Retail Marketing

What is ethical consumerism and why should you care?

6 brand lessons behavioural science can teach marketers

Consumers today have never been more conscious of where their products come from, the impact of their purchases and the conditions of the employees working across their favourite brands.

As well as wages and working environments, customers are also paying close attention to where companies source materials, where goods are manufactured, as well as a brand’s values and commitments.

This ethical consumerism is such a great consideration for shoppers today that customers are voting with their wallets. They are buying from companies that align with their personal values or demonstrate certain ethics, instead of the retailers they may already be familiar with.

What is ethical consumerism?

Every product your shop manufactures, stocks or sells has an impact on the world. A growing number of consumers realise this and want to buy from organisations that have a more positive influence on certain social and environmental issues.

This phenomenon is called ethical consumerism and is a purchasing practice that has been gaining momentum and popularity in recent years all over the world. To illustrate just how prominent this market is, recent reports suggest that it’s now worth around £122 billion in the UK alone.

Beyond the environment and employee working conditions, ethical consumerism is a broad term that can encompass a range of things.

Ethical consumerism can encompass whether or not a company…

  • Tests on animals
  • Uses sustainable materials
  • Supports what they say they do
  • Uses animal products

Although many factors have contributed to the boom in ethical consumerism, one of the primary reasons for this seismic shift in customer behaviour is down to the rise of social media.

These platforms are home to billions of users, all following, researching and discussing their favourite brands every single day. And, as word spreads fast on these platforms, a single post shining a spotlight on a company’s unethical practices could quickly gain traction.

This is exactly what happened in 2017 for the popular ride-sharing app, Uber. A former engineer at the company took to her personal blog to shine a light on the rotten internal company culture. The blog post went viral and hit headlines around the world, severely impacting the app’s reputation and popularity.

Why is ethical consumerism important for your brand?

As well as benefiting the world, incorporating policies and actions that appeal to the ethical consumer can have several direct benefits to your shop and brand.

Encourage brand loyalty

Many of the world’s most well-known brands grow and succeed because they encourage people to come back and purchase, time and again. Repeat custom rarely happens naturally, and more often than not hinges on a brand developing a trusting relationship with its customers.

Fostering meaningful buyer relationships isn’t something that takes just one action of goodwill. However, by aligning your corporate values with your shoppers’ expectations, and becoming more responsible as a retailer, you help lay a solid foundation from which to build a loyal customer base.

To highlight how valuable brand loyalty can be for your business, consider that 50% of loyal customers will make more purchases with their preferred companies.

Bolster your reputation

Although the ethical market is growing, this paradigm shift in consumer behaviour has also brought about a rise in ‘corporate boycotting’. This is when consumers avoid specific companies or products because they fail to meet certain common standards or expectations.

By catering to the ethical consumer in your shop, you can work to meet the rising expectations of prospects and help avoid the negative impact on sales and brand reputation a boycott could bring.

Although the severity of corporate boycotts can vary, sportswear titan Nike was at the centre of a labour controversy in 1990 that damaged the brand so much that it caused the company to completely rethink how it operated and presented itself on the world stage.

Future proof your brand

Year on year, ethical shopping continues to make up a larger and larger portion of the market, as individuals become more aware of their impact on the world around them.

Moreover, as Gen Z, one of the most ethically conscious cohorts enters the workforce, this consumer movement is unlikely to slow down. 

By taking steps to become a more responsible retailer, you help ensure your shop remains appealing to shoppers today and tomorrow.

How to embrace ethical consumerism

Because ethical consumerism is such a broad and varied topic, there are dozens of ways your business can cater to the ethical consumer – from changing the way you ship your goods, to the way you front your brand in the public eye.

Reduce your brand’s carbon emissions

One way to meet customer expectations is to reduce your carbon footprint as a store. While there are many ways you can approach this problem, we have selected a handful of simple potential solutions you may want to try:

✅  Install energy-saving bulbs in-store
✅  Ship orders to the same address together
✅  Turn off the air-con when it’s not needed
✅  Switch lights off overnight when the store is closed
✅  Encourage employees to cycle or walk to work
✅  Set up a customer recycling scheme to safely dispose of old goods

Even making microscopic changes to the way you operate, such as favouring digital receipts and printing documents double-sided, can all help reduce your emissions and create a more eco-friendly image for your brand.

Align corporate values with corporate actions

Another way you can embrace ethical consumerism is by ensuring your corporate values align with the actions your shop takes. 

For example, if your brand pledges to reduce its impact on the environment, but keeps all of its lights on overnight, people may feel as though you aren’t taking your corporate social responsibility seriously. This, in turn, can quickly harm your reputation.

Take some time to ensure your values correlate. If this means reducing the scale of your commitments to make sure your enterprise can actually achieve what it has set out to do, this will be better for your brand than overpromising and underdelivering.

As well as that, you should also ensure your values are easily found online or across your social platforms, as hiding this information away could seed distrust. Many responsible retailers have a section on their website dedicated to their ethical goals.

Educate your customers

A third way of catering to ethically-minded customers is by using your reputation and platforms, such as your social pages or blog, to educate prospects on issues pertinent to your brand.

Tell people why you support what you do, and the steps you will take to achieve your desired goals. By committing to causes publicly, you help build trust with new and existing customers, while also raising awareness for good causes and charities.

Naturally, content is crucial in spreading the word about your brand’s values online and in-store. However, as campaigns and charities come and go often, enlisting the expertise of a third-party agency to produce assets may not suit your budget or timescale.

Bringing content production in-house is often unworkable too, as the content creation process is traditionally time-consuming, and would likely clash with other employees’ responsibilities. As well as this, building branded visuals takes skills your team may not have access to.

Bringing the creation of quality visuals inside your store sounds impossible. But, with brand activation management software, such as BAM by Papirfly™, teams can utilise the software’s smart templates to create on-brand visuals at pace and on budget, even without design experience.

3 retailers accommodating the conscious consumer

With customer sentiment continuing to evolve, countless retailers have already begun to make changes to the way they operate and market themselves. 

To give you some inspiration and guidance on how you can become a more ethically minded retailer, here are three of our favourite examples.

1. Lush

It’s not just the scents of the shops that are sweet – it’s also the brand’s commitment to causes such as ethical buying and animal testing that help it stand out as one of the most conscious retailers on the high street today.

As well as publicly standing for and against causes that they believe in online, the retailer also takes real action to support funds, charities and other causes that align with its beliefs. Their ethos also extends to their eco-friendly products and their recyclable packaging.

Lush’s commitment to sustainability and fairtrade arguably defines the retailer just as much as its whimsical scents. As a result, the brand has a devout following of fans all around the world.

2. WHSmith

Popular bookstore WHSmith has pledged to reduce its carbon footprint and work to become more sustainable by using a number of methods.

Some of these include stocking more eco-friendly and recycled products in-store, reducing the use of single-use plastic throughout the chain of shops, removing the use of plastic glitter on their goods and getting rid of unnecessary packaging.

Although WHSmith may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think ‘responsible retailer’, its actions have already begun to positively impact the company’s reputation, cementing itself as one of the top 5 ethical high street shops.

3. Reform

Lastly, Reform, a fashion company focused on minimising its impact on the environment, aims to bring sustainable fashion to everyone.

To do this, the brand uses low-impact materials, rescued deadstock fabrics and repurposed vintage clothing. Beyond sustainability, the retailer is also committed to providing a safe and comfortable working environment for its garment workers, building its own factory in Los Angeles to make this a reality.

Although they are a relatively new retailer, its ethics resonate with customers, generating the business over $150 million in revenue in 2019.

Readying your brand for an ethical future

With customers more aware of social and environmental issues than ever before, ethical consumerism has seen a boom in popularity in recent years. 

Although this consumer movement may present a prime opportunity to grow the trust and authenticity of your brand in the eyes of your target audience, it’s important to be clear and honest when making commitments.

While there are many facets of this more conscious form of shopping, content is crucial in demonstrating your pledges to becoming a more responsible retailer. 

Creating in-store signage, social media content and visuals for the web can be a costly and time-consuming practice, especially if you have to rely on third-party agencies for their output.

However, building captivating visuals that showcase your ethics doesn’t have to be a grand investment in time or money. With brand activation management software, like BAM by Papirfly™, you can build on-style visuals quickly and cost-effectively, without any design expertise.

4 BAM features ideal for retailers:

  • Create unlimited collateral using smart templates
  • Plan, approve and assess multiple campaigns
  • Store and share files in a single, easily accessible place
  • Import product information effortlessly with speed and ease

To learn more about BAM, and the many ways it can help your brand cater to the ethical consumer, get in touch with our team today or arrange a personal demo online.