The brand new report from the BRC and EY has the answers

Sustainability is already having a profound impact on the behaviour of UK consumers, and one which retailers are trying to grapple with in complex ways. It has different meanings across different demographics and geographies, and covers a broad spectrum of ethical behaviours.

In order to tackle this challenge, we have worked with EY to produce the second instalment of our Future Consumer report, looking at the ways that Sustainability is, and will continue to impact the retail industry. As the UK’s largest private sector employer, with a customer base of 67 million people, the retail industry has an important role to play in how we support consumers in achieving their goals. 

In the report, we break down sustainability into its constituent parts, looking at environmental, social and economic aspects. It’s a complex issue that doesn’t mean the same thing to different people, and the extent to which it is changing consumer behaviour isn’t as straight forward as one might hope. Furthermore, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on these behavioural shifts across the board, including on sustainability. Nearly 20% of consumers fall into what we call in the report our ‘Planet first’ segment, but what does this really mean not just in terms of their intentions, but how their manifest themselves in tangible actions.

Some of the aspects we cover in the report are:

Clarity and Education – The challenge of different frameworks and certifications sometimes makes decision making more difficult for the consumer. We explore the importance of simplifying these, and of improving clear communication with the customer. How are customers ethical decisions impacted by this communication, and what role does digital storytelling play in this process?

The divide between intention and action - Very few individuals will say that they do not desire to behave more sustainably, but when you introduce competing priorities, how does this impact actual behaviour? What percentage of spending is actually ‘ethically’ based? We know that the trade-off between affordability and sustainability is a significant point of tension for consumers, but which really wins out, and is this changing?

A generational divide – Our research shows that there is variability in terms of concern with a variety of sustainability issues. Gaps in attitudes between issues like plastic waste, marine conservation, modern slavery and wealth inequality skew different with age, and the difference between intention and action is even more pronounced. The report looks at how likely different generations are to act on their beliefs, all of which is essential knowledge for all types of retailers.

The priorities for retail - We asked consumers for their top 3 sustainability priorities, and their expectations focused on a variety of issues, including responsible production, infrastructure innovation and better working environments. Find out consumer attitudes towards ecosystem protect, combating climate change, responsible production and consumption of goods. The UK tracked above the global and developed economy averages for consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for ethically sourced goods, which shows that more than anywhere else, you need to understand these trends now.

We are continually learning more about the impact we have on the planet, and in our increasingly connected world the pace of that discovery is only likely to accelerate. What is clear is that consumption patterns will have to change to avert the worst possible future outcomes for our planet, and businesses that transition early and in a frictionless way will be better able to navigate whatever evolution that consumer behaviours follow in the years to come.

This, the second Future Consumer report with EY, provides critical insights into what is already a vital issue for retail.

The BRC and EY

The BRC and EY are delighted to be working together to bring you the very latest in research into the future consumer. We’ve created this report exploring EY’s Future Consumer Index to help leaders understand and track emerging consumer behaviours and sentiment around the world. Over the coming year, we’ll identify the new trends we see emerging – asking which are temporary reactions to changing circumstances, and which point to more fundamental shifts.

Check out our second webinar with EY on the Future Consumer Series, where we look at the growing importance of sustainability in consumer shopping habits and motivations.

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To find out more about EY and the services they provide to the retail industry, click here.

This article was also published in The Retailer, our quarterly online magazine providing thought-leading insights from BRC experts and Associate Members.