Sustainability and authenticity have in a few short years moved from being a conversation to becoming key considerations in the purchase decision for UK fashion shoppers. Brands will need to meet their needs without raising costs dramatically, says Martin Jensen, CEO and Co-Founder of Centra.
10 years ago sustainability was little more than a frequently asked question on a list pages deep on a brand's website, and most of the activities were less about you the customer and more about the company and how it was protecting the environment or preventing further damage to it. Either way it wasn't really connected to core business from the consumer’s point of view and was simply seen as the price of being a good citizen.
Now, what was once just called corporate and social responsibility has put the environment to the fore and morphed to environmental and regulatory compliance, from what companies were once trying to do to what they are now actually doing. While the two acronyms are not interchangeable, the emphasis is now on action.
The immediate consequence of this for anyone responsible for running a balance sheet is added cost, a fact that is often overlooked in the general enthusiasm to talk about how change can come about. And while added cost is inevitable, the lack of a well thought out plan is simply going to eat into margins that are already tight for many brands and only likely to get tighter in the current economic crisis.
The journey to sustainability starts with gaining an understanding of what the consumer wants. Much of the current conversation about sustainability has been one-sided, which is why we commissioned research among more than 2,000 UK shoppers, conducted by Savanta in July of this year. We also wanted to test some of the assumptions that are currently being made, that consumers will pay more for goods if they are sustainable.
The research comes in our latest report How your brand can capture its full potential globally, which shows that while the product itself is the top consideration for 50% of consumers, key brand values, including fashion companies’ green credentials and how true the company is to its brand meaning, are emerging as growing consideration factors in the paths to purchase.
29% of consumers surveyed said that sustainability was a key consideration when they are shopping for clothing. This rises to 36% of 18-24 year-olds, part of the growing cohort of Gen Z, who demonstrate quite different behaviours from their elders. Either way, fashion shoppers wear their hearts – and their values – on their sleeves, and they are conspicuously consuming those brands that mirror and shout about their own values and beliefs.
The research went on to show that 65% of shoppers say fashion brands need to ‘hard bake’ sustainability into their brand values and 70% say retailers should do more to bring their environmentally friendly values to life across their sales channels and touchpoints. With eco-fashion demands growing, 45% of shoppers say they would buy more from fashion brands who shout about their green efforts and a further 58% said they would buy more frequently from those retailers who commit to protecting the planet.
However, in the context of a growing number of stories in the media about ‘greenwashing,’ 72% say sustainability claims must be backed up by meaningful action by a brand before they would consider changing their buying behaviours or switching their loyalty to a retailer, and 51% said that if they perceived a retailer to be ‘greenwashing’ it would give them a negative view of the brand.
Transparency is therefore key to gaining consumers’ trust, and this is about sourcing, manufacturing and supply chain - where is this product made? How was it made? There also needs to be transparency on the human side of the retailer’s business, what is called social sustainability. For instance, under what conditions were workers employed and how are they treated?
Linked to sustainability therefore is authenticity, which plays to the credibility of the brand’s offer; 25% of UK fashion shoppers said that authenticity, where the brand lives up to what it stands for, would also impact their buying decision, rising to 30% of 25-34 year-olds. 64% of shoppers now want the online experience to live up to the brand’s personality and values, which proved particularly important to younger consumers demographics of consumers, rising to 71% of 18-24 year-olds and 72% of 25-34 year-olds respectively. Over two fifths (42%) said that if a retailer’s online shopping experience didn’t embody the brand’s values, it would make them question their purchasing decision, while 39% said it would put their long-term loyalty to a brand in doubt.
So, when it comes to fashion, that means online experiences need to be at least as amazing as the products themselves and the brand storytelling needs to be consistent and authentic across each and every touchpoint. That way the retailer can remain relevant and true to the core values of its own brand as well as those of its customers to drive sales and long-term customer lifetime value.
Achieving this, as brands look for new sales opportunities overseas, will depend on using data to understand the peculiar preferences of consumers in each territory and ideally working with a partner that has experience on the ground. This is less about actual product and more about fulfilment, a key part of the offer that is often criticised for being unsustainable, but where brands are focusing significant attention in terms of packaging, efficient loads and returns.
Ultimately, once sustainability and authenticity are woven into the brand’s offer, then it is not just communicating a compelling story to environmentally aware customers, but about managing the costs of building that story.
Centra is a headless, SaaS e-commerce platform for medium to enterprise-sized fashion and lifestyle brands running a Direct-to-Consumer and/or wholesale ecommerce business towards the global market. Leading brands such as Nudie Jeans, Djerf Avenue, Stronger, Eton Shirts and Sandqvist use Centra's software to deliver next generation experiences for consumers and wholesale buyers. Centra is the market leader in the Nordics and is currently expanding across europe. Centra was founded in 2016 and is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, with offices in Wroclaw, Poland and New York, USA.