Do We Really Shop The Way We Say We Will?

Consumers have real power to drive change. The plastic bag ban and campaigns against plastic straws are evidence that public opinion can make a difference. However, just because we say we want to shop more sustainably, does that mean we actually do?

According to Accenture Strategy’s annual Global Consumer Pulse Research survey nearly two-thirds of consumers expect companies to create products and services that “take a stand” on issues that they also feel passionate about. Customers also indicate that they are willing to pay more for goods and services with a sustainability bent, according to a global Nielsen survey from 2014 which indicated that 55 per cent of global online consumers are willing to pay more for products from companies they know are making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint.

But it’s one thing to say you’ll shop sustainably, and another to actually shell out the clams. Are customers putting their money where their mouth is?

According to Meredith Haggerty, Senior Editor at Racked, as quoted in an article by Market Watch, “I think most people’s virtue only extends as far as their own convenience. People want to want to care about this stuff, but in practice I’m just not sure that they do. Ultimately you’re going to want to buy the thing that you want to buy, because we’re human animals.”

One of the reasons we’re not shopping sustainably, according to a 2018 survey from LIM College, RMIT University in Australia and London College of Fashion, is that “the industry is not providing [us] with sufficient choices that also meet their most important criteria for making a purchase.” These most important criteria include ease of purchase (95 percent of those surveyed), price/value (95 percent), uniqueness of a product (92 percent), and brand name (60 percent) — over sustainability (only 35 percent).

If you’re a sustainable brand, that statistic might have you up in arms - there are plenty of choices of brands that are beautiful, available online and are sustainable, but if your potential customers don’t know you exist, you can’t change the world.

So, what can sustainable brands do to actually convert those customers who say they are shopping with purpose?

  • Go above and beyond ‘we’re sustainable’. it isn’t good enough to be good enough. Customers are expecting really change, and you need to tell them about it. Holly Ryan, an Australian jeweller, encourages customers to return old pieces to be recycled with customers receiving credit for future purchases.

  • You have to mean it. If sustainability is part of your sell, you have to embody it in all aspects of your brand. You can’t claim to be environmentally sustainable yet ship all of your product by plane from India with a ton of plastic packaging. Look at every aspect of your business and make improvements - then tell customers about it! Don’t buy into consumption driven activities like Black Friday / Cyber Monday - take a stand against this kind of reactive shopping behaviour.

  • Be transparent. This ties into the above point - you can’t just say you’re great, you have to prove it! Introduce customers to your supply chain, publish details on your raw material usage and answer questions about how you work. Spell and the Gypsy Collective publish a yearly report on their performance as well as taking customers behind the scenes in their factories.

  • Ensure your branding and marketing matches your price point. One of the biggest criticisms of sustainable fashion is that it’s often priced out of reach for a lot of consumers. A $10 top from H&M can’t compare with a $250 top from a sustainable label - or can it? Communicating why customers should pay your prices is vital if you want them to actually pay them! According to Racked, a laundry list of all the stats on why your product is sustainable can be overwhelming for customers - they primarily want to know that everything is great quality, everything is sustainable and they will have a unique product at the end of the day. The example they give is Stella McCartney - their website contains plenty of detailed information on the brand’s sustainability initiatives if you want more detail, but her brand’s overall message is quite simple: No animals were harmed in the making of these luxury garments.

  • Make it ridiculously easy to buy your products. Have an online store. Work with sites like Well Made Clothes or Eco Mono to distribute to channels beyond your own. Ensure your own website is optimised for conversion (website not converting? We can help). Don’t charge for shipping (build it into your product pricing instead).

What do you think? Are ethical brands doing enough to get in front of consumers or is the onus on consumers to do their research? Given that we know that people are more likely to binge watch Stranger Things than find out more about the brands they shop, I think ethical brands can do more to make the choice easy for potential customers.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

Claire Deane