As society begins to reopen, retailers and brands must be cautious not to lose sight of the legacies of lockdown. One of the most notable is the new ‘conscious consumer’. After the pandemic, we became more aware of the impact shopping habits have on the environment.

A recent report from PFS and LiveArea, ‘Selling Sustainability: Adapting to the New Conscious Consumer’, found that 37% of UK and Irish shoppers are more conscious of the effect on the environment now than before 2020.

This newfound consumer is set to change the retail landscape for good. Retailers and brands must not only be ready to cater to evolving consumer needs but also act quickly and take the lead in change. Today, we’ll be exploring the five things brands can do to set up and maintain a new sustainable landscape – meeting the needs of all consumers:

1. Ensure open communication with customers

The conscious consumer holds a bag with a tag Zero Waste.

Brands can stay ahead of competitors by maintaining healthy and open communication with customers. One of the most important steps in achieving this goal lies in being transparent with customers about the products and services you offer.

Shockingly, only 37% of consumers said they are satisfied with the communication from online retailers and brands about the environmental impact of the products purchased.

Communication is key to ensuring that this new sustainable landscape is maintained. For example, consumers aren’t always aware of what happens during the returns process. The previously mentioned research found that 42% of the, believe the products they return are reused or recycled. Only one in five interviewees were aware that goods are often thrown away or destroyed.

In reality, five billion pounds of waste is generated through returns each year. This emphasises a clear need for change. If online retailers and brands communicated that returns go to the landfill, 71% of consumers said they would change their online shopping habits.

2. Go local with products and services

Throughout the purchasing process, conscious consumers are now evaluating where and how products are sourced. Over a third (35%) stated that when they make a purchase, the product must be sourced naturally, locally or sustainably. Moreover, 56% of respondents said they prefer to buy products that can be delivered within their own country.

This further contributes to the theory of consumers being more socially conscious about supporting local, independent businesses, rather than multinational corporations. Brands should be taking the time to review current suppliers and consider materials that can be sourced more locally and sustainably whenever possible.

3. Make small changes with sustainable packaging

A cardboard around a green plant represents the waste of packaging.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of consumers said they are now expecting eCommerce retailers and brands to use recyclable packaging or minimise its use completely. Brands that ignore these early warnings are setting themselves up for failure, as being green and acting ethically can improve customer loyalty and lifetime value.

Sustainable solutions don’t have to be costly either. With the relatively low investments and small changes such as right-size packaging, brands can truly benefit financially.

4. Maintain positive changes

Our research shows that 72% of consumers plan to continue with their changed shopping habits following the pandemic. Furthermore, 40% of interviewees feel that online retailers and brands should continue with reduced carbon footprint initiatives which include changes to product delivery and sourcing. Companies should act now to implement and maintain positive change.

5. Build long-term relationships

Though many people, especially millennials and Generation Z, have admitted to over-purchasing and returning items in the past, these habits will likely end in the future. In fact, 37% of all shoppers said they have stopped over-purchasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2020, 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.

Primark has also introduced a nationwide recycling programme to prevent unwanted clothing ending up in the landfill. These kinds of programmes will be essential in building relationships with the new conscious consumer.

The viable future for businesses and the conscious consumer

Brands should 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. Action and effective communication are key drivers here.

We’re now at an important and exciting crossroad, where the retailers and brands that consider their impact on the planet will reap the rewards. Acting ethically is now not only the right thing to do but the most profitable angle for long-term growth. Those that genuinely care about the environment and successfully communicate this with consumers will be the ones with the brightest future.

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