The Era of Sustainable Retail
“Sustainably sourced,” “recycled,” “upcycled,” “eco-friendly.” They’ve all become commonplace words, and for good reason. Retailers, manufacturers, and brands have been putting time, money, resources, and energy into promoting their sustainability efforts. But why are businesses touting how their approach to business is better at protecting the environment than their competitors? Well, not only is it the right thing to do for the world in which we work and live, but retailers also understand that it’s good business. Which brings us to a key question: does all that talk amount to action—and, more importantly, do consumers believe that it is enough?
Sensormatic Solutions has long been committed to sustainable business practices. To learn more about what we can do—and what we can help our customers do—we conducted a survey that gets to the heart of American shoppers’ thoughts around sustainable retail, environmental protection, and decision-making. It will help retailers understand what’s working, areas of improvement or opportunity, and how shoppers really feel. Here’s our key learnings:
1. The environment is on consumers’ minds
Respondents overwhelmingly indicated that sustainability is a priority for them, with 81% saying they are very concerned or concerned about the environment’s future.
Nearly 80% of shoppers indicated they consider sustainability for at least some of their purchases, and 50% said that their decision to make sustainable purchases is directly related to concern for the planet.
More than half (54%) of consumers read brands’ communications about sustainability programs. Nearly the same number (53%) would use a brand or store less frequently if they discovered that a brand or store wasn't operating sustainably, while 18% would stop shopping with that retailer altogether. Even though cost is already the most common barrier to sustainable shopping, 70% of consumers say they are willing to pay at least 5% more for products that can demonstrate a fully sustainable supply chain.
All of this is to say that the desire for sustainable options is there. Consumers want to take care of the environment. So, why don’t they do it every time?
That’s a bit more complicated.
2. The meaning of “sustainability” is different for different people
There isn’t just one way to approach sustainability, and individuals often align themselves with multiple definitions, actions, and solutions. While people and businesses may have missed this nuance in the past, the intersectionality of sustainable practices has become apparent to most. Large numbers of respondents acknowledge that sustainable retail is a holistic endeavor that can’t be summarized by “waste reduction” or “recycling” alone.
However, the majority of consumers believe that reducing material waste and greenhouse gas emissions are the most critical outcomes for retailers to pursue.
3. COVID-19 made a difference—but primarily for younger consumers
While COVID-19 has changed a lot about how we all shop, many respondents say it didn’t significantly affect their views about sustainability. Only 38% of consumers overall say that the pandemic has made them more concerned about sustainability and environmental protection. However, that number jumps for younger shoppers, with 44% of consumers aged 18-29 years saying that their concerns about the environment have increased since 2020.
4. Consumers are unlikely to participate in sustainability measures that are inconvenient—but they’ll do it for a reward
Despite high levels of concern about the environment, American consumers value personal convenience over environmental friendliness when they must choose between the two. Our research showed that shoppers don’t often go out of their way to participate in sustainable options, with availability being cited as the second-most common barrier to sustainable practices after prohibitive costs.
Even so, the overwhelming majority of respondents—95%—said they would participate in recycling and reuse programs if those programs were available and incentivized. Options like discounts and replacements are a big draw for consumers, but being offered a convenient place to return used items would be incentive enough for many. These insights reflect a level of consumer fatigue around sustainability and a desire for businesses and retailers to do more to facilitate sustainable practices on the individual level.
5. Most consumers believe the responsibility falls on businesses to be more sustainable
Although personal concern about the environment is high, a plurality of respondents (49%) believe that businesses bear the responsibility to operate sustainably. Only 34% say the responsibility for sustainability programs falls on individuals. We’re in an era where consumers—especially younger consumers—feel that the individual approach to sustainable living has been played out, and an expectation of matching corporate responsibility is becoming the norm.
Nearly 90% of consumers think that retailers don’t do enough to showcase their sustainability efforts. Over 90% of respondents said that retailers continuing their efforts toward sustainable operations is at least somewhat important to them, with 35% saying it’s essential that these businesses continually improve their performance in this area.
The Next Step
The era of sustainable, thoughtful, and responsible retail practices has arrived and is here to stay. Gone are the days when price was the only factor consumers considered. These days, the effects a product has on the planet are almost as important, and it’s time for retailers to take note or risk losing customer loyalty. These findings illustrate an ongoing trend that began well before the pandemic and will continue for decades to come—and that’s because it’s not a trend at all. It’s an imperative.
Shoppers are wising up to the fact that the planet we call home is not a given. Across demographics, consumers are prioritizing the good of the many over the hit to their wallet at an impressive clip. However, these same shoppers feel let down by retailers they don’t always trust to pull their weight in the fight for our planet.
The good news is that stores and brands have the power to respond to this demand and prioritize sustainable practices as they enter the next era of retail. Now, more than ever before, the industry is well-prepared to reconsider its operations and the technology that enables them. Precise, outcomes-based analytics and robust data can guide retailers into the more-sustainable future consumers want, saving money, resources, and our planet in the process.
For more information on Sensormatic Solutions sustainability efforts, download our Sustainability white paper to find out more about what we’ve done, what we’re doing today, and what we’re going to do in the future.
Survey Methodology: Sensormatic Solutions collected responses from 1,000 U.S.-based consumers, 18-years and older, via a third-party provider to determine findings of its 2022 Sustainability Survey. The survey was conducted between January 28 – January 30, 2022.