Is this brand using sustainable business practices?
Is this retailer aware of its social impact?
What values am I supporting when I buy from this brand?
Many of us have probably asked ourselves these questions before making a purchase. In fact, as of 2019, 70 percent of consumers take the social impact of a brand into account when making a purchase. As the world grapples with numerous social issues, consumers have become increasingly conscious of the social impact of the brands they choose to support.
Brands that live these values must consider how they can showcase them online to connect with the values of their customers. Causes like sustainability and social responsibility are worthwhile efforts that create good in the world while winning over socially conscious shoppers. Unfortunately, all that good work can be undone if the digital experience fails to translate those foundational messages.
At best, a brand embeds its core values into every interaction that customers have with it. At worst, the brand creates an inauthentic representation of its values, backfiring and leaving customers feeling cold. Below are three strategies for retail brands looking to more closely connect their core values with the customer’s digital experience.
Capture Customer Signals to Understand Shopper Preferences
Shoppers across different age demographics each have their own shopping preferences, and this includes their views on social responsibility. Younger Gen Z shoppers are driving growth in innovative shopping formats because they're less interested in buying brand new products. Instead, they're more open to recommerce — i.e., the practice of building e-commerce experiences entirely around pre-owned products.
While Gen Z might be driving this trend, nearly all generations are becoming more interested in recommerce. Retailers like thredUP and TheRealReal are creating new avenues for consumers to engage with their brands on their terms. Brands should be constantly paying attention to the preferences and values of their customers and reassessing how they can cater to those preferences in their social responsibility initiatives.
Recommerce is just one example of an emerging shopper preference. Capturing customer signals — i.e., all the little actions that a customer takes on your website — can give brands a better sense of other similar preferences. For example, brands that have sustainability goals listed on their website or recommerce subpages can use signals to see how often these pages are visited and by whom. They can then adjust strategy and messaging accordingly.
Showcase Your Values Upfront
Authenticity matters when it comes to exhibiting your brand’s values. First and foremost, don’t just use the language of ethical practices or social justice to appeal to your customers and audience if it’s only true in your website copy. Doing so has backfired spectacularly for brands looking to cash in on the socially conscious consumer. Instead, be open and upfront about your brand’s values, and weave them into the digital experience.
Lush literally puts ethics ahead of product on its U.S. e-commerce site, and always has. Dedicated pages with clearly defined statements on where the brand stands on ethical buying, animal testing, and naked packaging weave product information with brand content. The landing page is a critical touchpoint; using that space to showcase values alongside products leaves a strong first impression with new and returning customers.
Brands like REI and Patagonia have also boldly exemplified their values by either closing their doors on Black Friday or discouraging their customers from spending during the busiest shopping days of the year. Actions like these speak volumes to consumers. Seeing a brand take a stance that's seemingly in opposition to its superficial benefit fosters loyalty and trust with shoppers.
Make Sure Your Values Match Your Product Discovery Experience
Listing values is great, and exemplifying them is even better. One of REI’s biggest values is its stance on sustainability, and the brand has made impressive efforts to showcase this. The company recently created an entire page dedicated to pre-loved materials through its generous and flexible Co-Op campaign aimed at recycling perfectly functional clothing.
This allowed customers an extremely unique and timely product discovery experience that strengthened their bond with REI’s brand. Another unique product discovery experience can be found in Urban Outfitters’ clothing rental program, Nuuly, where customers can rent clothing for a set period of time. This allows customers to explore various kinds of products in a sustainable model that moves away from fast fashion.
These strategies are great for aligning brand and customer values. However, they need to be executed thoughtfully or risk being hollow and inauthentic. If the digital experience fails to engage socially and environmentally conscious shoppers, your brand’s message can only get so far. Take the time to refine the messaging of those values and weave them into the very fabric of your digital experience.
Peter Curran is general manager, digital commerce at Lucidworks, a leading search solutions provider.
Peter built his first ecommerce website in 1995 – selling a GRE preparation program he and a friend wrote as they studied for the test. It only sold about a dozen copies for $30 apiece, but it was a start. Since then, Peter has worked on every ecommerce business model, in every category, and every size company. In 2010, he co-founded, and acted as President and Head of Sales for Cirrus10, a Web Content Management and Ecommerce Technology consultancy that achieved 100% referenceability across more than 150 customers in North America and Europe. In 2019, Lucidworks acquired Cirrus10 and Peter became Lucidworks’ first General Manager of a business vertical. Peter holds Bachelors degrees in History and English from Emory University and lives in Seattle.