Traceability is King: Retail Trends

‘Traceability is King’ is the second in our 10 part ‘Retail Trends’ series and this time we’re looking at what consumers want to know about the products they’re buying, and the transparency retailers now need to offer. To download the full Retail Trends 2018 white paper, click here.

In April, British retailer M&S launched a traceability campaign on their beef. Since PETA exposed the shocking conditions and treatment of goats, large UK fashion retailers have pledged to stop using the material altogether. That is until they can source a supplier that can prove appropriate levels of animal welfare.

A spokeswoman for M&S said:

“We have a very small volume of mohair fibre in some of our products. However, we recognise that the traceability of the mohair fibre back to farm is currently a challenge and we do not have the level of assurances that we would like to ensure the welfare of these animals is being upheld. Therefore, until we can trace the fibre back to farm source and verify the appropriate levels of animal welfare, we will eliminate mohair containing products from all our stores and website by March 2019.”

Traceability is King

Today’s consumers are consuming less and they’re sick of waste! 2018 is seeing a huge wave of customers looking for slightly better quality and more buying justification based on product ‘roots’ and ‘value’.

On the 24th April 2013, disaster struck when the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka. It crumbled like a house of cards killing 1,127 workers. It was the worst industrial accident in Bangladesh history. The fashion myth that we can have whatever we want, at speed, in bulk and at unprecedentedly “affordable” prices, also collapsed that day. Since then, there have been a string of fresh tragedies to the world’s garment districts; usually through a factory fire, a bridge collapse or industrial action of some kind. Each year that these horrific
tragedies occur, so too does new increased calls for the retail industry to show consumers just what they are doing to make things right.

Neighbourhood retailing & Anti-supermarket sentiment

Today we have ‘sweatshop-free’ clothing brands, the return of neighbourhood retailing and anti supermarket sentiments. And in 2018, we’re seeing that there is so much more of that to come.

Traceability can be defined as an unbroken record of documentation. The supply chain under a microscope. On the one hand traceability is concerned with safety and public health. It traces the origins of products within the supply chain, giving us a quick way to recall products, track production and match replacement parts. But for the consumer in 2018, traceability stands for so much more than that. We see traceability and safety as interlinked with quality. And the consumer is looking for brands that have a commitment to all three.

We are starting to see customers interrogating brands online and scanning products in supermarkets with mobile phones to check on the ethical policy of brands.

You can already do this in Japan.

In 2018, ethically based retail concepts will grow. Think Body Shop or fair trade coffee, and WBC’s own Cocobagh Social Business Venture. It’s worth noting as a caveat that the customers’ willingness to pay high prices or suffer inconvenience, may naturally limit growth in this area – but it’s certainly one to watch.

All in the DNA

Consumers are now actively interested in retailers ‘DNA’, demanding the people they purchase from, know their suppliers and/or factories inside out. They will want to know content information that’s previously been the exclusive domain of the buyer or product tech teams.

  • How much do materials cost?
  • Who are the makers
  • How much were they paid?

And they’ll want transparency over factory conditions and where their product was manufactured.

Retailers like Everlane, are a really good indicator of what we have to come. They believe they can ‘make a difference’.

Everlane: Their way: Exceptional quality. Ethical Factories, Radical Transparency.

At Everlane, we want the right choice to be as easy as putting on a great T-shirt. That’s why we partner with the best, ethical factories around the world. Source only the finest materials. And share those stories with you—down to the true cost of every product we make. It’s a new way of doing things. We call it Radical Transparency.

This becomes their foremost USP, woven into the very fabric of their brand consciousness and marketing strategies. They even show their cost breakdown and margins!


  1. When you’re buying and sourcing your product, begin to question and see beyond the product itself, to the maker and their circumstances. Do this until it becomes second nature. Some products are beautiful; but not at the expense of another person. It may be that it’s time to review your supply chain.
  2. So you’ve investigated your products origin and story and the story behind the story; and you’re proud of it. Now it’s time to make sure your staff know about it too; and then more importantly, your customers!!
  3. Communication is everything, so think about your signage, ticketing and communication. Make sure your customers know that you’re conscious about what you’re offering them.

Read the full trend report by clicking here.

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