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How Retail Stores Can Influence Sustainable Consumer Behaviors

Learn how retailers can educate consumers to make better purchase decisions and increase brand loyalty—all while making a positive impact on the planet.

Shelby Bell | June 3, 2020


A new study found that 88% of consumers want companies to help them improve their environmental and social footprints. That's why, in recent years it's no surprise many companies are bringing environmental issues to the forefront of their business and marketing practices. In the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in how many brands have implemented sustainability practices in their marketing and business plans by adding terms like “eco-friendly” and “going green” to their products. However, adding environmentally-friendly language as a marketing scheme isn’t enough. Luckily, in recent years, we’ve watched as some retailers have taken more conscious steps towards improving the environment than simply offering lip service. Such as brands that have eliminated the use of plastic bags, rewarded customers with discounts for bringing reusable containers, and made products out of 100 percent recyclable material.

Moreover, the change in attitude by corporate entities towards being more sustainable in their communications, and in practice, does more than just improve a brand’s perception, it also has an impact on consumers. So when a retailer prioritizes sustainability efforts as part of their business, it not only inspires their customers to be more environmentally friendly themselves, it benefits the company by impacting its bottom line! Indeed, 72 percent of respondents said they’re currently buying more environmentally friendly products than they were five years ago, and 81 percent said they expect to buy more over the next five years, according to a study conducted by Accenture.

All that said, retailers have an excellent opportunity to be transparent about sustainability, educate consumers, and influence purchase decisions that improve profit—all while making a positive impact on the planet. With this information in mind, you might be wondering how it is possible? Read this blog post to learn more about the power of sustainability and to gather some tips for encouraging eco-friendly behaviors in customers that will have a positive impact on your business in years to come!

Why is Retail Sustainability Important?

Sustainability has rightfully been a hot topic in the retail space over the past couple of years. According to Retail Dive, each step in the retail chain—from sourcing and manufacturing to packaging and transportation—has a potential impact on the environment. For example, the apparel industry alone releases half a million tons of microfibers in the ocean each year! Recently aware of their effects on the environment, several retailers, including stores, banks, and grocery stores, have started implementing sustainability into their business practices to protect the environment.

Not only are their sustainable practices crucial for protecting the environment, but also key to gaining customer loyalty and improving sales. A study conducted by IMB and the National Retail Foundation found that nearly 70 percent of consumers in the U.S. and Canada think it is important that a brand is sustainable or eco-friendly. Also, three-fourths of people (75 percent) are likely to start shopping at a company that supports an issue they agree with, proving retailers can increase consumer loyalty and sales by investing in more sustainable practices. One can only expect these numbers to increase as the environmental crisis becomes more prevalent. So while retailers stay focused on reducing their environmental impact, they can rest assured that they are also driving loyalty in consumers by providing them with the eco-friendly products they seek, while encouraging more sustainable purchase decisions in consumers less familiar with these issues.

Retailers are also in a great position to benefit their business by focusing on sustainability. Through an increased dedication to, and investment in, more sustainable practices, retailers will likely see higher cost savings and energy efficiency as well as less waste production, and more sales than those who do not prioritize sustainability. A recent study found that PNC Bank’s LEED-related facilities opened 458 more consumer deposit accounts and had over $3 million more in consumer deposit balances per facility per year than non-certified properties.

How Retailers Can Encourage Sustainability in Customers

It’s become abundantly clear that focusing on sustainability kills two birds with one stone: Increasing customer support as well as improving the environment through better business practices. However, your retail business may not know where to start when it comes to communicating your eco-friendly endeavors. Here are four ways to encourage sustainable behaviors in customers to drive loyalty and support:

1. Leverage social media to talk about sustainability

You might not think social media and sustainability go together, but communicating your goals, efforts, and achievements on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram may inspire your audience to get involved. In April 2016, H&M created a social media campaign to accomplish just that. The brand used the hashtag #WorldRecycleWeek to highlight its commitment to sustainability while encouraging consumers to recycle their unwanted clothing. As a reward, H&M offered participants a 30% off coupon for recycling in their store!

Similarly, your retail business can effectively leverage social media to engage with your audience in a variety of ways. Try posting about your internal recycling goals and commitments, or rewarding customers who take specific actions both within or outside your store. You can also try sending out a message offering a discount for those who bring a reusable bag or mug into your store, or, even, a reward for recycling materials in your building.

2. Promote positive plans and discourage unsustainable behavior

Motivate consumers to make sustainable purchase decisions by giving them the ability to do so. Most of the time, people want to act sustainably, but do not have the necessary resources or knowledge to know where to start. With this in mind, start by making small changes and evolve your practices from there. Focus on eliminating plastic waste—plastic grocery bags, eating utensils, packaging materials—from your operations. When applicable, retailers can also make bags and receipts optional. Lush, a global beauty and skincare brand, incentivizes sustainability by encouraging consumers to return its product packaging to any store by offering a free face mask in exchange for five of the brand’s empty “pots”! By encouraging this type of behavior and leading by example, hopefully, your customers will start to implement sustainable practices into their everyday lives too!

3. Inspire better consumer choices

Retailers have the unique opportunity to influence how consumers think and react to services or products. Communicating your business’ use of environmentally-friendly products and services using clearer labeling, sustainable messaging, and eco-friendly packaging materials can inspire clients to consume more sustainably. Through Ikea’s People & Planet Positive strategy, the company aims to offer products and solutions that help customers save money, reduce energy dependency, and live more sustainable lifestyles. By using this type of language to describe your products or services, consumers are much more likely to want to use them and may even search for those same qualities in other retailers in the future.

4. Give customers easy ways to get involved

Suggesting ways for customers to “give back” can increase brand loyalty and trust because it makes them feel good about their purchases. Indeed, 63 percent of consumers prefer to purchase from purpose-driven brands. Sure, communicating your sustainability efforts is essential, but providing ways for consumers to participate can be even more captivating while allowing brands to give back on a larger scale. You may consider asking customers to round up their total bill amount for an organization aligned with your brand’s mission, or you can empower customers to do more individually by suggesting ways of being more eco-friendly on social media, in a store receipt, or, even, through in-store signage. Some great examples of integrating simple ways to give back are listed below:

  • Gap’s RED campaign: The brand contributed $10 million to fight AIDS by encouraging customers to support the cause by purchasing its RED products.
  • Through its Clothes The Loop program, The North Face accepts and sends apparel to Soles4Souls, whose mission is to create sustainable jobs through the distribution of shoes and clothing. By participating in this program, customers receive a $10 reward toward their next purchase.
  • In an attempt to bring attention to the effects of consumerism on the environment, Patagonia launched its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign. By addressing the issues of consumerism, the campaign aims to inspire customers to think before they purchase, and implement solutions to mitigate the environmental crisis.

It’s clear from the examples above, encouraging eco-friendly behavior in customers is a win-win situation, as it helps create a more sustainable environment, improves brand loyalty, and drives sales. 

We’d love to hear how your retail business influences sustainable behavior and hope you discovered some great ideas to do so in this post! Drop us a comment below to let us know. As always, feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions, or want to learn how RoadRunner can help your business become more sustainable through increasing recycling rates!



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