The Sustainable Shopper Experience – The challenge for retailers everywhere

The Sustainable Shopper Experience – The challenge for retailers everywhere

On January 18th I attended the ‘Sustainable Shopper Experience: Contradiction In Terms or a Huge Opportunity?’ event, co-hosted by Salterbaxter MSLGROUP and VIVIDBRAND. Kathleen Enright, Director of Consultancy & Communication at Salterbaxter, led the discussion with a panel of sustainability professionals from The Body Shop, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, William Jackson Food Group and the consumer behaviour specialists, KRUKOW.

So how do we urge more consumers to shop sustainably? If you ask anyone ‘would you buy a new, more environmentally friendly product, before reaching for the usual purchase?’ chances are they’ll say ‘of course I would’, but unfortunately, what consumers are telling their peers and posting on their social channels about their values, doesn’t always match what they actually do in store.

The event took place using Chatham House Rule in order to facilitate freedom of speech, so although I can’t quote speakers directly, I have noted the main learnings taken away.

There is a gap between the sustainability commitments which are being implemented at a corporate level and what consumers are seeing in store; organisations such as Starbucks, Aldi and Selfridges are rolling out impressive initiatives, but these are not entirely obvious to customers. But do they even need to be? Does the corporate strategy need to be plastered all over the walls of Starbucks while you’re sipping on your tall, non-fat latte with caramel drizzle? Probably not.

While discussing consumer behaviour at the event, we learned that no matter how much a consumer ‘wants’ to shop more sustainably, 90% of the human brain will work automatically and so will impact the buying decision process immensely. Consumers will buy what they are used to buying – until that 10% of the brain that works reflectively kicks in. What does this mean? Well, as much as we try to educate consumers to make more sustainable minded buying decisions, we’ll be constantly fighting against the automation of buying behaviour, until we facilitate the changes for the consumers. Consumers need less information and more facilitation! For example, simply putting a yellow sticker on a packet of fair trade bananas and placing them in the ‘hot spots’ of supermarkets can encourage a purchase. Visual cues have proven to be more effective in changing consumer’s buying behaviour in shops, than swamping them with information in order to engage their reflective thinking. Sound complicated? Well, it is! Retailers’ challenges go much further than just what price to allocate to a product.

We also learned that the data businesses are using in their customer analytics should be based on interactions with consumers – not surveys! As we mentioned earlier, what they say and what they do doesn’t always connect.

In a world of ‘radical transparency’, retailers have nowhere to hide. Social media has given everyone a voice, and if someone doesn’t think you’re acting responsibly, it can be worldwide news in seconds. This has resulted in more ‘green hushing’ – not all organisations want to shout about their sustainability efforts, as this will inescapably open the door for further scrutiny of their actions.

Ultimately, how can we escalate the levels of mindful purchasing in order to make a real impact on the world? The panel agreed that collaboration between the big industry players brings meaningful change; when customers ask ‘isn’t it frustrating that your competitors are copying your recycling efforts?’ the answer is ‘No – we want them to follow our example so that we can all make a difference together as an industry’ – cooperation is where the real impact is made!

As consumers, we all have a responsibility. Yes I know, we have enough to worry about already when we’re shopping – is it expensive? Is it healthy? And now do we really have to worry about sustainability as well!? I’m afraid so. Changing consumer buyer behaviour cannot be done overnight. However, if we start shopping more responsibly and retailers start using their in-store staff as ambassadors for the company’s sustainable efforts, manufacturers label products clearly, the in-store experience facilitates responsible buying and retailers are accountable for the products they take on board, well then that’s all a good step! 

Salterbaxter MSLGROUP is the leading international sustainability strategy and communications consultancy that help companies and brands Step Up to the changing relationship between business and society, combining smart strategy, sharp insights and creativity to help businesses succeed.

VIVIDBRAND is the original Shopper Marketing agency, creating clarity, and powerful, vivid ideas, to change Shopper behaviour, both online and instore.

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