When a retail brand is looking to expand globally or finds itself embroiled in an investigation, there are bespoke issues that branded retailers must focus on or risk losing credibility and revenue. In today's world of viral videos and social media pressure on brands and celebrities, risk management and proactive strategies to avoid missteps are critical to maintaining and growing a retail brand.
- Legal and marketing integration. A retailer's brand is its currency. When facing an investigation, a local issue can quickly become a global problem. Unlike some industries in which an investigation can be handled behind the scenes as a legal matter, an investigation in the retail industry can quickly become the subject of social media, and the top priority for the CMO and CEO. Every step of the investigation should be integrated into a coordinated communications plan with the marketing team to avoid unintentional issues.
- Integration with corporate mission. Given the transparent nature of the industry, risk management efforts should be considered as a market differentiator and extension of the company's core values that can provide value-add to the business by building consumer good will. For example, consumers are increasingly placing value in companies that identify and treat cybersecurity as a top priority after seeing so many data breach stories in the news. A proactive approach to investigations and strong corporate policies can drive employee and customer loyalty.
- Protecting the crown jewels. For a retail business, the brand name and both tangible and intangible intellectual property are mission-critical assets. Theft, misappropriation, infringement and tarnishment of these assets can be devastating to new opportunities and significantly impact the existing business. Retailers must consider the legal and practical impact of an issue – and the solution – in investigations. Whether it is a resolution with a government regulator or a policy being considered as a result of an investigation, the intellectual property and marketing teams should be consulted as part of the solution.
- Work environment. Although employment regulations can differ significantly from country to country, hot button issues continue to be immigration, discrimination, wage and hour, personnel classification, termination, benefits and compensation. These issues are important in considering how employees may respond to investigations (including to cooperate in them) and how a company can take action to address misconduct identified through the investigation. A well-crafted, consistent and well-executed plan for addressing these issues will not only protect the company from liability, but also serves as a proactive way to drive the image of the brand.
- Anti-corruption. Regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies across the globe are aggressively enforcing anti-corruption laws. Often these laws are nuanced and can be inadvertently triggered by what some may consider activities in the ordinary course of business, including in supply and manufacturing relations. Companies in the retail sector must therefore implement strategies to properly train at-risk personnel, investigate compliance and rapidly respond to crises as they arise.
Investigations can seem like a negative, but they are also an opportunity to strengthen a retailer's brand, when considering the unique challenges for companies that rely on their brands to drive sales. In order to run an effective investigation, and protect the brand, companies and legal teams should use an integrated approach involving collaboration with the legal, marketing and executive teams. As retailers advance their global strategy, a proactive approach through the development of a strong global policy can be a triple net winning strategy for a company: advancing the company's mission, strengthening employee loyalty and driving more customers and revenue growth to the bottom line.
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