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Future of Retail: Barriers that prevent shoppers from saving the planet

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Global media agency Mindshare has found just 4.8% of UK consumers prioritise buying organic and environmentally friendly products even though the majority care passionately about the future of our planet. A clear contradiction and gap often exists between people’s values and their behaviour.

Future of Retail: Mindshare identifies the retail barriers that prevent shoppers from saving the planet

To inform its Future of Retail 2020 report, Mindshare, part of WPP surveyed 1,000+ UK consumers about their shopping habits and found that value out-ranks environmental benefits by a huge margin suggesting the cost of ethical products is a big barrier to environmentally positive choices. Significantly most younger consumers (63% under 35 year olds) say the low prices offered by fast turnaround retailers are very hard to resist.

Although climate crisis and other environmental concerns such as plastic pollution have dominated the national conversation for months and many say they care, almost half (45.9%) of consumers who are aware of these issues say they have made no real changes in terms of buying from companies and brands that are actively reducing their carbon footprint.

Cost was by far the biggest barrier to making changes in these areas, with 43% of consumers citing it as the main reason, while other factors included not knowing where to start (30%) and inconvenience (24.6%). 65% agree that the low prices offered by some fast turnaround retailers are very hard to resist.

We feel our actions won’t help the environment

Although people clearly want to see change, Mindshare found a shocking 70% of men between 35-54 years old, don’t think how they personally shop will make any difference to helping the planet. In London 50% of all shoppers feel the same and overall nationally 40% feel their actions won’t make a difference to the environment. Of those not making changes, one in 10 people say they just feel the problem is too big to tackle.

The study suggests that as well as the high cost of environmentally sustainable products, a huge educational and information gap about environmental product choices is preventing people from making positive choices.

When asked what were the most important factors when it came to shopping decisions, “understanding of where and how the products were made” and “ethical shops that are good for the people and planet” were near the bottom of the list. However, almost half (48%) of shoppers claimed to be avoiding “fast fashion” retailers when buying clothes.

When it comes to packaging and plastic, more than a quarter (26.4%) have not done anything to actively reduce the amount of plastics they use and 29% of consumers had not made any real changes when it comes to reducing packaging, despite two thirds of them admitting that they are horrified by the amount of packaging generated by their online shopping, for example.

Removing the retail barriers to greener shopping

The study points to the need for strong leadership from retail brands to shift shopper behaviour – 73% think brands should be acting in a way that is good for the planet.

Consumers feel that supermarkets, for example, must take a lead in reducing the impact shopping has on the environment with 65% saying they must take responsibility, even if it means fewer product choices and reduced service levels for customers. Sophie Harding, Futures Director, commented: “Although we are increasingly seeing a mindset of ‘buy less, buy better’, our results show there is still much to be done around how consumerism is contributing to the climate crisis from the perspective of both shoppers and brands. Despite mounting pressure on stores to address environmental concerns and efforts increasing, a significant number of consumers feel that major brands are not doing enough, yet many individuals say they haven’t made any real changes to their shopping habits either.

“Given that almost a third of these respondents say the biggest barrier they face is not knowing where to start, it’s important we see greater education and direction from brands about sustainable living and not only how it is possible, but also how it can be enjoyable, fulfilling and aspirational.

“Every media campaign is an opportunity for brands to #ChangeTheBrief, and help normalise the behaviour, the products, the services and the attitudes we all need to adopt to achieve sustainable living and reduce the environmental impact of consumerism.”


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