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Certain events spark mass social change that trickle into every facet of people’s lives. The entire year of 2020 has been the perfect example—a pandemic surging around the world, entire countries in lockdown, Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking to the streets and demanding racial justice, and a long election resulting in the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. 

One truth has come from it all. People are no longer silent—with their voices, their votes, or, it turns out, their wallets. As they say, money talks, and it’s never been louder than in 2020.

This year has sparked a change in consumer behavior, one that doesn’t seem like a passing phase. From more people shopping online for the first time ever due to at-home orders to a surge in people trying to change the world with the power of their pocketbooks, where people shop has become equal parts convenience and consciousness.

Social responsibility and environmental responsibility are no longer nice touches; they’re consumer demands. The Conscious Consumer Spending Index (CCSI) is up 15% since the start of the pandemic, and a recent study showed that more than two-thirds of consumers in the U.S. and Canada agree that it’s important that brands are sustainable or eco-friendly. Globally, 40% of consumers buy with a purpose, selecting brands that align with their values.

All of this leaves online sellers asking a big question: What can I do with my store to adapt to these changing attitudes and spending habits? The secret to evolving and adapting to cause-conscious shoppers doesn’t have to mean big, sweeping changes. Instead, you might just need to look within your customer experience.

Let’s dip into some how-tos for ecommerce brands looking to keep up with increasingly conscious customers. 

The Rise of Conscious Consumerism

Sustainable consumerism isn’t a new phenomenon. In modern times, one of the most pivotal moments was the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962—a book covering the concerns related to the widespread use of pesticides and its harmful implications on wildlife and the environment. The book led to the environmental movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as the ban on DDT in the United States. 

In the 1980s, green brands became more prominent as many of the hippies of the ‘60s became entrepreneurs. Some of the green brands we all know today date back to this time, such as Whole Foods, Burt’s Bees, Seventh Generation, and more. In 2006, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made waves among consumers on the potential peril of climate change. 

inside a whole foods
Whole Foods sticks their value-driven messaging literally anywhere they can. The emphasis on shopping local and supporting small businesses and brands is apparent anywhere you turn.

And in 2020, there was, well, everything that happened in 2020. Consumers today are emphasizing women-owned businesses, who were hit harder by the pandemic. Shoppers are turning to local businesses over national big box chains in the hopes of preserving the stores and services that make their town unique.

Black Lives Matter marches encouraged consumers to shop with black-owned small businesses, another community hit harder by the pandemic. As economies started reopening and employees went back to work, consumers expanded social responsibility to even include how companies take care of the safety of their employees. 

It’s more evident now than ever that businesses need to have a heart—about the planet, about its communities, about inclusivity, about its employees, and about the people they serve. Modern brands can’t expect to thrive by offering low prices alone. Brands need to align with the increasingly heartfelt priorities of conscious consumers. 

That alignment starts with the customer experience.

How to Meet Consumer Expectations in a Conscious World

Consumers demand more, and brands need to take steps to meet those expectations in order to stay competitive. Brands must tightly align their mission with the social causes that have grown in importance. Our goals can no longer simply be “sell more products.” Instead, they should include giving back and caring more in order to sell more. 

Consumers demand more, and brands need to take steps to meet those expectations in order to stay competitive. Brands must tightly align their mission with the social causes that have grown in importance. Our goals can no longer simply be “sell more products.” Instead, they should include giving back and caring more in order to sell more. 

There are a number of strategies that brands should employ to meet the rising demands for socially responsible brands:

1. Examine What’s Relevant to Your Brand
Your mission has to be relevant to your brand, otherwise you could risk confusing the customer. An outdoors-apparel brand advocating for the environment, a grocery store promoting food security, a beauty retailer promoting positive self-image—those causes make sense for those brands. Your brand’s mission has to be in line with your products or services or else it won’t seem genuine. 

There are a lot of causes, though, that universally align with any merchant online or in-person, such as giving back to the community, treating employees with compassion and equality, or sourcing more sustainable and eco-friendly goods or practices (since we all share this one planet).

2. Weave Transparency into the Experience
Communicating your mission to your consumers should be top of mind. Build out a dedicated page explaining your brand values and mission, and make sure it becomes an inherent part of your brand.

Remind your customers across the customer journey through emails, social media posts and hashtags, product pages, checkout pages, and more. Tack a logo, a mantra, or a reminder on prominent pages throughout the customer journey.

For example, sock slinger Bombas donates a pair of socks for every pair purchased—and they don’t let shoppers forget it. They have a dedicated place on the home page (that links to a dedicated child page on the website), as well as reminders on product detail pages and more.

screenshot from bombas home page
A snapshot of what you can find on the Bombas home page with a quick scroll. And if this li’l blurb isn’t enough credo, the CTA invites shoppers to learn more about their philanthropic mission.

These mentions of giving to the greater good are subtle and seamless, but they have a big impact with consumers who prefer to spend with cause-driven brands. Placing these reminders around your site or weaving them into email footers will make your cause an intrinsic part of your brand over time—the key is to make your missions visible to shoppers.

Speaking up about your brand values will not only remind your customers of your genuine care for them, but it will also excite them and motivate more purchases if your values are in line with theirs.

3. Foster Customer Relationships
The relationship between you and your customers should be in tandem with these values. Promote products to them that are sustainable. For example, Sperry does this well and recently launched boat shoes made of recycled plastics removed from ocean environments. It’s a cause that both aligns with their products as well as top-of-mind environmental missions like cleaning the oceans.

screenshot of bombas pdp
“4 purchased = 4 donated” is a small reminder with a big impact placed around the customer journey with Bombas.

Ecommerce brands can also find ways to reduce their own carbon footprint or reduce waste during delivery. Offer bundled packaging so products come all at once instead of wasting materials and fuels delivering multiple boxes. 

While the shopping experience is all about touting your cause to the conscious consumer, the post-purchase experience is about delivering on that promise. If a customer’s experience is soured with a cold and careless post-purchase experience, it’s evidence that your brand doesn’t actually jive with their values.

Showing compassion and gratitude along every stage of their journey will bolster their loyalty with your brand. A clear and impactful alignment of values—social, economic, environmental, or just being a force of good in the world—between your brand and your customers means the more trust they’ll have in you, and the more your store will appeal to this modern change in consumer behavior.

HOT REMINDER
Adding Route to your customer journey ensures that the post-purchase experience is one that aligns with compassionate values. Visual Tracking, real-time notifications, branded engagement, and easy peasy package issue resolution are all components of a more conscious and caring customer journey.

Create an Experience for the Conscious Consumer

Keep the trust and good vibes going from shopping to checkout and beyond. Along with communicating your mission, taking steps to reduce your footprint, and delivering efficiently, you can enhance your customers’ post-purchase experience with tracking, transparency, and good communication.

Taking steps to align your brand with increasing conscious consumerism doesn’t have to mean a costly overhaul. Sprinkle your values throughout the journey, then make small tweaks to your experience.

The increased trust in your brand through a more socially responsible practice will be further enhanced through post-purchase communication. Solutions like Route can emphasize your values beyond the checkout and through the entire post-purchase experience. 

Consumers are changing, and even small changes can ensure your brand doesn’t get left behind.