Managing Director PFSweb
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The role of customer experience in catering for the “conscious consumer”

How important are sustainability, ethics and a brand's moral compass to customer purchasing decisions?

6th Nov 2020
Managing Director PFSweb
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Conscious consumers

Locking down the world for months on end was always going to leave a lasting legacy on society.

Whilst it has led to numerous behavioural shifts among consumers and a sense of ongoing uncertainty, arguably one of the more positive outcomes is the increased awareness of our impact on the environment.

During the first global lockdown in early spring, carbon emissions fell drastically, the water in Venice ran clear and wild animals began to roam in locked-down cities.

Consumers emerged from the lockdown more conscious of the impact that their personal shopping habits were having on the environment and are changing their purchasing behaviours as a result.

A new report from PFS and LiveArea, Selling Sustainability: Adapting to the New Conscious Consumer’, found that during lockdown, a large proportion of people have had the opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate their consumption.

As a result, consumer attention has now been turned to the sustainability of their purchases and the associated environmental impact. In fact, 37% of UK and Irish shoppers have said that they are more conscious of the effect on the environment now than before the pandemic.

This newfound “conscious consumer” is set to change the retail landscape for good and brands must not only be ready to cater to evolving consumer needs, but also have the opportunity to act first and take the lead in change.

We’re already seeing major brands responding to conscious consumer demands, with The North Face announcing in August it’s going to take on Patagonia by increasing its sustainability and environmental efforts.

Other retail brands such as Primark are making new commitments towards recycling their products. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of consumers in the PFS and LiveArea report said they are now expecting online retailers and brands to use recyclable packaging or minimise their use of packaging.

Brands that ignore these early warnings are setting themselves up for failure, as sustainability and acting ethically can improve customer loyalty and lifetime value. Small changes, such as right-size packaging, ensures not only effective and more secure packing of a product, but also results in more packages being able to fit on a truck.

Communication is also key, and this is where conscious consumption becomes a CX prerogative. Customers now expect to be informed and reassured about a brand’s environmental credentials at every step of the customer journey. As Dave Pattman of GoBeyond Partners explained on a recent MyCustomer podcast:

“It’s about consistency and coherence. If you have strong positions as a brand around responsibility, that really does have to flow through your organisation.

“If you say you care about humanity and diversity and the environment, but then when I come to interact with your organisation as a customer, if I don’t feel that, then that tension between the visible public statement and the experienced interaction, then that is a real issue.

“Consumers are sensitive to that tension or conflict. If I’m working within CX or customer service then the quality of the human interaction you have is a proof point for the values that the organisation is projecting into the market.”  

The new sustainable landscape

Adjusting to the new landscape may be difficult at first, but, if brands want to provide an improved customer experience then it’s an issue that must be tackled sooner rather than later.

Being transparent and open about products will help brands to maintain healthy communication with their consumers and stay ahead of competitors. Consumers are now paying significantly more attention to the processes that retailers go through prior to delivery.

Despite this, only 37% of consumers say they are satisfied with the communication from online retailers or brands on the environmental impact of the products they have bought.

Throughout the purchasing process, where and how products are sourced is also being evaluated by conscious consumers.

Adjusting to the new landscape may be difficult at first, but, if brands want to provide an improved customer experience then it’s an issue that must be tackled sooner rather than later.

Over a third, (35%) state that when they make a purchase the product must be naturally, locally or sustainably sourced, while 56% of respondents said they prefer to buy products that can be delivered within their own country. This also contributes to the theory of consumers being more socially conscious about supporting local, independent businesses, rather than solely relying on multinational corporations.

42% of consumers believe that the products they return are reused or recycled, with only one in five aware that goods are often thrown away or destroyed.  In reality, 5 billion pounds of waste is generated through returns each year. This emphasises a clear need for change. If brands communicated that returns go to landfill, 71% of consumers said they would change their online shopping habits.

Maintaining positive changes

Consumers are now actively seeking brands that stand by their sustainability credentials. Although the situation was forced upon consumers due to factors outside of their control, it clearly served as a wakeup call for both individuals and brands alike.

Our research shows that 72% of consumers plan to continue with their changed shopping habits following the pandemic, while 40% of consumers feel that online retailers and brands should continue with reduced carbon footprint initiatives which include changes to product delivery and sourcing. This highlights how crucial it is for businesses to pay attention to this new consumer, as they have more choice than ever before.

As customer experience consultant Victoria Taylor explained in MyCustomer’s conscious consumption podcast:

“We do have to look at the environment – consumers are more conscious about things beyond ethics – i.e. behaviour and how brands have acted during Covid. Primark is a good example. Are they the most ethical? Probably not. But people have watched how they’ve behaved during the Covid crisis and that’s going to count for a lot going forwards.

“Then you only have to look at the likes of Timpsons and the way they’ve treated their staff during this time. That’s going to be seen favourably in the future. The other trend we’ve seen is that people have formed communities, so encouraging people back to the high street isn’t going to be easy and brands could do worse than think about how to sincerely integrate themselves into communities a little more.”

Deliberate purchasing

Though many people, especially Generation Z and millennials, have admitted to over-purchasing and returning items in the past, these altered consumer habits will likely put an end to this. In fact, 37% of all shoppers said they have stopped over-purchasing as a result of the pandemic.

In August, ASOS revealed that its customers are now making more ‘deliberate purchases’ and sending back fewer items, which has had a positive financial impact on the retailer.

Whilst a more sustainable retail industry can only be a positive, there are certain things brands can do to help ensure they stay ahead of the consumer while positively impacting customer experience, brand loyalty and the bottom line.

They must work quickly to understand the needs and desires of their customers throughout the buying journey and identify how they can cater to these heightened sustainability expectations.

Authenticity cannot be underrated as shoppers see straight through empty words and gestures. Action and effective communication is a central tenet. Brands that meet the needs of the conscious consumer and consider what, where and how their products are sourced, will be in the best possible position to thrive.

 

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Amine Dahimene - SEO Consultant
By aminedahimene
07th Nov 2020 14:37

Agree, however the impact of another lockdown in the middle of the golden quarter is likely to be heavy.

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