Retailers, it's time to evolve with your customers
It’s a process that started way before Covid – as concerns about people, the planet and our future became increasingly acute, shoppers became more aware of what and how they were buying, and the concept of ‘conscious consumption’ started governing shopping patterns.
Then the pandemic hit, and customer behaviour was thrown into sharp relief thanks to enforced changes in retail availability.
And, temporary adjustments directly related to safety aside (hand sanitising, social distancing, mask wearing and so on), a number of permanent new customer profiles have emerged.
While pure demographics still play a part, shoppers across all age and income ranges are nailing their colours to the mast when it comes to specific behaviours, and they fall into four broad groups, each with their own values when it comes to the brands and retailers they choose to buy from.
Caring about the environment and wanting to know that retailers are serious about ethical manufacturing practices has long been a concern for shoppers in general, but these issues have become central to a growing number of people. The sustainability supporter will actively seek out retailers that are transparent about their environmental policies – according to Accenture, 60% of shoppers are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases and nine out of 10 of them are committed to this long-term.
Transparency is key in engaging and retaining sustainability supporters. While changes to manufacturing processes and business practices won’t happen overnight, when it comes to customer experience, retailers need to ensure that store associates and advisors are equipped with all the information they need to answer their questions, no matter how ‘difficult’ they may be. It’s important to be able to demonstrate that, at the most basic level, ethical business practices are being considered as part of a retailer’s overall strategy and that they trust their store associates to be able to speak confidently about everything from the origins of raw materials to ongoing policies for sustainable manufacturing.
Social conscience defender
A number of factors have led to more enlightened shopping practices for the social conscience defender. The impact of online influencers, the wide availability of opinions on the news agenda and the rise in activism when faced with inequality of opportunity have all played a part in forming their shopping habits. They want retailers to reflect their values – if it’s not clear that they support the causes that chime with the social conscience defender’s own principles, they simply won’t shop with them. Research by Adyen revealed that 64% of those aged 18-34 would go out of their way to shop with responsible businesses that demonstrated a social conscience and engaged with charitable initiatives during the pandemic.
You only have to look at the number of retailers who have fallen into the trap of trying to leverage a social cause by issuing a message that at best is tone deaf and at worst is brand-damaging to know that this is a complex issue that cannot be ‘fixed’ by jumping on whichever bandwagon happens to be passing. Social conscience defenders are looking for authenticity, and that involves examining business values and sharing them honestly. Your frontline staff are central to this strategy - elevating the store associate role and giving them the authority and confidence to speak as ambassadors will ensure that they can engage customers without alienating them.
While there has undoubtedly been progress across most walks of life in improving diversity, from entertainment to politics to the board room, the advances made have brought to everyone’s attention just how far we have to go. The diversity champion is looking for more than just lip service to the concept of equality – they want tangible evidence of progressive policies and they want to see themselves represented by retailers not only in their products and marketing but also in their staff from C-suite to shop floor. As McKinsey puts it in its ‘The Diversity Imperative in Retail’ report: ‘The statistics suggest that we are in the midst of the largest equity and justice movement of our time. It’s big. It’s powerful. And it will shape the future for consumer-centric businesses.’
Diversity champions need to see retailers ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’ – as one respondent to McKinsey’s survey said: ‘If I wanted to know [if a retailer supports diversity] —I would see it in their marketing materials, their photographs, the labels, and other things; not necessarily this press release sent out to everybody.’
That means a root-and-branch examination of business practices – it will take time, effort and commitment but the rewards are clear. Once again connecting with the diversity champion begins with their experience on the shop floor – and if a retailer’s store associates are true ambassadors, they have taken some major steps on the path to inclusion.
If the last eighteen months have taught us anything, it is the importance of taking care of both our physical and mental health. From feeding their bodies (organic food sales in the UK increased by 9.5% year on year, and plant-based product sales grew by 243% last summer) to feeding their minds (the ‘sense, spaces and sleep’ mental wellness category is now worth around £35 billion), wellbeing advocates are conscious of how each purchase makes them feel on a holistic level.
Awareness of the wellbeing advocate’s priorities is at the heart of engaging them as a customer. They will be paying attention to the health-based benefits they will get from making a purchase, and will choose the options they can assess and trust over those that they can’t easily find out more about. To build trust and secure sales, store associates need to have all the relevant details at their fingertips, whether they’re ingredients for a plant-based dinner or information about mindfulness and stress-busting activities.
As with any behavioural shift, evolving to meet the needs of these emerging customer groups will take energy and commitment. But the payoff will be a better experience for everyone – a more sustainable, aware, inclusive and healthy environment for shoppers and retailers.
With a background in marketing and psychology, Emma Newman is a talented Client Consultancy Director who has worked with high-profile clients across the retail spectrum. Much in demand as a customer experience expert, she has been instrumental in building customer-focused strategies for a number of leading brands.