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A revolution is coming

The tipping point into more responsible consumption is closer than ever before. The good news is that any company that sells products can take three relatively… View Article


A revolution is coming

The tipping point into more responsible consumption is closer than ever before. The good news is that any company that sells products can take three relatively simple steps to accelerate that movement, win more business, and be on the right side of history explains Kristin Naragon, Chief Strategy Officer at Akeneo.

Over the last several decades, companies have focused on CX and in doing so have trained us (either as consumers or business buyers) to shop a deal, add another product to the cart to get free shipping, take advantage of free returns by buying more than we need and returning the rest, get instant gratification by getting one or two items shipped instantly instead of bundling an order. Ultimately contributing to the growing problem of waste and environmental damage. But there is a groundswell movement to curb this reckless consumerism; there are businesses that are leaning in to show progress in favor of more socially and environmentally responsible decisions; and most impactful, governments are making it nearly impossible to get away with promoting these antiquated ways of doing business.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently issued a stark warning that, if our consumption demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, we will need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles by the mid-2030s. And according to Annie Leonard’s documentary ‘The Story of Stuff’, only one per cent of “stuff” we buy is still in use six months after its purchase.

The systems that are in place compel us all to be irresponsible. And millions of people are trying to change their own behaviors, and even more meaningfully, change the system so that we can all be more responsible. Take a moment to reflect on a few examples of how ‘the people’ are trying to force change:

  • Ad campaigns: Ad campaigns like Patagonia’s 2011 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign have been picking up in recent years, either by businesses or social organisations.
  • Buy nothing day: This holiday was originally coined by a Canadian artist, Ted Dave, in 1992 and today, millions of people participate in countries all over the world as a boycott of one of the biggest shopping days of the year, Black Friday. It’s gained so much momentum, that even lawmakers in some European countries are considering banning Black Friday because it causes “resource waste” and “overconsumption.”
  • Participating in the sharing economy: The sharing economy is estimated to grow from $14 billion in 2014 to $335 billion by 2025. Of course, the premise of the sharing economy is to get more use out of goods that are already in circulation.
  • Shifts in buying behavior: 76% of buyers say supporting companies that are addressing social and environmental issues help them feel they are doing their part. Akeneo’s 2023 consumer survey found that two thirds of consumers now spend more time researching and validating purchases than before.  They are looking for information to ensure that the product will meet their needs, so they don’t have to buy three items only to return two of them.
  • Youth engagement: Consider these findings: When Gen Z and Millennial customers believe a brand cares about its impact on people and the planet, they are 27% more likely to purchase it than older generations are.
  • Minimalism movement: Increased interest in minimalist lifestyles, where individuals prioritise experiences and relationships over material possessions, and actively seek to declutter their lives. 69% of consumers plan to cut back on nonessential spending over the next six months, according to a new PwC survey, while 15% of respondents said they’re going to halt nonessential buys altogether.

With pressures like these mounting, it’s no surprise that businesses are now responding. There have been more and more responses from corporations, including efforts to promote CSR initiatives. A decade ago, only 20% of companies on the S&P 500 published a CSR Report, now over 90% do. B Corps are also picking up in popularity – there are now over 6,500 certified B corps around the globe and across hundreds of different industries.

For consumers and companies that do not (or cannot) voluntarily make a change, governments are listening to these desires from the people and establishing environmental and transparency regulations that businesses will not be able to ignore. They are issuing deadlines that require new cars to be electric or Right to Repair laws that obligate manufacturers to repair goods and encourage consumers to extend a product’s lifecycle through repair.  Digital Product Passports (DPP) will require businesses that sell in the EU to disclose details about every material, sourcing, and production process throughout its entire supply chain, including the overall repairability of the product and sustainability information such as the carbon footprint of the manufacturing and distribution processes.

Complying with these new regulations and embracing this consumer revolution is the new business imperative, and it will not be easy for two reasons.  The first is that so much of the customer experience (CX) that companies have invested in is based on elements that are now considered toxic.  Slogans like ‘special offer’, ‘buy now’, ‘buy one get one free’, ‘10% off’ and so on, have all been designed to encourage impulse buying, because these CX buying journeys are engineered to drive one outcome – the conversion or sale – at the sake of all others, not least the environment.  The second is that this level of transparency and regulatory compliance requires a vast amount of product information and associated management.

The question for companies now should be how they can evolve their go-to-market approach to accommodate all of these requirements – and do it well – without making the CX complicated and while at the same time hitting business growth goals. The research clearly shows that purpose-driven companies outperform their counterparts in the areas of productivity, retention, growth and the ability to pivot into different business models.

The good news is that there are three straightforward steps to accelerate this strategy:

  1.  Set a product experience (PX) standard and then build this into the customer experience using advanced Product Information Management (PIM) tools that enable brands and B2B companies to build product experiences that are complete, brand-rich, consistent, contextual, and emotionally engaging. This then gives buyers the information about products that will allow them to make informed, responsible, and confident decisions. When a buyer is more confident up front, it leads to higher conversions, lower returns and ultimately better customer lifetime value. U.S. Electrical Services, an electrical distributor with 150 locations, serves electricians who need to make quick, informed decisions on job sites without time for independent research. They curated a rich product experience standard that has led to reduced returns and a 10% increase in revenue across digital channels. Their detailed product information, even for something as seemingly as basic as electrical tape, ensures customers receive the right products the first time, enhancing loyalty and satisfaction.
  2. Participate in the sharing economy, because if your products can have more than one use, the odds are that someone will benefit from it, why not you? Think creatively about this economic market – to participate with refurbished products, renting products, or pre-owned. Solotech took this route after discovering that there was a market for its specialist lighting and sound equipment that was originally used by businesses for conferences or musicians for concerts. Solotech started refurbishing the professional grade equipment after it was no longer suitable for the likes of Lady Gaga and offered them for rental or sale direct to consumers.
  3. Finally, empower your buyer with environmental transparency. Even if your business did not originate as a B Corp, there are still many ways to highlight responsible parts of your business or product catalogue, and also provide detailed levels of transparency that will be required by regulations like Digital Product Passport and Right to Repair laws. Pilot Pens took the opportunity to challenge itself on its role as a contributor to the problem of plastic waste by showcasing a small selection of its product catalogue that is made from recycled plastic water bottles. They created a marketing campaign emphasising the product information related to this eco-friendly product, prominently displayed refill options, encouraged buyers to “change the ink, not the body”. By showcasing product information and transparency about this line of eco-designed products, they now contribute over 60% of total sales from only 20% of its product catalogue.

With PX, brands can embrace the responsible consumption revolution, and become the first choice for consumers as we move towards a future where decisions are built on transparency and environmental and social impact scores, not just convenience and price.

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