In just a few years, sustainability and authenticity have gone from being a conversation to becoming key considerations in the purchasing decision for British fashion retailers. Brands will have to meet their needs without dramatically increasing costs, 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 as the customer and more about the company and how it protected the environment or prevented further damage to it. In any case, it was not really connected to the 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 at the fore and changed to environmental and regulatory compliance, from what companies once tried to do to what they now actually do. Although the two acronyms are not interchangeable, the focus is now on action.
The immediate consequence of this for anyone responsible for running a balance sheet is additional costs, a fact often overlooked in the general enthusiasm for talking about how change can happen. And while additional costs are inevitable, the lack of a thoughtful plan will simply eat away at margins that are already tight for many brands and are 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 of more than 2,000 UK shoppers, carried out by Savanta in July this year. We also wanted to test some of the assumptions being made now, 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 globallywhich shows that although the product itself is the biggest 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 increasing consideration factors in the paths to purchase.
29% of consumers surveyed said sustainability was a key factor when shopping for clothing. This rises to 36% of 18-24-year-olds, part of the growing group of Gen Z, who show quite different behavior from their elders. Either way, fashion buyers wear their hearts—and their values—on their sleeves, and they wear eye-catching brands that mirror and shout their own values and beliefs.
The survey 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 eco-friendly values to life across sales channels and touchpoints. With growing demands for eco-fashion, 45% of shoppers say they would buy more from fashion brands that tout their green efforts, and a further 58% said they would buy more often from retailers committed to protecting the planet.
However, in the context of a growing number of stories in the media about ‘greenwashing’, 72% say that sustainability claims must be backed up by meaningful action from a brand before they consider changing purchasing behavior or switching loyalty to a retailer, and 51% said that if they perceived a retailer as “greenwashing”, it would give them a negative view of the brand.
Transparency is therefore the key to gaining consumer trust, and this is about procurement, production and the supply chain – where is this product made? How was it made? There must also be transparency on the human side of the retailer’s business, what is called social sustainability. For example, under what conditions were workers employed and how are they treated?
Linked to sustainability is therefore authenticity, which plays on the credibility of the brand’s offering; 25% of UK fashion shoppers said authenticity, where the brand lives up to what it stands for, would also influence their purchase decision, rising to 30% of 25-34 year olds. 64% of customers now want the online experience to live up to the brand’s personality and values, which proved particularly important for younger consumer demographics, rising to 71% of 18-24 year olds and 72% of 25-34 year olds respectively old. Over two-fifths (42%) said that if a retailer’s online shopping experience did not embody the brand’s values, it would make them question their purchase decision, while 39% said it would call into question their long-term loyalty to a brand.
So when it comes to fashion, that means online experiences need to be at least as amazing as the products themselves and the brand narrative needs to be consistent and authentic across every touchpoint. That way, the retailer can stay relevant and true to the core values of its own brand as well as its customers to drive sales and long-term customer lifetime value.
Achieving this, as brands look for new sales opportunities abroad, will depend on using data to understand the distinctive preferences of consumers in each territory and ideally working with a partner who has experience on the ground. This is less about actual products and more about fulfillment, a key part of the offering that is often criticized for being unsustainable, but where brands focus significant attention on packaging, efficient loading and returns.
Ultimately, when sustainability and authenticity are woven into the brand’s offering, it’s not just about communicating a compelling story to environmentally conscious customers, but about managing the costs of building that story.
Centra is a headless, SaaS e-commerce platform for medium to enterprise fashion and lifestyle brands operating a direct-to-consumer and/or wholesale e-commerce to 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 Nordic region and is currently expanding throughout Europe. Centra was founded in 2016 and is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, with offices in Wroclaw, Poland and New York, USA.