Ethical shopping habits restricted by economic pressures

7th Oct 2010

Economic pressures are restricting shoppers from acting on their ethical principles, according to a new study, with 77% of those polled admitting that higher prices are preventing them from buying more environmentally friendly products.

The report into shopper behaviour, conducted by agency Shoppercentric, found that more shoppers than ever claim to be making a point of buying environmentally/socially friendly packaged goods: with 52% doing so compared with 43% in 2008. 
However, the recession has meant that this number doesn’t fully reflect the shift to ethical buying, as 55% of those questioned feel they cannot afford to act on their ethical principles.
"There are clear signs that current economic pressures have put the brakes on the trend for buying more ethically produced goods," said Danielle Pinnington, managing director at Shoppercentric. "We would however strongly counsel against businesses reading these trends as a suggestion that there is a diminishing desire for ethical products and practices among shoppers. Instead, we would interpret the changes in behaviour as reflecting a change in what shoppers are looking for. Ethical choices aren’t about brands or retailers using specific labels as some value-added variable that justifies a higher price point. Ethical choices are increasingly about fair pricing, production and practices that extend beyond a label."
Pinnington further suggests that some 44% of shoppers are meeting their desire to be environmentally friendly by adopting more prudent strategies. A significant 66% claim to be more careful about avoiding waste than they used to be and 64% say they are making things go further.
"We did find a sizeable proportion of shoppers for whom environmental and ethical concerns appear to have become hard-wired into their shopping habits – 52% of shoppers claimed that they were trying to ‘do their bit’ by shopping ethically, a figure that has risen from 45% in 2008 when we last looked at ethical trends," said Pinnington. "Greater choices are bound to have played some part in these increases, but only if the underlying desire to shop ethically also exists."
Shoppers are most likely to notice fair trade, organic, free range and recycled labelling when food shopping – reflecting very little change since 2008.  The most widely recognised ethical label was cited as Free Range (86%), followed by Fairtrade (82%) and then Organic (79%). The least recognised label was Carbon Miles with 26%. 
But, new issues appear to be gaining more prominence, with labels denoting provenance much more likely to be noticed by shoppers today. 62% of shoppers now claim that they notice locally sourced labelling on food & drink (compared with 52% in 2008), 43 percent notice sustainable sourcing labels (compared with 28% in 2008), and 32% notice renewable energy labels (compared with 19% in 2008).
The younger generations seem to be showing the most interest in shopping ethically. 65% of these under 25’s are keen to do their bit by buying environmentally/socially friendly products versus 52% on average. 
Pinnington concluded: "The impact of the tough economic situation on ethical shopping is impossible to deny, yet whilst the wallet may be struggling to meet the demands, the will is still there and shoppers are finding other ways to satisfy their desires to be green. In the mean time, retailers and manufacturers need to continue communicating with their customers on the ethical agenda, and to find meaningful and relevant ways of supporting them in their ethical endeavours. The businesses that are able to convince shoppers of their ethical credentials NOW are those that are likely to benefit the most from the ‘green pound’ when it re-emerges."

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