How retailers are engaging consumers in the next phase of return from coronavirus closure

By Alison Hutchinson of Pennies

Retailers are re-opening, colleagues are dusting off their workwear, and consumers are daring to breathe a palpable, still nervous, sigh of relief. We may be long months away from life as we knew it, but life as we know it now is closer to resembling familiarity.

Businesses are finding new ways to operate that embrace social distancing, enhanced sanitation, and how they respond to what will very likely be a change in consumer behaviour when it comes to shopping. One thing that is emerging is that retailers are considering their wider social purpose and are looking at ways they can do more social good for their communities.

Environmental, social, governance (ESG) already a key topic at board room tables, is essentially being accelerated – becoming the hottest topic at, now virtual, AGMs; shareholders, customers and indeed colleagues are all looking to brands to evidence their broader impact in society.

According to Investopedia’s Editor in Chief Caleb Silver, “reader interest for ESG is up 20% year over year, and our most popular article on the subject has spiked more than 1300%. ESG was one of our top-10 most popular terms in [both] 2019 and 2018.” And in a new Nunwood and KPMG paper, Customer Connections (April 2020) its survey suggests that the ‘new customer’ prioritises community and integrity over deals and profits, awarding a higher rating to businesses that protects employees’ salaries and jobs and are seen to “support communities and local people”.

The coronavirus pandemic - and the fight for social justice – have clearly demonstrated just how globally connected we all are – and in the case of both people are looking to brands for their thoughtful response, and their decisive and demonstrable action.

This chimes with what we are seeing occur now in the UK; retailers clearly want a role to play in contributing to communities and charities struggling to provide vital services drawn upon by colleagues and their families, but now reeling from a catastrophic drop in income.

Despite the recent Government coronavirus support package – the charity sector is extremely challenged from an estimated drop in income of 48% over the course of the next 12 months (figures from NCVO). This is combined with findings from The Institute of Fundraising which indicate a rise in demand for charities’ services of 43%.  Many charities are furloughing colleagues in an effort to protect funds, which ironically further hinders their capacity and resource to raise income.


One way some retailers are seeking to engage colleagues and customers in providing support, is by enabling voluntary consumer 'micro-donations' - a way of giving a little, digitally, on top of purchases to raise vital funds for causes chosen by brands. Organisations like ours – which happens to be a fintech charity - offers retailers omnichannel ways for customers to give a few digital pence in this way.

For example, at the height of the coronavirus in April, health retailer Holland & Barrett decided to add a micro-donation option through Pennies to its website, app and stores; which we managed through in just two weeks. Nick Collard, Holland & Barrett’s chief customer and digital officer has explained the business decision as being driven by the ethos of the company and consumers’ expectations; “Stepping in to support [charities] feels like it’s something a good responsible retailer or brand should be doing…Customers absolutely expect more from retailers – not just to show up and sell them products but to demonstrate their values”.

Holland & Barrett’s consumers are able to add a 50p donation to purchases, in support of its nominated charity the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 appeal. With high levels of online orders and stores selling essentials during the pandemic, implementing an omnichannel solution maximised what they could raise. Strong staff and customer comms helped ensure thousands of pounds were raised in the opening weeks of the partnership. Consumers were quickly raising enough on an average day to fund 20 blood pressure monitors for patients self-isolating unable to leave their home.

In fact, unsurprisingly, we are currently seeing extraordinary levels of giving in ecommerce, as people at home want easy and affordable ways to give and be part of a community where together they can make a meaningful difference – even, or especially, in our isolation. Another example would be long term Pennies partner Domino's seeing their customers donate at record levels. Funds raised by customers in as little as an hour can pay for 10 hours of support for a young person with cancer.

Contactless Payment

And of course cash use is falling, spending trends already showed a steady decline, but a recent survey of consumers (April 2020) undertaken by Link, the UK’s largest cash machine network, found that 75% of people were using less cash right now, and 54% of those asked said they were avoiding cash altogether. Meanwhile 76% of people reported they expected to use cash less and move instead to other forms of payment, or online shopping in the next six months. Covid-19 is of course in part the reason for expediting the contactless cap increase from £30 to £45 in the UK, and even a cash-loving country like Germany has seen contactless card transactions increase from 35% to 50% so far this year.

At Pennies we’re working hard with our partners to unlock more payments solutions so that as people carry less cash, we can still make a difference with our digital pennies, meaning also that there is less cause for customers to touch the pin pad on an in-store terminal. In everything we do, we are thoughtful of the customer experience, and ensure digitally donating at checkout is as seamless, simple and safe as possible.

As our daily lives are changing, we want to make sure everyone has the chance to donate to charity where they can, especially online and in-app. The opportunity is urgent, and ground-breaking in its possibility: there is a potential if each of us gave around 35p a week, for UK consumers to raise £1bn a year for charity (10% of all giving in the UK).

We believe 2021 be the year communities become even stronger and the year micro-donations become interlinked with industries re-growing with a refreshed social purpose to help the communities they operate within, engaging the colleagues they employ, and the consumers they serve. Because now more than ever micro-donations matter. To find out more get in touch – I would love to show you the art of the possible.

By Alison Hutchinson, CBE, CEO of Pennies

Published 30/06/2020

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