Conscious consumers are ushering in a new era of retail, driven by a fundamental power shift as the Internet and technology enable greater access to the behind-the-scenes goings-on at brands both large and small. Even more telling, new research from YouGov and Infor reveals that millennials in particular care greatly about corporate values and have switched from a favorite brand based on issues with four key factors: product quality and availability, sustainability and working conditions.
In a time when conscious consumers are emboldened to “grab their wallets” and spend according to their values, retailers must act quickly to ensure their own corporate convictions align with their customers’.
Transparency Is No Longer an Option
With today’s demanding conscious consumers, communication is key. While it has become common for many retailers to include some basic information on corporate social responsibility on their websites, although not prominently displayed, progressive companies should take the step of becoming proactive about clearly communicating their steps and strategy toward more sustainable operations. Doing the bare minimum is no longer enough. Outline how your company is:
- Investing in the communities where it operates. If your employees volunteer with and donate to local organizations, post about these activities and include photos and videos when possible to really paint the picture for conscious consumers.
- Adopting energy-saving and environmentally-friendly practices. Have you installed solar panels on your facilities or switched to using only recycled paper in your headquarters? Let your customer base know that you’re making the effort to run your business in a responsible way.
- Refining labor practices and policies. Consumers no longer accept that retailers can simply “pass the buck” on how their supply chains are operated. Beyond caring about domestic minimum-wage issues, conscious consumers demand to know that the factory workers producing their clothing and other goods are treated and compensated fairly. To put things in perspective, 74 percent of consumers polled by YouGov and the Global Poverty Project said they’d pay 5 percent more for their clothes if they were accompanied by a guarantee that the workers producing them received fair pay amid safe conditions.
The days of doing “just enough” to keep your reputation intact are over. Openness and transparency are must-haves for tomorrow’s leading retailers and are a major step toward building trust with a new generation of consumers.
Keep It Real
Conscious consumers know when a company is putting on an act versus when it is being authentic. Indeed, savvy consumers can smell “greenwashing” from a mile away. Don’t make the mistake of adopting progressive practices because you’re “supposed to.” Tap a consultant or expert in the field of sustainability or look to leaders such as TOMS, adidas and others that have achieved tremendous success and recognition for their leadership in these areas.
You’ll quickly notice that the winners among conscious consumers have created strong corporate values and can tie every business decision back to those values. Think of it this way: your corporate values cannot live in a vacuum. Make them the heart and soul of your company and let them influence everything you do.
Conscious consumers are shaking up “business as usual” for retailers, yet with some much-needed reflection and a change of mindset, pivoting to serve these shoppers may be easier than you think. Becoming a smart, sustainable business is good for people, planet — and your bottom line.