61% of people claim to be concerned about the environment, but only 9% prioritise the environmental impact of their Christmas shopping
The global environmental movement has swelled in recent years, the “Greta Thunberg Effect” driving huge increases in environmentally-conscious individuals and businesses.
With expert insight from James Child, Head of Retail and Industrial Research at Estates Gazette, we have investigated whether the same environmental concerns would be reflected in peoples’ shopping habits over Christmas – the time of year where spending is often at its highest.
We’ve also looked at the reasons why more people aren’t shopping in an eco-friendly way, and how retailers can make it easier for customers to make this change in the future.
61.2% of people claim that they are either ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about how our modern lifestyle is affecting the environment.
This concern is widespread, with high percentages of every age-group sharing the same opinion.
However, this concern for the environment is not being reflected in our shopping habits over Christmas.
James said, “Many UK retailers are finding that this shift in consumer consciousness has yet to translate into a shift in sales for more environmentally-friendly alternatives – that there is a lag between consumers advocating a shift and actually adopting different, greener, shopping habits.”
We gave our respondents five common factors that often come into buying Christmas gifts and asked them to order them in terms of what is most important when they’re shopping.
Price came out on top, by a long way, with 45.4% of people putting this at the top of their list. Quality of the product was the second most important factor overall, followed by whether the product is sourced and made locally, the environmental impact of the product, and finally the speed of delivery.
Only 9% of people put ‘environmental impact’ at the top of their list, despite over 60% of people saying they are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the planet and how our habits and way of life are affecting it. Almost a quarter (23.4%) actually put this at the very bottom of the list, and just under 30% of people placed it fourth out of five.
Only 13.1% of people said that they do make the effort to shop in an eco-friendly way over Christmas.
So what’s stopping more people from doing so when they claim to be so concerned about the environment?
We asked the public what’s preventing them from adopting greener shopping habits over Christmas and this is what they said:
39% of people said that environmentally-friendly products, when compared to the alternatives, are simply too expensive.
“A lot of eco-friendly products are more expensive than the alternatives because the cost of sourcing and producing sustainable materials, and ingredients for food, come at a higher cost. For example, organic farming avoids the use of chemicals like pesticides, which is good for the environment, but naturally requires farms to employ more labour to cover tasks like weeding which the chemicals would have done instead.
Another example is that green companies usually advocate fair labour employment terms, which again means higher costs for the companies as they must provide fair wages and good working conditions for their employees.
As there is also less demand for eco-friendly products currently, they are not usually mass-produced like a lot of other products and food. This will mean that the cost to produce each unit is higher, resulting in a higher price tag.
The demand for eco-friendly products needs to increase in order for large companies and businesses to alter and disrupt their current, traditional manufacturing and processing lines.”
35.9% of people say that eco-friendly alternatives are too difficult to find as there simply aren’t enough retailers selling them, making them unable to make greener choices when it comes to Christmas shopping.
“As I mentioned above, the expense involved in making eco-friendly products widely available is likely to be one of the main reasons as to why more retailers aren’t selling them.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that retailers are currently having to think very carefully about what they stock in their premises. A lot of retailers are reducing floorspace in light of changing shopping habits, drops in footfall (due to an increase of people favouring online shopping), and expensive overheads that come with having stores. Therefore, the introduction of new products is likely to come at the expense of existing ones, and the demand for eco-friendly products still isn’t high enough to completely replace the products currently available.
Also, supermarkets, and other like-for-like stores, are often caught in price wars with each other, so if one were to only stock more expensive eco-friendly products, it’s likely that they would lose a majority of their customer base.”
Another big factor contributing to the reason why so many consumers aren’t shopping in an eco-friendly way is the lack of information on what they’re buying, so it’s actually impossible to know whether they are choosing environmentally-friendly products or not. The same goes for the packaging in which the products are contained as there often isn’t a choice for the customer to make on this.
“In an age of information and expected corporate transparency, it might strike some as surprising that both retailers and manufacturers do not disclose this kind of information of their products’ packaging.
Nutritional value such as calories, salt content, the level of protein and so on are all broadcast widely on food items, and often the origin of ingredients for many health and beauty products too. But there isn’t anything on the packaging in which it’s contained, perhaps apart from the capability to recycle.
At present, retailers are under no lawful obligation to make this information accessible to the public.
Transparency of this would no doubt open up the conversation of environmentally-unfriendly products and/or practices, offering consumers more choice and ability to work towards their own individual goals.”
In order to get more people to make greener choices and to change their shopping habits, it’s important that they are made aware of the difference they’re making. 18.5% of people don’t bother to shop in an environmentally- friendly way because they feel that the problem is too big and they can’t help.
“Retailers that have eco-friendly products available can definitely help customers in this area by making them more aware of how their purchasing decisions are helping the environment. For example, on receipt of buying eco-friendly goods, maybe the retailer could provide information on how the product was made and the minimal effects it had on the environment in the process? Alternatively data could be provided on sustainability efforts made by the producer or the carbon savings of the product compared to an alternative?
Giving people tangible evidence of the positive environmental impact of the products they’re buying will help them to see that they are making a difference.”
The last factor that’s stopping people from adopting eco-friendlier shopping habits is that they don’t believe that the quality of eco-friendly alternatives are as good as their usual products.
“This has a lot to do with unconscious bias. ‘I’ve always bought Branston pickle, why should I switch?’
The quality is high for many eco-friendly products, but it’s usually the customers who are unwilling to change their habits. A lot of people assume that new products they haven’t heard of before will be inferior to their usual brand, especially when it hasn’t got the same glossy packaging that they recognise and trust.
We need to do more in the retail sector to encourage customers to take the risk and experiment with new products. Perhaps there should be introductory offers when new eco-friendly products come into store, or can the retailer offer incentives like rewards cards, where the customer collects points when they purchase particular eco-friendly products?
I think a lot of customers will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of many eco-friendly products, they just need the encouragement to make the switch.”
“Consumers want retailers to help them make more sustainable decisions and purchases and will feel warmly to those retailers who do.”
We asked James how retailers can help customers to make greener choices and shop in an eco-friendlier way.
James says that for those retailers who do have eco-friendly products available, they should “Offer the customer facts about climate change, and how their purchasing decisions are affecting emissions.”
He also suggests that customers could be offered rewards for purchasing particular products, or they should create incentives for customers to bring packaging back into store so it can be recycled or disposed of correctly.
“Conversely, should some products which have the most damaging impact on carbon emissions and waste be charged at a premium?
Perhaps it’s time that the Government imposed a plastic tax on manufacturers and funnel it into various efforts to reverse climate change. Appropriate levies on some items or packaging would inevitably trickle its way down to the consumer, therefore reducing demand.”
Packaging is another way that retailers can help towards creating a more eco-friendly retail sector, and it’s clear that customers want this change made.
A study conducted by Whistl earlier this year revealed that 75% of British consumers want online retailers to use eco-friendly materials to pack their orders to minimise parcel packaging waste. In the same survey, 42% of people said that they have taken, or would take, action if they receive an order in what they consider to be non-eco-friendly packaging. This action is mostly in the form of writing bad reviews or informing friends and family of their concerns.
Fighting climate change is a global effort, and it’s not only down to retailers and manufacturers to make changes within the retail industry. There are a lot of things that customers can do to help.
When we spoke to James about the effect customers are having on the environment with their current shopping habits, he thinks that the increase in online shopping has been making the problem considerably worse.
According to Deloitte’s 2018 Christmas survey, 42% of the UK’s total Christmas spend was done online, and UK consumers are shopping online more than any other country in Europe.
“In the UK, over one-in-five retail purchases is now made online. Increasing the number of deliveries to homes and business has an inherently negative effect on carbon emissions.
Online shopping can be eco-friendly if you’re buying in bulk and it’s delivered in one go by an electric vehicle, for example. But one problem is that retailers all use different courier services, so if you make multiple online orders, you may get two or three deliveries to one address, in one day, by two or three different delivery vehicles. Then there’s the returns to think about, and people travelling to the post office when they’ve missed a delivery.
If you are an environmentally-conscious individual, I would say to shop on the highstreet instead. If you can minimise the number of trips you take by planning in advance, car-sharing with others or taking public transport, you will be helping to reduce the carbon emissions created by online deliveries, as well as helping local businesses."
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Last updated: 23 January 2020 | © KIS Bridging Loans 2020 |