November 22, 2010, 9:59 AM — You have to feel bad for most retailers: The global economy tanked in 2008, sales plummeted and many well-known chains went out of business. Today, shoppers have come to expect half-price sales on nearly everything in stock.
All the while, retailers have had deal with perceived consumer demand for "green everything": environmentally friendly products and stores as well as transparent sustainability efforts to reduce power consumption and harmful waste in their operations and supply chains.
A fall 2010 RSR Research survey of nearly 100 retailers finds that they are struggling with quantifying ROI and rationalizing green-related capital expenditures, and making their existing IT and infrastructure work with new green technologies.
[ Who's tops in retail IT? Check out CIO.com's list ]
Nevertheless, retailers surveyed say they remain committed to green principles. "More retailers than ever believe that environmentally responsible initiatives are born of good business sense," notes the RSR report, Lean and Green: How Sustainable Practices Are Changing Retail. In fact, 61% of retailers surveyed feel that green initiatives make good business sense, which was up from 49% just one year ago.
But what if customer demand toward green initiatives is actually more apathetic than enthusiastic--that some of the perceived demand for "all things green" is just a perception?
That is precisely the situation that retailers are facing, write RSR managing partners Nikki Baird and Steve Rowen, in the report.
"Consumers have not been forth-coming in letting retailers know what they want around sustainability and brand," Baird and Rowen contend, "and in fact some evidence has started to show that for certain categories, demand has completely failed to materialize, or backlash is emerging against unproven or unregulated claims about the environmental benefits of products."
In response to the significant customer apathy and demand confusion, the survey results show that retailers are not as willing this year to pursue green initiatives as a result of consumer demand: Just 52% say "our customers expect us to act," which is down from 62% in 2009, notes the report.