Sustainability in retail

Why sustainability awareness is beneficial for retail



Reading time: 7 minutes

Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – this definition of a report published in 1987 by the United Nations pretty much describes what sustainability development and the awareness of such is supposed to achieve. Governments and global industries have been forced the last centuries to implement strategies and standards which ensure a co-existence of the planet earth and the humankind.

What was once exclusively spared for people of green parties, finds more and more awareness and acceptance throughout a wilder field of the population. The younger the people, the more they care about sustainability also in daily life. Upcycling, plant-based food, plastic free oceans, Greta Thunberg, the fall of fast fashion, electric cars… The list of keywords regarding sustainability and the list of commitments is endless.

Therefore, sustainability has become a powerful value proposition in retail. Making an effort for our planet and showing commitment is also a win for the own brand and turned companies’ philosophies which the biggest retailers such as H&M or Inditex show. Conscious collections, second hand or pre-owned fashion or rewarding customers for their participation in a sustainable cycle are only a few examples. 71% of chief executives from the world’s leading organizations in all economic sectors see sustainability critical to their future success, because consumers are no longer deciding for a certain purchase based on the products or price, but more on the purpose of a brand and for which values it stands for.

Upcycling is already known from the electronic and fashion businesses. Ecological raw materials, efficient usage of resources and waste avoiding through the complete production circle are more and more integrated in brand strategies, but also work policies and transparency in communication are part of the sustainable development.

How can a local retailer jump on that train, do good for the environment, have a social impact and gain business at the same time?

Know your customers and focus on their values

Today’s customers, especially the Millenials and Generation Z are much more purpose-driven than the generations before. Already 41% of all customers are willing to pay more for goods and services, if they are in alignment with their lifestyle and values like sustainability and ethics. People change and evolve continually, but evident is a new wave of responsible consumption.

The digitization of companies is already a reality. Consumers of today are always online and have at their fingertips instant ability to access information about products and services. Thanks to that fact also brick-and-mortar retail can be more sustainable in day-to-day life and have at the same time a much closer relationship with their customers and offer them more personalized attention.

How can you as a retailer really know your customer, his or her values, preferences?

The classic way to collect customer data like the name, email address and mobile number is personally in a single consultation. Once saved this data can be used further for review requests, surveys, newsletters and so on. But there are much more touchpoints in a customers’ journey which helps you and your store associate to gather information of your customer: more and more customers use social media to check also local stores. Social media is not only a great opportunity for users to share, interact and connect, but also for you to find out what your customers value as well as promoting your sustainability efforts. With mPocket all your profiles can be merged in just one application so you don’t lose the overview of all social platforms available. Additionally, it can be used in-store for data collection: connected to the free guest Wifi you offer on one side a service each customer is expecting anyways and on the other hand you have at least one contact of this customer. To this contact (email adress or social media profile) you can send afterwards a review request and are already in some interaction with that customer – the first step to get to know him and to build a relationship with him. The mPocket solution can as well be integrated to existing cash systems, e.g. with contactless payments and/or paperfree receipts – one more option to collect your customers data. Having all contacts, you can start digging more into your customers values through short and simple surveys – all automized with mPocket.

Shopping involves more and more specific requests and multiple channels and consumers still want effortless and uncomplicated experiences. Special services from buy online-ship to home, to Click-and-Collect (buy online, pick up in store) to BAGA (buy anywhere, and get anywhere) – the demand for all fulfillment methods is growing. Covering all these, you supply a shopping experience which your customer will appreciate, build his or her loyalty and form a long-termed relationship. Trustful customers are willing to share much more personal information which in return can be applied to a single retailers concept.

Customers are keeping the retail alive, their data is impacting the retailers business and most importantly the retailers responds to the customers demands.

Make sustainability part of your brand and promote your sustainable retail

During Corona not only e-commerce has grown, also a new perception for local shopping was born and pushed the trend for sustainability even further. Empty city centers, slogans such as “support your local dealer” together with the huge effort brick-and-mortar made to overcome the difficult times raised the awareness also by people which did not deal with sustainability until now and created new loyalty to local stores.

What could be more sustainable than going to the shop around the corner in a group of friends or take your bicycle for the restaurant 10 minutes away? Each single person can contribute to the reduction of the carbon footprint by simply skipping the orders online. The products are available immediately, there is no shipment (from online shops sometimes even in several deliveries and overnight which creates even more pressure from an ecological and logistical point of view) and returns necessary.  About 33% of products purchased online are returned, compared to that it is only 7% in brick-and-mortar.

Having collected your customers data you can easily promote your sustainable retail and highlight the benefits of your local store compared to your online competitors. Your online presence gives your digital-minded consumers the chance to evaluate and chose.

What can brick-and-mortar retail do for being more sustainable?

  • Offer reusable packaging or motivate your customers to bring their own to reduce the allover packaging waste
  • Use eco-friendly packaging if it is necessary
  • Minimize the paper usage by digitalizing your processes, e.g. paperfree receipts, inventory /stock over scanners, company documents online
  • Chose energy efficient equipment such as lights,
  • Follow correct recycling and composting guidelines
  • Use green cleaning products
  • Donate things that are no longer used in your shop / buy secondhand furniture
  • Avoid misleading and offer traceability and transparency by correct labeling (QR codes can give detailed information of the origin of your products)
  • Get certificates of independent third parties if applicable
  • Sell green labeled / locally produced items if your concepts allows
  • Offer digital gift unpacking with unpacked gifts in reality
  • Provide “digital” deliveries in form of consultation over videocalls, customizing the products before pick-up

The possibilities for retails contribution to planet earth are endless and as well adaptable to small local stores, but communication is the key to everything, if you want to have also a positive impact on your sales. Spread the word through social media, email marketing and in-store with the help of just one digital solution. The messaging on all channels plays a big role in transforming your sustainability efforts into part of your brand story and identity. It gives you space to answer the questions your customers might have, for example what led you to a more sustainable business. Helping your customers to lower their carbon footprint by raising awareness of their shopping habits is highly beneficial to your business and making them feel more empowered as consumers will form a great bond with you and your sustainable store.

Raise awareness by your employees and empower them with the right tools

Since consumers still prefer to shop in physical stores, your store associate is one of the most valuable assets – your brand ambassador. You and your team are the first impression a customer gets when entering your store and are of significant importance for customer acquisition and loyalty. By raising awareness by your employees, linking their values to their daily work and turning a sustainable business model into business as usual you are representing your own efforts as your brands philosophy.

Besides making sustainability visible inside and outside your store, online and offline, you can also cocreate some practices together with your employees. Collectively solving problems stimulates on one hand creativity for further sustainable actions and forms solidarity in your team.

With the right tool your retail associates will become more productive and deliver the best possible customer service. Based on the customer data your store associate can offer on a suitable product, make online bookings, presentations of new products/ collections or consultation/tutorials over a videocall. Technology can combine the skills of a good sales person with the convenience of online shop, improve the productivity of your staff and give the customer a feeling of blissful exclusivity. The leverage of experiencing something positive alongside saving time will enable the store associates to touch the customer emotionally with the help of technology. Store associates are seen as experts which customers are seeking for advice. By raising your associates’ awareness for sustainability, you show your customers your responsibility for environment. Because it is what consumers want.

It’s a new state of mind and a new era. Everybody realizes that luxury and the endless resources we were taking for granted is over. The challenge of our generation is to adapt through [practices like] recycling and the circular economy.” says Sébastien Kopp, co-founder of Veja. The return of investment of all sustainable efforts will pay off as you demonstrate to the consumers how you are living their values.

Digitization is per se already one step to sustainability. Use just one tool to combine customer, store, brand and team interaction. Create more visibility and traffic, promote your sustainable store and touch your customers at very touchpoint along their journey.

Jasmin Janson

Marketing & Communication Manager mPocket

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