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Analysis

The shift towards conscious consumerism

The UK’s ethical retail sector has grown by more than £40bn since 2008, with households spending an average of £1,263 on sustainable goods last year according to not-for-profit consultancy Ethical Consumer.

With trends like Fairtrade and organic growing in prominence, people are wanting to know more about the provenance of their food, fashion and jewellery and the people who produce it. Indeed, the ethical food and drink market alone was up 9.7 per cent compared with 5.3 per cent growth in 2015 in an industry now worth £81.3bn.

According to Criteo’s recent Psychology of Shopping report, almost half of UK shoppers today (40%) feel more positive about brands that publish their ethical standards with the internet making it easier for people to discover more moral or sustainable choices.

The virtue of shopping

The rise of ethical brands is a clear demonstration of how shopping’s moral compass is moving from hedonism and even guilt to virtue. It’s no longer enough to use ethical ingredients, ethical is fast becoming the first and foremost ingredient.

But the consumer psychology behind this trend is more than just a heightened state of awareness of the world around us. In fact, it is turning shopping into the sort of activity that leaves a ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling in the stomach that’s transforming shopping from a guilty pleasure to a virtue that helps to reinforce our identity and beliefs.

What we buy is part of our identity, and increasingly ethical choices form a more significant part of how we want to be seen. For brands, this represents a huge opportunity to showcase their credentials in this area to help shoppers make choices that suit their lifestyle and tap in to a market which is only going to continue growing.

Enabling virtuous retail

In a retail environment where choice is everywhere and brands are seemingly scrambling to offer ever-lower price points, there is a distinct subsection of shoppers out there actively seeking higher ethical standards. For brands looking to capitalise on these consumers, promotion of supply chain information, usage of local suppliers and sustainable resources is key to success.

What’s more, the putting these values at the heart of advertising and marketing can help to achieve crucial differentiation in the hugely competitive retail world. We only need to look back to the start of the Christmas period and Iceland’s massively successful Ran-Tan Christmas advert to see how an ethical focus can cut through the noise and get everyone talking about a brand.

However, it’s also clear that most consumers put faith in brands to be transparent about their ethical credentials with only a small percentage of shoppers actual checking up on a brand’s claims (9%). It’s likely that this behaviour will evolve as people take more and more interest in the ethical ingredients of a company as this good faith alone won’t sustain this powerful movement.

In order to help consumers make choices that align to this shift in attitude in the short term, brands will need to put their efforts front and centre so as to draw attention to the work being done to the 91% of people still not proactively checking up on this information.

With the sales of ethical products growing faster than those of ordinary products for 14 straight years according to the 2017 Ethical Consumer Markets Report and sentiment swinging towards more virtuous consumerism, brands can no longer ignore the movement. While the growth of the industry has seen a steady increase, the extent to which people will check the credentials of a businesses’ ethical claims is set to spike.

For the brands with ethics at the centre of their offering, there’s a short window where promoting these credentials stand to help them cut through the noise of the retail industry. With a growing subset of shoppers looking for this key ingredient, the time to promote these values is now because other businesses will be looking to make the most of the ethical opportunity in 2019 and beyond.


John Gillan, managing director, Northern Europe, Criteo

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