael Moore vein. His 2012 Sundance film, We're Not Broke, exposed how U.S.-based multinational companies use offshore profits to avoid paying tax. His latest documentary, As Goes Janesville, details how a Wisconsin town survived losing a General Motors plant and how local civic leaders gave away tax dollars to a prospective company without even holding a public hearing.

"The app was born out of a desire to counter the spin and effort from corporations to distract you from the fact that they have an army of lobbyists winning them tax breaks and these subsidies," Lichtenstein told the Co.Exist blog from Fast Company.

The app consolidates information already collected by the Sunlight Foundation (campaign contributions), Good Jobs First (subsidies), and Citizens for Tax Justice. BizVizz currently features 300 companies and more than 900 brands with plans to expand.

"This is public information," Lichtenstein said in a statement. "We're just making it visible."

The app comes as a new Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) study found 56% of Americans agree that, now more than ever, they're proactively trying to learn more about the companies they hear about or choose to do business with. Harris Interactive defined these consumers as "seekers" and contrasted them with "bystanders" who are not as active in seeking out information.

Among "seekers," 61% have decided not to do business with a company because of something they learned about how it conducts itself. Forty-seven percent (47%) actively tried to influence friends' and family's perceptions about a company because of something they learned about its business practices. Overall, 40% shared information about a company through social media or email.

Retail Experts Weigh The Importance Of Corporate Social Responsibility

In the comments following the article, retail consultants and executives shared detailed insights regarding how they believe corporate social responsibility (CSR) impacts customer loyalty and overall brand perception.

Retail TouchPoints Editor-in-Chief Debbie Hauss started the conversation by saying: “I hope many consumers will pay attention to this information and take it seriously. Conversely, I hope companies will take it seriously, as well. As with most things, if the customers make it a priority, then the business will make it a priority.”

Most contributors agreed that the BizVizz app provides great value to consumers by offering instant access to extremely valuable information that may not be accessible otherwise.

“CSR transparency is a commendable idea,” noted James Tenser, Principal at VSN Strategies. “The BizVizz corporate social responsibility rating app is likely to be ‘gamed’ if past ‘green-washing’ behaviors are any indication. Shoppers have no points of reference with regard to statistics like taxes paid, carbon footprint or PAC contributions. Most of us have little patience for interpreting qualitative factors beyond the product price and rating. But I very much want corporations to feel equally accountable to citizens as they do to shareholders. If this app or another helps create a marketplace of reputation value, then it deserves a chance.”

But the significance of CSR may vary by geographic locations, according to Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive at IBM.

“CSR slowly is growing in importance with varying degrees of consumer penetration in different regions of the world,” Jacobson said. “Mobile-enabled consumers may be savvier to research this information, perhaps. However, I believe the specific country's culture is a stronger factor in CSR's relevance.”

Other factors, such as price, also may have stronger influence over whether shoppers buy from specific companies, even if they’re not characterized as socially responsible.

 “I don’t think any of this information will be earth shattering, mainly because the people downloading and using the app are already plugged into these media outlets anyway,” said Zel Bianco, President, Founder and CEO of Interactive Edge. “It may deter a mother from buying a product that might be harmful to the environment, but if price is any indication, corporations can survive and even bounce back.”

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