Executive Overview: More than ever consumers want to embrace retailers who stand for the same values as they do. 71% of consumers surveyed prefer buying from companies aligned with their values for both personal consumption and gift giving as taking a stand can benefit all of us and our planet.
Companies can make choices about the values that become core to their business. From supporting political causes, addressing environmental concerns to embracing sustainability, retailers and brands have an important role to play. Their marketing and messaging can engage shoppers on the front-end while technologies can help eliminate waste on the back-end.
Customers are thinking more than ever that they want to embrace retailers who stand for the same values as they do. 5W Public Relations’ 2020 Consumer Culture Report revealed that 71% of consumers surveyed prefer buying from companies aligned with their values.* That should include both personal consumption and gift giving as taking a stand can benefit all of us and our planet.
This year more than ever, when thinking about gift giving—whether for a holiday, birthday, graduation or just because—a values-driven mindset can prevail. I encourage all of us to make more sound decisions in this regard.
Build your company around a mission
When it comes to cause-driven marketing, Patagonia is in a league of their own. Many years ago, I remember their catalog cover addressed environmental issues rather than showing products and I thought to myself “where is the shopping?” They are a company that knows how to showcase both their products and their passion for the environment. Let’s face it, they were strategic before it was trendy, and they remain authentic to this day.
Taking a Stand
Retailers can also take a stand as Roots Canada does with this statement about diversity. For me, the visual image is powerful and speaks volumes. They acknowledge the current reality but also express a willingness to be part of the solution. Ideally more retailers will follow suit.
It’s one thing to state your values, it’s another to live them over time as Eileen Fisher has. This is a wonderful example of a 35+ year-old company and how it has shaped their culture. Sustainability is introduced in their “Behind the Label” tab with integration throughout the site.
One of the companies I knew would be cause-driven was Fenty Beauty. They too combine words and images to tell their story. Their inclusive “here to serve all skin tones” highlights that Fenty Beauty was created for everyone and Rihana shares that this is the real reason she made the line.
Catbird, the New York City jewelry company, makes it clear that diversity and equal opportunity in hiring are key components of their corporate culture. Their website includes a pledge about diversifying their offerings, hiring, customer service, giving, creative and media assets, as well as listening and learning.
The sustainable story takes center stage
My Gen Z daughter is well aware of the damage some members of her parent’s generation have done to the environment. Over the past few years, as she has taken an interest in fashion design and sustainability, I have watched as the retail industry begins to focus more on these concerns. According to Nielsen, the U.S. sustainability market is projected to reach $150 billion in sales by 2021. One cannot help but visit more and more companies who are embracing sustainability as part of their mission.
By showcasing some of the brands and the marketing approach they are taking to sustainability, we can be confident that this next generation has our back. Levi’s is front and center in the sustainable discussion and that starts with better choices in material selection. Denim is challenged due to the water required to achieve the many desired washes so finding ways to use less water is integral to being more sustainable. They also put forth a strong message from ThredUp that when it comes to used clothing, “If everybody bought one used item this year, instead of buying new, it would save 449 million pounds of waste.”
Focus on Materials
Allbirds emphasizes that mother nature can guide all of us. Information and a drive towards sustainability are the underpinnings of the Allbirds brand and can be found on the site via Our Story and Our Materials links. One example is their Tree Runner shoes which are made from eucalyptus trees. They also cite its renewable materials on the product page to serve as a differentiator among other brands.
The sustainable story is based on education and innovation
Once the story is told and then retold, shoppers of course are in the business of making purchases.
Merchandising and product selection is another way companies can tell the story. Retailers must get creative as shoppers address both personal consumption and gift giving in their everyday lives. From a post-pandemic point-of-view, this is a year when shoppers will be looking for products with meaning beyond some of the core products typically purchased.
Here are 3 companies who are investing in the sustainable aspect of their business that will be attractive to their customers.
Ikea encourages shoppers to start living a more sustainable life at home providing easy and affordable ways to embrace sustainability. They suggest that simple changes to our habits can make a difference by featuring how Ikea products from lightbulbs to faucets tell their sustainability story.
Tumi highlights their new arrivals and celebrates sustainability. Their branding “innovative by nature, sustainable by choice” is sure to resonate with all of us who are ready to take it on the road.
Uncommon Goods embraces creative selections to meet the customer where they are. Gifters also have an opportunity to tap into their gift finder which is pre-populated with categories found on the site. When typing in sustainability, 60 products were returned making it convenient for customers to move beyond a more traditional assortment. Its addition to the finder also factors sustainability into future gift selections.
Business models embrace sustainability
Digital gifting is always sustainable, and shoppers know that if they are not going to select a sustainable product at least they can select a gifting platform that shoppers can always feel good about. From that vantage point, GiftNow, as seen on David Yurman, focuses on the perfect gift before it ships, showing they’re thinking about the sustainability factor right up front.
Be thoughtful and give customers what they want
When it comes to gifts, shoppers who are focused on the environment may be in a unique position to impact the issues they care about. Selecting gifts can be fraught with uncertainty as it is difficult to know if sizes, colors and overall selection will be right for one’s recipient.
Many of us are concerned about the packages used to ship these orders and what happens to the products that are subsequently returned, as well as the impact on the carbon footprint associated with shipping. According to CBRE, in-store purchases see returns at approximately 8% while online is much higher reaching 15% to 30% depending on the category. They did the returns math and based on a projection of $123 billion in November-December 2020 online sales returns could have been as high at $37 billion.
GiftNow facilitates a unique opportunity to minimize returns helping to ensure unwanted packages are not being shipped. With their technology, the buyer makes the purchase, and the recipient receives their gift digitally so they can make sure the selection is right for them before the products are shipped. This approach lessens the retailer’s need for packaging and restocking. By eliminating/reducing exchanges, we all reduce the amount of packaging (boxes) that go into landfills and the fuel spent lugging returns around.
Beyond the packaging and transporting, there is the restocking factor which has always been a burden associated with returns. Eliminating the need to restock products reduces the chance of having them end up in the dumpster but instead are able to be sold to a customer.
Two goals are being accomplished that both contribute to a more sustainable planet.
Values are in vogue for both retailers and shoppers more than ever. By embracing causes from supporting diversity to addressing sustainability in materials and packaging, shoppers will have an opportunity to do business with companies that care. Each one of us will be better off for making a conscious choice to take care of our planet.
Lauren Freedman is president of the e-tailing group
*Data from 5WPR’s Consumer Culture Report was collected from an online survey that ran from November 13 to 18, 2019 by MARU/Matchbox on behalf of 5WPR. The survey was conducted among a nationally represented general population sample of 1001.