Reputation management for retailers: Key considerations for 2024 and beyond

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From rising costs to disrupted supply chains, the current economic climate is a challenging and volatile one for retailers of all shapes and sizes. Associated financial risks aside, this climate is also presenting numerous reputational challenges for retailers in the UK. Here, we outline three of the most pressing ones.

1. Shoplifting and safety

According to the BBC, shoplifting hit a record high in England and Wales last year. More than 430,000 offences were recorded in 2023, representing an increase of more than a third on the previous 12 months to December 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Worse still, the British Retail Consortium Crime Report 2024 shows that incidents of violence and abuse towards retail staff are also increasing, with around 475,000 recorded in 2022-23, equating to 1,300 a day.

From a reputational standpoint, demonstrating awareness of these issues and a commitment to the safety of both customers and employees will be crucial for retailers.

There are also several government initiatives in the works with which retailers can – and should – engage as a starting point.

As a result of the General Election, the current government’s plan to introduce a separate criminal offence in England and Wales for assaulting a shop worker under the Criminal Justice Bill has been put on hold. Nevertheless, fighting retail crime remains a priority across the political spectrum, with Labour promising to increase neighbourhood police patrols and remove the rules concerning the theft of goods under £200.

Regardless of the outcome of the General Election, retailers should consider ways in which they can demonstrate both a commitment to customer and employee safety, and a zero-tolerance approach to retail crime.

2. The Digital Markets, Competition & Consumers Act 2024

Passed on 23 May 2024, the UK’s Digital Markets, Competition & Consumers Act 2024 (DMCCA) represents one of the biggest reforms to UK competition and consumer laws in a decade.

Aiming to tackle unfair, anti-competitive business practices and protect consumers, the DMCCA will increase regulatory oversight of how businesses operate and give the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) greater powers to sanction breaches without going via the courts.

The DMCCA covers a range of business practices, including drip pricing, fake reviews, mandatory fees, and subscription ‘traps’, as well as new thresholds for merger control.

Naturally, a business found to have breached consumer laws faces significant reputational and financial damage, particularly as the CMA will be able to impose fines of up to 10% of global turnover.

As such, it is vital that all retailers examine their policies and procedures against the new Act and also, where possible, conduct due diligence on other businesses within their supply chains to ensure they are doing the same.

3. Strategic Litigations Against Public Participation (SLAPP) Bill 2024

Strategic Litigations Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are legal actions brought by organisations or individuals to intimidate and financially or psychologically exhaust opponents via abuse of the legal system. For a more detailed look at SLAPPs, read this insight.

SLAPPs are very much in the public eye right now after several high-profile cases concerning oligarchs and journalists. In the past two years, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has received 60 complaints concerning the alleged use of SLAPPs, 20 of which were made in 2023.

With awareness at an all-time high, retailers that use the threat of litigation are arguably placing themselves at reputational risk, particularly if they are deemed to be larger and more financially secure than those against whom they are claiming. In some cases, they can even become the subject of ridicule by celebrities and members of the public alike.

Furthermore, it is highly likely that a SLAPP Bill – which was introduced as a private member’s bill but placed on hold due to the General Election – will be enacted in the future. This will introduce a general anti-SLAPP rule that will allow judges to throw out frivolous claims before they go to trial, and also protect defendants from paying any of a claimant’s legal costs.

Reputation management works best when it is proactive, but there will also be times in which issues or crises demand an immediate response. Our reputation management team can advise on a range of issues impacting retailers, including the three outlined above, whether that is by developing the policies and procedures needed to maintain a positive reputation in the marketplace, or by managing crisis communications when a business’s reputation is at stake.

Gateley Plc is authorised and regulated by the SRA (Solicitors' Regulation Authority). Please visit the SRA website for details of the professional conduct rules which Gateley Legal must comply with.

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