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The rise of conscious consumerism

by jcp

By Jessica St John, RFID Project Manager at Nedap Retail and Chair of the Sustainability Workgroup at RAIN RFID Alliance


From daily essentials to luxury goods, consumption is firmly integrated into every aspect of our lives. However, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the far reaching implications of how they shop, consume, and dispose of everyday items. In recent years, there has been a notable shift in consumer behaviour, with 75% of the public indicating that they are modifying their consumption and have become more conscious about their use of consumer items.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that shoppers have become more environmentally and socially conscious. This surge in awareness of both social and environmental sustainability issues within the retail industry is driving brand choice and has led to a rise in conscious consumerism.

Conscious consumerism describes a shift in buyer behaviour to reflect a commitment to purchasing decisions that have a positive social, economic and environmental impact. As consumers increasingly embrace social causes, they seek products and brands that align with their values. This change in purchasing decisions can include eliminating impulse buys and opting to purchase from companies with products that create positive impact. From a social perspective, consumers increasingly consider the consequences of their actions on every stakeholder involved in the process of creating and delivering the product they buy.

The acceleration in conscious consumerism

Conscious consumerism is not a new phenomenon, however, in recent years it has risen due to the prevalence of natural disasters and activism movements. These events have gained unprecedented attention due to social media and its unique ability to connect people and circulate information. Social media has broken geographical barriers and given global exposure to events that would once have been confined to local news. This has accelerated consumer awareness of company activity, ethical considerations and growing environmental concerns.

Consumers are no longer willing to turn a blind eye to the impact that retailers and their supply chains have on the world, especially if this negatively affects the environment. This greater level of awareness has led shoppers to understand that their consumer power is inevitably a moral and ethical force and that they are responsible for the far-reaching impact of their actions. People are no longer waiting to register their votes to have their voices heard. Consumers can now express their values through the companies they support. This movement towards conscious consumerism is often associated with younger consumers such as millennials and generation Z, however, this increased consideration towards buying habits extends widely across other demographics signifying a cultural shift.

Despite COVID-19 increasing both employment and financial insecurities, it was found that the pandemic only served to further focus consumer minds on creating a better, more sustainable world. Sustainability has now become more of a concern for consumers than it was before the outbreak, with 60% making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases than they were at the start of the pandemic. Of that 60%, nine out of 10 people stated they were likely to keep up these habits as normality returns. Coronavirus has also increased the support for local and small businesses, which in turn reduces the impact of food and other product deliveries by shortening supply chains. This rise in conscious consumerism is expected to outlive the pandemic as consumers’ views on sustainability have been reinforced, with the welfare of the planet and an appetite for change now at the forefront of many people’s minds.

How retailers can adapt to conscious consumerism

The entire supply chain has been mobilised to seamlessly service rising demand while striving to keep logistics costs down and meet customer expectations. However, this focus on meeting the constant peaks in demand and managing disruption means that businesses are struggling to strike a balance between meeting consumer demand and ensuring they are carrying out sustainable practices. Retailers need to evaluate their supply chain management in order to meet fast-growing expectations among consumers while also operating sustainably.

Although the movement towards conscious consumerism is present across all purchases, shoppers are especially conscious of their consumerism of FCMG, food and fashion. Throwaway fashion is fueling a culture of waste, and consumers are now more aware of this than ever. This is in part due to more transparent and exposed supply chains, as data systems are increasingly sophisticated, and in part because of consumers’ awareness of the sustainability and the ‘air miles’ of their goods.

One way this manifests is consumers’ drive towards having more insights into the sustainability of retail supply chains. Due to this demand, 65% of retailers are expecting to achieve full traceability from fiber to store by 2025 and are increasingly turning to technologies like RFID to make the lifecycle of products visible and traceable.

In the coming years, there will be growing expectations for retailers to make it easier and more affordable for people to become conscious consumers. Many shoppers don’t want to sacrifice the quality and functionality of the products they buy, despite ethics being important to them, so will rely on the retailers they trust to make changes to how they source and sell goods. These retailers will be expected to strive to make ethical consumption a more realistic option for their customers by ensuring it is affordable, achievable and has a positive impact on the planet in the years ahead.

Jessica St John