The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Strategic CSR - Allbirds

The article in the url below records the rapid rise and equally dramatic fall of Allbirds – the once trendy "eco-friendly wool sneakers worn by Silicon Valley tech bros." The story also highlights the obvious fact about business (life?), which has always been true – good intentions do not necessarily lead to good outcomes. And, in particular in the marketplace, good intentions do not replace the need to have a great product:

"It turns out that not everyone wants to dress head-to-toe in merino wool, which although better for the environment than nylon or polyester, isn't as durable. Customers complained of holes in their sneakers months after buying them. And the leggings, which were made from a blend of wool and other fibers, in addition to being see-through, didn't hold their shape, the people said. Allbirds said the sheerness was limited to one light color and that it was a minor issue caught at an early stage."

The case is an insightful story of how to attract a loyal following among customers, and then lose it just as quickly:

"[Co-founder] Zwillinger has a saying: Customers will accept one degree of weirdness, but not two. Iterations of existing styles are preferred over brands pushing too far into new categories. He said in an interview that shoppers who came to Allbirds for its original shoes weren't ready to buy technical gear such as running shoes or workout clothes from the brand. He acknowledged problems with the leggings and other workout clothes. 'You've got to get [the] fit right,' he said."

The ultimate takeaway has implications well beyond the lifespan of a marginal apparel company:

"Allbirds said it isn't changing its commitment to sustainability, even though it doesn't always drive shoppers to buy its products. Emails sent to customers touting the environmental benefits of Allbirds shoes and clothing produced fewer sales than messages that prioritized comfort among other attributes. Environmental concerns are among the least important attributes consumers look for when buying shoes and clothing, according to a survey in March of 750 U.S. consumers by Wedbush Securities. Comfort and price are among the most important."

Take care

David Chandler
© Sage Publications, 2023

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How a Hot Allbirds Lost Its Way
By Suzanne Kapner
July 17, 2023
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final
A1, A10