Organic, Vegan, Cruelty-free, Paraben-free, Fair Trade, Living Wages, No preservatives, 100% recycled materials, Keep Cup… and the list goes on. What do all these phrases and words have in common? They are consistently and repetitively heard on the lips of consumers, seen in advertising and actively guiding and emboldening the purchasing power of your customers. And because this trend is gathering momentum at an impressive rate, it is imperative you understand it and how you might adjust your business model to support it.
The Conscious Consumer
This describes the ever-increasing profile of today’s consumers. It is where every purchase made or service enlisted is considered carefully. Research is conducted into the supply chain and sustainability model of companies, how transparent they are with information, whether humans and animals alike are treated fairly in the process of production, and whether the environment is impacted as little as possible during manufacture.
The effect of conscious consumerism is two-fold. Not only does the customer select where to shop very carefully based on ethical grounds (thereby denying unethical businesses their custom and money), but in conducting this research and making their decisions carefully, they are in effect consuming less and valuing more, thereby reducing the need for volume production and increasing the need for careful, ethical, expensive and small production lines.
Conscious consumerism has even taken things one step further than simply thinking for yourself and quietly making careful and selective decisions on purchases. It embraces the concept that people vote with their purchases, supporting local, hand-made, ethical and sustainable businesses over huge companies who mass-produce items in less-than-ethical facilities. It also envelops the notion that, collectively, consumers can boycott (or even ‘buycott’) unethical and unsustainable companies and thereby make significant and lasting change in manufacturing and its effect on our planet; by simply making the small, conscious and ethical purchasing decisions on a singular and daily basis.
Why should you listen?
Traditionally, marketing has been required and influential in promoting products and services that the average consumer does not even know they need but are compelled to believe their life will never be the same without their existence. The engineers and designers have needed to be at the forefront, dreaming up ever-novel items and solutions that will entice consumers and keep the bottom line burgeoning. However, the tables have turned and now it is the consumers doing all the conscious consideration, tightening their belts and purse strings, making do and decluttering in a wave of minimalism. And the thing is, this trend is here to stay. To treat it as transient or a phase, where you can still entice consumers to do just that, consume, is simply foolish. This is why manufacturers should take heed and listen to the changing voices, rising in volume and growing in number.
A Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility found in 2015 that three out of every four millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are happy to pay more for sustainable products. This compares to 51% of boomers (those aged 50-64) which is still significant. If you would like to keep being competitive, increasing sales and building your customer base, then the words in the opening of this article need to become your dialogue and passion. So, what actionable steps should you take?
Meet Conscious Consumerism head on
These steps are simply a sample of all the positive changes your business can make, and of course, will differ depending on your business and industry. One of the fundamental concepts to keep in mind from the get-go is that all changes implemented must be genuine and sustainable with transparency embraced at every point. The conscious consumer is intelligent and well-versed, perfectly capable of ascertaining when false claims are made or sustainability is not genuine.
Before embarking on this journey, it’s really important that your business understands greenwashing and its dangers. Any shallow attempts to seem environmentally conscious will backfire and result in backlash, which can heavily impact your brand image.
Support a charity
Support a charity through every purchase made, or even have a selection of charities available where the customer can make a choice as to where their money will go. Since conscious consumerism is an ethical behaviour where one is considering a lot more than oneself, it is vital the company has the same moral code.
Avoid using any single-use serve-ware or bags
Ensure you use eco-friendly or genuinely compostable plates, cups, cutlery and bags etc. It is no good trying to ensure your supply chain adheres to ethical parameters so you can guarantee the sustainability of your product if you simply put it in a single-use container for sale.
Dissuade consumerism and encourage re-use
This may seem to go directly against everything you have ever known about manufacturing, and certainly is not a concept that has been upheld in many industries that encourage high turnover of product through poor workmanship or obsolescence, however, it is time to take a stand. Consumers will appreciate your efforts to encourage repair and reuse of items rather than instant replacement. You could even offer a repair service, taking all the hard work in finding reliable repair centres out of their hands.
Hone in on your production lines and supply chains
As we have stated above, a significant proportion of your customer base appreciates steps taken to make your supply and production chains ethical and transparent and are very willing to pay more for this knowledge and the provision of quality items that they can be proud to own. Therefore, it is important to take your time making sure you can be proud of your supply chain, its sustainability and the profit it generates for every cog in the chain, not just the big corporate manufacturers. It is also important to simplify your lines, and embrace a leaner approach of creating smaller batches with less waste and a greater degree of quality control— maybe try a JIT approach to inventory management. Certainly, this level of detail costs more, however, your conscious consumer is willing to foot the bill.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.