Image source LSN Global

Confronted with civic discourse, a global trust crisis, the rise of populist politics and technology that makes our lives increasingly more isolated, the case for empathy has never been more immediate.

Empathy enables people to have the capacity to understand others by imaginatively entering their perspective. A fundamental human attribute, it is an intrinsic skill for fostering emotional intelligence. Where it is absent, mutually co-operative societies cannot function. With this in mind we have seen the rise of empathy inducing products including Applied Empathy Cards and Harvard Business Review’s coverage of emotional intelligence in leadership.

Peter Bazalgette, Author of The Empathy Instinct states ‘as the world’s population expands, consuming the planet’s finite resources, as people haunted by poverty and war are on the move and as digital communications infinitely complicate our social interactions, we find our patience and our sympathy constantly challenged. Empathy is the antidote’.

Concurring with this view, Barak Obama argues that ‘if we hope to meet the moral test of our times, then I think we’re going to have to talk more about the “empathy deficit”. Empathy provides people with ability to themselves in somebody else’s shoes, to see the world through somebody else’s eyes’.

In our blog post concerning Optimism in Design, we explore the concept of progress. As our future becomes increasing more human, retail can inspire social progress rooted in empathy.

Image Source Frazzled Cafe

One example of this includes Marks & Spencer’s Frazzled Cafes. The retailer collaborated with bestselling author and mental health awareness activist Ruby Wax to launch a Frazzled Cafes across 11 of their stores nationwide. Due to the fact that at least 1 in four consumers suffer from a mental illness, the concept is designed to help customers combat the stresses evoked by modern day life through drop in sessions that encourage openness and conversation in an environment that is calming and non judgemental.

Working towards a more empathetic future, American food retailer Chuck E. Cheese’s has launched ‘Sensory Sensitive Sundays’ in their restaurants that will facilitate autism-friendly play times.

Image Source Chuck E. Cheese’s

The concept started out as a local initiative to foster a play environment for autistic children to have fun without suffering from an environment that is overly stimulated by the restaurant’s day-to-day busy atmosphere. Two hours prior to opening times, Chuck E. Cheese’s dims the lights of its play area, silences the music and turns off it renowned animatronic show to create a space that is suitable for autistic children. Due to the success of Sensory Sensitive Sundays, the retailer is rolling out the concept on a national scale.

Interestingly Havas conducted a study that concluded that the future of a brand’s relevance is rooted in how meaningful they are. With results confirming that 74% of brands could fall off the earth tomorrow and consumers would have no idea, nurturing meaningfulness is vital for brands to survive.

According to Havas, ‘a meaningful brand is defined by its impact on our personal and collective wellbeing, plus its functional benefits’. Whilst this resonates with our blog for social and psychological progress, brands have an opportunity to generate meaning by trading on empathy. Most crucially, consumers are shrewd and are turned off from artificial attempts to create this. In order to create retail environments that use empathy to foster personal and collective wellbeing, authenticity is key.