The changing views of the conscious consumer

23 Feb 2024 3 min read

As the news is regularly dominated by stories of worldwide weather-related catastrophes, it’s no wonder that over 80% of UK residents say they are concerned about climate change1. But how does this concern translate in real terms to consumer spend, particularly against the pressing backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis?

“Climate change poses an enormous threat to the future of the coffee industry and livelihoods of farmers. Our customers are rightfully concerned.” – Sustainable coffee retailer & Royal Mail Customer

Conscious but cost-driven

Consumers certainly care about the planet: 55% would be more likely to shop with an online retailer that has made a clear commitment to sustainability. But this number has crept down from 57% in 20222, signalling a small but still notable shift in attitudes.

It’s highly likely that the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing tightening of household budgets has contributed towards this change. There is, according to a Mintel study, “increasingly limited enthusiasm from consumers to pay the gap for more sustainable delivery” for example. The stats support this: 45% of shoppers agreed environmentally-friendly deliveries were worth paying more for in 2022, shrinking to 41% this year.2

Shoppers are also buying more second-hand items, but they name ‘affordability’ and ‘value’ as their top reasons for doing so, followed then by ‘sustainability’.3

All of this suggests that consumer priorities are based on the circumstances they find themselves in. They don’t suddenly care less about the environment but, when faced with inflation, a rising cost of living and the threat of recession, price becomes the dominant concern.

Does this mean that brands can stop focusing on being eco-friendly? The answer is no: 46%4 of consumers are looking to brands to take the lead on creating sustainable change.

While consumers themselves are slightly more reluctant to make changes, they now believe that the responsibility lies with retailers. As such, interest remains elevated in retailers and shipping partners implementing green practices for them.

The Gen Z sustainability spotlight

Younger age groups are more likely to make sacrifices to be greener. Remember that 55% of consumers are more likely to shop with a retailer that has committed to sustainability? That number rises to 69% of Gen Z (people born between 1997-2012)!  60% of Gen Z also think environmentally-friendly deliveries are worth paying for – a nearly 20% uptick on the wider average.2

The “eco-conscious generation” have the buying power of tomorrow, so brands would do well to cater now to their sustainable preferences to begin building loyalty.

What can businesses do?

If the expectation is now shifting towards retailers picking up the green slack, businesses should act quickly to attract conscious consumers who are still making eco-driven decisions.

• Make sustainability the default
From recyclable packaging to carbon emission offsetting, offer eco-initiatives that are easy to communicate and allow consumers to shop sustainably without extra effort. For example, Parcelforce Worldwide’s new courier bags are made from 84% recycled household plastics! Consider offering green delivery as standard too, rather than as a paid-for extra.

• Try green returns too
If your returns process is not only good value but green too, it’s a win-win! In addition to partnering with a supplier who can help you offer more sustainable returns, you could also consider selling returned stock in your own second-hand programme, or recycling damaged stock to prevent it heading to landfill. 

• Give consumers more control
Free delivery and returns are one key way to motivate consumers, but there are other value-adds that make life easier for shoppers. Provide omnichannel options such as click-and-collect if they’d like to save on last-mile delivery emissions; or supply accurate delivery slots and tracking to help customers avoid missed deliveries.

Today’s consumers aren’t just environmentally conscious, they’re price conscious too. Support their desire to be sustainable by taking responsibility for green initiatives in your supply chain, and reap the real rewards.

 
References:

1 Statista, 2023: https://www.statista.com/statistics/426733/united-kingdom-uk-concern-abo...
2 Mintel Online Retailing Consumer Report 2023
3 Statista, 2022: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1235030/secondhand-consumption-reaso...
4 Nielsen IQ, 2022: https://nielseniq.com/global/en/insights/analysis/2022/trend-watch-2023-...

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