Rather than derailing consumers’ interest in sustainability, the pandemic appears to have intensified shoppers’ focus on environmentally friendly practices and products. A recent study released by NRF and IBM found that nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers globally say they are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce their environmental impact, up from 57 percent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But sustainability can mean vastly different things to different people. NRF industry partner member GfK has been tracking consumer motivations and attitudes on environmental issues for 30 years. GfK recently shared insights from its ongoing Green Gauge segmentation study to shed light on how two groups of retail consumers — who together make up over half of the U.S. population — are thinking about sustainability and the messages and initiatives that are most relevant in reaching them.
Sustainability on the high street
One of the fastest growing segments of sustainable shoppers is a group GfK calls “Glamour Greens,” which represents approximately 39 percent of Americans. This segment tends to be younger, more affluent and at the forefront of trends and new product adoption.
What these shoppers buy is an extension of who they are, and “green” is often a key part of their personal brand. According to GfK Consumer Life’s research, two in five (43%) Glamour Greens will pay more for a product that aligns with their self-image, including items that signal their environmental consciousness. Brands like Rothy’s, Allbirds or Tesla are positioned to appeal to this segment by combining sustainable messaging with a highly recognizable product.
However, these shoppers can also be more difficult to retain. They have high expectations for brands’ relevance and ability to deliver on other key markers such as personalization, convenience and connection to like-minded peers. Platforms like Brightly tap into this by allowing shoppers to discover new, eco-friendly brands and products while providing a platform for brand storytelling and community.
Glamour Greens prefer to take direct action by doing volunteer work and donating to environmental groups, and are less likely to recycle, conserve energy or water at home or reduce their overall consumption. That’s not to say they’re not interested in these efforts, but they have to be combined with some other benefit. Brands like Madewell with its denim trade-in program or luxury thrift platform TheRealReal can nudge these shoppers to adopt additional sustainable practices while also staying on-trend.
Not all sustainably minded shoppers are looking for the newest “green” product or trend. Another 20 percent of Americans fall into a segment that GfK characterizes as “Carbon Cultured” shoppers.
They often care even more deeply about environmental issues, particularly pollution and climate change, but do not want to be overwhelmed with information or choices. They also tend to be more focused on price and value. Options such as Target’s collaboration with ThredUp or Ikea’s Buy Back & Resell service may appeal to these shoppers by providing straightforward, cost-saving ways to extend a product’s lifecycle.
Carbon Cultured shoppers also tend to feel more guilt over purchases or actions that are not environmentally friendly. As a result, they are interested in accessible green activities such as recycling or cutting down on wasteful consumption. Companies like Misfits Market or Imperfect Foods tap into this focus on tangible ways of reducing waste by allowing shoppers to purchase less attractive or excess produce that would otherwise go into landfills.
There is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to answering the growing call for sustainable goods and services. Retailers have been undertaking initiatives ranging from responsible sourcing to reducing emissions. However, by understanding the varied set of motivations driving shoppers’ desire for green options, retailers can ensure their consumer-facing efforts are effective and work with their customers toward a greener future.