Talking to Ashley Armstrong, retail editor of The Times, Mary left no one in any doubt that her deep-felt belief is that retailers must adopt a kinder way of behaving, with the secret to being successful is rooted in the relationships that retailers build with their customers.
Her suggestions focused on being up to speed with what is happening both globally and culturally, chiming very much with what is happening in the greeting card sector.
“Today, everything revolves around being kinder to the planet, to being anti-plastic, to being sustainable. These are massive issues, and people are taking on the big corporations. People are changing the way that they consume. Consumers want to engage with the businesses that share their core values.”
To Mary’s mind, we are experiencing unprecedented shifts in how we view the environment. “We are now getting into the biggest changes ever. We are moving into sentience – respect and care. People can see that it’s wrong to use plastic carrier bags or to take their goods home in 10 bags from Primark. We are all thinking seriously about how we live and what we buy which is good for the world as a whole.”
Bringing it back to the retailer’s role in this, she stressed that retailers have to look at what they are selling “to make sure that they have that sensitivity around their products. I genuinely believe that a kinder of way of doing business – the anthesis of the ‘alpha’ culture – is the only way forward.”
She enthused: “This is a very exciting time to be in business. The chasm has opened up and I see that as hope – better products, better service, better shops. There are so many creative ways that retailers can stock sustainable products. Of course, for all of us, it is difficult to be 100% sustainable – although I do carry my broccoli home in my handbag if I forget to bring a recycled bag with me! – but we all need to try to be on the journey both personally and in business and to be connected. We don’t know all the answers yet, but ask questions, be open, be vulnerable, be transparent. Put a note up in your shop that tells your customers what your philosophy and your values are. They are not separate. Think ‘people, planet, profit’. It’s only our fear that limits us.”
Top: Mary Portas in full flow at Spring Fair.