Are conscious consumers causing retail to evolve?
Listen to this article:
You already know that digital purchases are growing at remarkable rates. Stats show the portion of total retail sales will rise from 15.5% in 2021 to 22.7% by 2025.
Additionally, experts at eMarketer predict that 233 million people in the US ages 14+ will browse products online, and nearly 90% of them will make at least one digital purchase this year.
While people are flocking to participate in digital commerce—one thing is sure. Consumers are increasingly more selective about where they spend their money.
Specifically: consumers want to spend their money with eco-friendly brands.
Don't believe it?
Research from IBM indicates consumers seek to support brands that align with their values. Nearly 60% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing patterns to help reduce negative environmental impacts. And 8 in10 say sustainability is important for them.
Blowfish Malibu recently hosted the 4Earth Spring Virtual Panel. Concerned consumers and sustainability experts gathered to discuss this issue—how the retail landscape is evolving thanks to more conscious consumers.
Here’s a closer look at the main points discussed in the panel and what they mean for ecomm brands.
What does eco-friendly mean?
The straightforward answer from panelists was this—eco-friendliness is being hyper-aware of what we do and purchase and how it impacts the environment.
From a consumer standpoint, eco-friendliness means researching brands to ensure they are either fully sustainable or taking steps toward becoming more sustainable.
“From a consumer lens, being eco-friendly means, our purchases are more powerful than our votes these days. When we make a purchase, we support a whole supply chain—from the extraction of that resource from the earth to the fair wages of manufacturing that product.” -Chanelle Sladics, Simply Straws
An eco-friendly consumer is aware of the entire pathway a product takes to get into their hands. Eco-friendly consumption is also about connection, according to the panelists.
“[It can] be as simple as buying from your local farmers to buying a Made in America product, and visualizing what that means, the jobs it creates, the ripple effects, and how it connects us and the planet we all live on.” -Chanelle Sladics, Simply Straws
Today’s consumers care about social causes, fair business practices, and reusable resources. But what does this mean for ecomm brands?
Brands that take authentic steps toward aligning their business practices with consumer values will win customers.
Research from the IBM report supports this claim, as 70% would pay a premium of 35%, on average, for environmentally responsible and sustainable brands.
How can ecomm brands cater to a more conscious consumer?
It’s clear that consumers want to see change and are more likely to support brands that also care about environmental causes.
This begs the question—how can ecomm brands cater to a more conscious consumer?
Here’s what the panelists had to say.
1. Take small steps forward
Blowfish Malibu, a women’s fashion and footwear brand and the sponsor of the 4Earth Spring Virtual Panel, didn’t start as an eco-friendly brand, according to VP of Marketing Karen Bueno.
Bueno explains how fashion is part of the larger climate problem. The footwear industry contributes to landfills, as millions of shoes end up in the garbage.
Faced with this knowledge and a desire to change, the team at Blowfish Malibu took a hard look at their brand, had difficult conversations, and decided on small steps they could take to be better.
“We didn’t start as an eco-friendly brand. [But] we wanted to make a change with what’s going on in the environment right now. We asked, ‘how can we be more aware of climate problems, how can we [make changes] in a way that is authentic to our brand, and how can we take small steps forward?’” -Karen Bueno, Blowfish Malibu
For Blowfish Malibu, small steps forward meant reducing the use of plastics in its packaging, committing to low waste packaging, and working toward using more recycled material in its shoes.
As it stands now, Blowfish Malibu has created a shoe that conscious consumers can get behind—a shoe made from recycled single-use plastic bottles. Here’s a diagram of how the shoes are made.
The panelists recommend starting with one small commitment towards becoming eco-friendly. That one step often leads to an ongoing commitment to consciously making decisions that positively impact the environment.
“Doing something is better than nothing, and you’re giving people the keys to say, ‘what is something I can do this week or this month?’ When you do things in little bits, you realize it’s not as difficult.” -Becky Mendoza, Changing Tides Foundation
2. Tell your customers what you’re doing to become more earth-friendly
Consumers aren’t buying products willy-nilly. They are doing intense research to find out which brands are sustainable and which are not.
Sustainability Vlogger Shelbi O even has a checklist of requirements a brand must meet before purchasing from them or recommending them. She also offers general advice for consumers looking to find out which brands are putting in the work to make the planet a better place.
“One of the first things I tell people to look for is an ‘About us’ section at the top of the brand’s website that explains ethics and sustainability. If the brand has something good to say, they are going to tell you. If it’s harder to find, or if it’s not included, there is probably a reason for that. Maybe they had the word ‘eco-friendly’ on a product, but then if there is not a foundation of that brand that is built at least toward moving toward sustainability, that’s always a red flag for me.” -Shelbi O, Sustainability Vlogger
While the advice is meant for consumers, it’s the perfect guide for what ecomm brands can do to communicate their values and ethics to consumers—tell them how you’re making a difference on your website.
Here’s an example of a stellar and focused About page from Good Intent.
With a click of a button, curious consumers can learn everything they need to make an informed purchase from Good Intent.
The panelists also gave specific insight into other sustainability signals consumers look for. Namely, B-corp certified brands and members of 1% for the planet.
“[I look for brands that are] B-corp certified and members of 1% for the planet. If a brand has that, I tend to trust them. You’re not just taking a brand at its word. There is a third-party non-biased source that is also saying the same thing. B-corp certification is not easy to get, so I always look for that.” Shelbi O, Sustainability Vlogger
If your ecomm brand has these certifications, show them off on your website just like the team at Simply Straws does.
Telling your customers what you do as an eco-friendly brand should extend beyond your website and inform your marketing as well.
Take this email from Birchbox, for example.
Email marketing already experiences the highest ROI out of any digital marketing strategy. Still, this email goes above and beyond by speaking to what the Birchbox audience cares about—the earth.
3. Change your packaging
It’s no secret that WWII incited the expansion of the plastics industry in the United States. During that time, plastic production in the US increased by 300%, as it gave Americans an inexpensive way to participate in consumerism.
But ongoing plastic production, especially of single-use products, comes at a concerning cost—a cost to the earth.
And here’s the thing brands need to know.
Recent research shows that when consumers are concerned about the adverse effects of plastic contamination on their health and the environment, they are more likely to avoid purchasing single-use plastic items.
Additionally, experts say consumers do care enough to try and shift consumer trends.
“If we can shift the consumer trends 5%, that’s enough to trigger these big brands to start making shifts. It doesn’t take 100% of us to make the switch. It takes 5% to get the big guys to go ‘oh, we’re in the wrong line. Things are changing. We need to shift.’” -Chanelle Sladics, Simply Straws
Changing packaging is one of the easiest ways ecomm brands can fall in line with consumer hopes.
As people stop using and purchasing plastic objects, ecomm brands don’t have to get left behind.
Brands can do research and invest in plastic-free packagings like the team at Simply Straws and Blowfish Malibu.
They can also look into eco-friendly alternatives such as paper, hemp, bamboo, and cellulose.
“Investing in these channels will drive prices down and compete with petroleum and plastics. I believe we won’t be packaging in plastics in the next ten years.” -Chanelle Sladics, Simply Straws
4. Make eco-friendly purchasing accessible to all
While many consumers are willing to spend more on eco-friendly products, it doesn’t mean everyone that wants to is able, the panelists explained. At least at first glance anyway.
“There are so many people that agree that the climate crisis is a huge problem, and they want to do something about it. The zero-waste movement felt out of reach, so people felt it was niche and for people of privilege.” -Alex Gamboa Grand, Good Intent
There’s a lot of truth to this sentiment, especially if you’re one of many consumers living paycheck to paycheck. But just like brands don’t have to adopt 100% eco-friendly business practices all at once, neither do consumers.
“In reality, everyone can do something. [Good Intent] wanted to make it easier for people to make changes daily. You can change your toothpaste. You can change your dish soap. You can bring reusable utensils. No matter where you are or how much money you make, you can make little changes that have huge impacts over time.” -Alex Gamboa Grand, Good Intent
While consumers can take small and affordable steps toward adopting more eco-friendly practices, it helps when brands find ways to make purchasing more affordable.
“Brands need to look at what they can do to make eco-friendly products accessible to all consumers, not just those with money. It’s challenging.” -Karen Bueno, Blowfish Malibu
Thankfully, many brands are stepping up to the plate and finding ways to make sustainable products more affordable.
Take the Laundry Paste from Good Intent, for example.
This one product is $22, and it tackles 256 loads of laundry, which is at least on par with—if not more affordable—than leading pod detergent brands.
As brands find ways to make products more accessible to all, sales will inevitably follow.
5. Educate your customers
Making products more affordable isn’t the only piece of the successful eco-friendly ecomm brand puzzle.
Capturing sales also depends on your brand’s ability to educate and build awareness around what a product does and its price point.
“Price is a pain point for living more sustainably, but the education and awareness factor and understanding why a product costs more is the most important part of all of this. Women, overall, are willing to pay more to support something that aligns with their values, but the reality is if they don’t understand why what they’re buying doesn’t align with their values, how can they make that choice?” -Shelbi O, Sustainability Vlogger
There are several ways brands can educate consumers on their eco-friendly products and the conversation at large.
For example, the team at Blowfish Malibu starts by reaching out to experts in the sustainability space and learning from them.
“It’s important to have members of the community who are versed in this world, like Shelby O., who understand this space [on board]—it’s super important for us. Not because we want to be performative or come across as knowledgeable, but we need to learn too. We learn from people who learn and breathe and understand this space.” -Karen Bueno, Blowfish Malibu
Blowfish Malibu also educates consumers and builds awareness with the help of influencers.
“It’s important for us to build a community where they educate us, and we educate them. And we are touching a consumer that doesn’t know where to start. As a brand, we want to communicate and be transparent and say we are learning too.” -Karen Bueno, Blowfish Malibu
If you follow Blowfish Malibu on social media, you’ll engage first-hand with influencers that care about sustainability and share the brand’s merchandise.
Alex Gamboa Grand of Good Intent also uses social media to educate customers. Brands would do well to follow suit.
“We try and spend 50% of our social media posts on educating what people can do [to become more sustainable] aside from buying things.” -Alex Gamboa Grand, Good Intent.
Here’s one example of a recent social media post from Good Intent educating customers.
Spreading awareness through social media and influencer marketing is a great way for brands to speak to consumers that care.
What’s the final takeaway?
Long gone are the days where people engage in cheap consumerism. Today, consumers are more eco-conscious, socially aware, and driven by their values than ever before.
As with any industry, if ecomm brands want to keep up, they have to speak to their customers. One of the best ways to do that is for brands to align their ethics and values with what’s important to consumers. Then, deliver.
As the 4Earth Spring Virtual Panel experts suggest, brands don’t have to bite off every environmental issue at one time.
Instead, ecomm companies should take one small step at a time, and communicate what they are doing to spark change to consumers. That is the perfect step in the right direction.