On "The Choice", Social Responsibility and COVID-19 responses.

One of the great things about a truly globalized economy is that consumers have an array of choices, for better or worse (it's always great to have options, but have you ever wished choosing a peanut butter wasn't so difficult??)

This plethora of options must, however, lead to a change in how consumers make decisions. There never is just one product from which to "choose", making it an easy, clear, decision anymore. Shoppers have a finite level of resources (money) with which to make a consumption choice based on some kind of preference; and that preference is no longer just the desire for a product or service. That preference, given the many choices available to the modern customer, can be based on broader lifestyle values.

Perhaps you're on a budget and your preference is determined by price-- the cheapest peanut butter will do, and you'd rather splurge on an ice cream instead. But perhaps there is another factor that impacts the great "peanut butter" decision. Running with this example, in our household we choose to not buy products containing palm oil-- and for the record there is a lot of palm oil in a lot of peanut butters. This preference is due to the deforestation that occurs in order to produce palm oil and the resulting damage to wildlife. And so, practices from a world away in some remote forest impact my choice at a local Meijer, in the peanut butter aisle. Fortunately for me, the Meijer peanut butter aisle contains a world of choices-- and I choose the peanut butter manufacturer whose values align most closely to my own-- specifically I choose the peanut butter manufacturer who does not use palm oil.

This is a very simplified example that shows how global issues hardly related to the product (or service) at hand can now play an important role in consumption preferences. Let's face it-- whether it has palm oil or not, peanut butter tastes good-- I would have been happy with the taste of my peanut butter regardless. But, if I have the choice to support a value that I believe in, I'll take it-- the products are more or less equal in other respects and taste is no longer the deciding factor. The variables that lead to my choice have changed simply because I have this choice.

This seems to be more or less true for an array of industries, whether they produce something or provide a service, the overwhelming odds are that if you search a bit, you'll find another company who produces a comparable product or provides a similar service that could be interchangeable for your needs. This means that consumers now have the luxury of making these consumption decisions base

d on a variety of values. Maybe you'll choose the "greener" company. Probably you'll choose the more socially responsible company.

In the age of COVID-19, what does this mean? Does it mean shopping at the grocery store that provides its employees with the greatest amount of hazard pay and protective measures? Does it mean shopping local to support small businesses?

On the other side of the equation, if you are a business in the age of COVID-19, and you know all about the power of the choice that lies with consumers, what do you do? Do you choose to pay employees more even if it means financial hardship? Do you choose to sacrifice the bottom line for the safety of employees and customers? Do you choose to provide discounted or free services to help your community? I'd like to think this would be the case.

In this scenario full of "maybes" I believe the following with absolute certainty: for the companies that show compassion, engagement, understanding and sometimes a financial sacrifice for the good of employees, customers and community, the short term financial loss will lead to a long term gain: socially and, eventually, financially.

I believe that a difficult choice on the part of companies now will result in an easy choice on the part of consumers in the future. A company who chooses their employees and their community now will be chosen above competitors in the future.

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