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Insight One: Values-based retail evolves

In the first instalment of our trend-forecasting series, we look at how the sustainability trend is developing over time.

Performative eco-friendliness vies with a rising dose of eco-shame as sustainability goes mainstream. The same mainstreaming dynamic also applies to social values. Social responsibility is no longer just about making sure supply chains aren’t hiding exploitation, but demonstrating that your brand’s compassion includes everyone – regardless of ethnicity, sexual and gender orientation, ability level and dietary need. 

To keep spending flowing, retailers will need to soothe consumers’ eco-anxiety and make it clear that your brand’s values align with theirs.

“Whether it is for shampoo, a new pair of jeans or gaming software, consumers are looking to purchase products from companies that resonate with their beliefs. Looking at new ways to simplify their lives, consumers show more commitment to responsible brands. These new purchasing behaviours go hand in hand with interest in health and wellness movements and ethical attitudes.” – Euromonitor International, Top 10 Global Consumer Trends 2020.

When eco-friendly products were difficult to find and expensive to buy, they were an aspirational purchase for many shoppers and marketed as such. However, now that they’ve mainstreamed in many markets, opting out of these increasingly affordable, expected options has taken on a tinge of shame. 

Consumers have also begun to apply that same shame-based thinking towards retailers. Instead of, “It’s wonderful that you’ve done X!”, consumers are saying, “I’m upset that you haven’t also done Y”, often on social media.

Sustainability can cover any part of the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra, but as waste reduction is under the spotlight, it’s ‘reuse’ that’s getting the most attention right now. Circular business models, the rise of digital resale platforms for apparel, and new models which provide the opportunity to rent, reuse, refill or share products are all on the rise.

One New Zealand retailer that’s riding the new sustainability wave is Twiice, an edible cup product launched by the Auckland-based Cashmore family in June 2019. Co-founder Jamie Cashmore believes the vanilla-flavoured biscuit cups are the first of their kind, and hopes they will contribute towards changing consumers’ mindsets around throwaway cups for both coffee and icecream.

Air New Zealand quickly took notice, introducing the cups as a trial in December. The airline’s senior manager customer experience Niki Chave then said that while the airline had switched to commercially compostable plant-based coffee cups not long before, the ultimate goal would be to remove cups from landfill.

Consumers seemed happy to oblige, Chave said: “The cups have been a big hit with the customers who have used these and we’ve also been using the cups as dessert bowls.”

Cashmore doesn’t necessarily agree that sustainable products are fully mainstream and affordable in New Zealand yet. He feels that eco-friendly products are still more expensive than the alternative, and the eco-shame dynamic has yet to take off here: “If you have to make a choice whether to feed your kids or buy an eco whatever, for a lot of people that’s an easy choice.”

He expects that as more sustainable products are brought to mass market, New Zealand will reach the same tipping point as other developed economies.

Cashmore says New Zealand’s SME-led economy means that, like consumers, many retailers aren’t comfortable experimenting with new solutions which may increase costs, but he feels attitudes are changing. 

“In general, people are happy to help if it’s not going to hurt their bottom dollar too much. That’s what I’ve found in the last year, talking to people about ways they can specifically use our products. That are A) Going to help the environment, but B) Going to give them something a little bit different to talk about with their customers.”

There’s a large reservoir of consumer goodwill awaiting those attempting to improve their sustainability, Cashmore says. He’s proud of the way Twiice’s product has made it easier for businesses to address sustainability from a positive perspective: “Sustainability and global warming and things can become quite negative topics to talk about. I think something we’ve done really well at Twiice is to say, let’s have this conversation, but let’s do it in a lighthearted way.”

An easy way to boost sustainability and find guidance on the diversity issue will be to take cues from your local community. Retail NZ’s #ShopLocal campaign is a reflection of a growing trend worldwide – shoppers gain a sense of individuality and national identity from their local retailers, and even multinationals are expected to tailor products and marketing to local preferences. 

Read The rules are changing: Four trends shaping 2020

Read Insight Two: URL balanced against IRL

Read Insight Three: Instant gratification

Read Insight Four: Social gets serious

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 766 February / March

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