Earlier this year, The Parker Avery Group published a point of view titled “Retail Legacy Systems: Assessment Considerations and Approaches to Modernization,” where we talked in detail about how to evaluate existing technology environments and systems and determine the best path forward to help achieve a company’s strategic objectives through supporting technologies. In the introduction, we outline the word “legacy” in context of something from the past, as in aging systems and technologies. Lately, I’ve been using the word legacy when talking with my son about his efforts in school and sports in context of leaving his impression – his “mark,” regardless of his report card or team standings. My dad’s legacy of being a benevolent, genuine, and encouraging businessman, as well as a loving father and husband is permanently etched into my soul and inspires me every day.

I’ve decided to explore the theme of legacy in context of retail and by looking to the future, not back at the past. During my research, I came across an article in the Huffington Post where the author described leaving a personal legacy as follows: “The idea of leaving a legacy is the need or the desire to be remembered for what you have contributed to the world. In some cases, that contribution can be so special that the universe is unalterably changed. However, for most mere mortals walking this earth, most will leave a more modest legacy that doesn’t necessarily change the world but does leave a lasting footprint that will be remembered by those whose lives you touched.”

Granted, most retailers are not out to make fundamental changes in the world, but to sell products to consumers who want or desire them. However, let’s take a look at the different ways retailers can – and should – leave legacies on their shoppers and associates.

Customer Experience. Remember that sweet little bed and breakfast you stayed at a few autumns ago over a long weekend and how the owner / operators treated you like royalty from the moment you walked into the lobby until you departed? The one you keep telling your friends about (and want to go back to)? Think about that experience and whether or not your customers are receiving the type of service and atmosphere your brand promises in your stores and online. Granted, customer experience is the most obvious area in which to leave a lasting impression, and while it may not be feasible from a store labor perspective to give the royal treatment in every type of retail model, there are many ways to make customers feel special, appreciated and more knowledgeable about the products they buy from you. In last week’s post, “A Barrel Full of…Retail Branding Insights,” Parker Avery blogged about how carefully crafted wording and witty messaging in a few “standard” emails catapulted and personalized the digital customer experience far beyond expectations and created a fiercely loyal shopper for the brand. In the physical store, a few scripted conversation starters, coupled with modern and focused store associate training programs and hiring the right personalities can go a long way in differentiating your brand and leaving a lasting impression – a legacy – for your customers.

Associate Experience. There has been a decided shift in the retail industry towards a focus on ensuring employees are aligned with the brand, happy in their role with the company, and vested in its success – as well as being compensated with wages and benefits that are competitive in the industry. Wal-Mart recently increased its hourly wages to promote employee satisfaction and minimize union threats, and – despite some criticism – it seems to be paying off, as the retailer reported same-store sales increased 1.6% in the second quarter – their fastest pace in years. And while Costco has a very different business model (and thus labor efficiency metrics), they have long-held the simple philosophy that if a company treats its associates well, they will be more productive, committed to their job and loyal to the company – all which help create a strong positive impression to the warehouse retailer’s shoppers. I have several friends who are Costco store employees, and not only are they extremely loyal to the company – but they also love their jobs.

This swing towards a better associate experience has been obvious below the media radars as well. Recently, Parker Avery has worked with several retailers in evaluating and implementing more advanced and user-friendly operational and human capital management (HCM) systems, as well as designing new processes, enhancing training programs and re-aligning roles and responsibilities to help strengthen capabilities to leave lasting legacies on their employees.

Social Contribution. Late last year, one of Parker Avery’s blog posts, titled “Cheers to Charity,” centered on how retailers and consumers can join forces to give back to their local communities and exponentially spread good will during the holidays. I also talked about this same tenet a couple months ago in relation to retail legacies, where having a defined purpose that goes far beyond operational metrics, Wall Street analysts and the bottom line speaks volumes about a company. I mentioned Steinmart, Wegman’s and Bealls as examples of companies who graciously give back to their local communities, but many retailers of all sizes carry this mindset, and – when done well – can permeate and inspire associate and customer attitudes alike (aka “pay it forward”).

Supply Chain and Product Safety. In addition to giving back on a charitable level, retailers, apparel companies, and other product manufacturers are increasingly and transparently diving into their supply chain practices and partnerships to ultimately support more sustainable products, reduce human rights abuses, and use raw materials that are much more eco-friendly and have fewer negative health impacts. Parker Avery focused on this movement in a point of view, “Ethical Fashion, Designing the Future with Supply Chain Transparency” – consumers are becoming much more aware of not just the ingredients listed on product labels to address personal motives, but also the sources from which these raw materials come. Product certification is also becoming much more significant, impacting retail assortment planning and buying decisions. According to the Non-GMO Project, 93% of Americans and 88% of Canadians want GMOs to be labeled. This mindset is shared more and more for other certifications like gluten-free, organic, natural, etc. We’ve definitely seen a shift in grocery store aisles, configurations and assortments to accommodate more demand for these types of products. Retailers who embrace the consumer desire for safer products and that accommodate increasingly diverse health and lifestyle needs are creating legacies that will have significant positive impacts on future generations.

In my mind, leaving a legacy as a retailer – or any company for that matter – has many parallels with personal legacies. In another reading for this post from SUCCESS Magazine, the author suggested that a farmer leaves a legacy by planting a tree, yet he will never see its fruit. The author goes on to say, “…legacies don’t happen overnight – and they don’t happen by accident. They’re deliberately crafted over years of hard work and dedication.” I believe this attitude should encompass all of the facets of retail I discussed here, culminating to strong and lasting legacies for years to come.

Shop on.