Sustainability has been a very hot topic as of late and for good reason. As wider interest in sustainability and an awareness of the environmental impact of our consumption continues to grow, it’s important for retailers to find new ways to engage with today’s increasingly conscious consumers. While offering environmentally-friendly products in your store is one strategy, making a daily commitment to narrowing your store’s footprint will likely be more meaningful to customers in the long run. For younger consumers especially, authenticity has become a primary driver of purchasing decisions—from the perspective of this age group, brands and retailers are expected to truly practice what they preach. By reevaluating operational choices and integrating more environmentally-conscious practices into the store itself—and subsequently altering your messaging and brand persona to convey these updates—you’ll create a more compelling reason for consumers to pick you over your competition.
Not sure you’re ready to change up your store practices? There’s hard data to motivate the move to a more sustainable approach:
As we have discussed previously, the younger generations are more concerned about brand values than ever before. The majority of Gen Z consumers see a brand’s commitment to social causes as a “driving factor” when they make purchases. Even more, they will actively promote a brand they see as standing up for something they believe in. And according to a 2018 survey from the data platform Euclid, 52% of millennials and 48% of Gen Xers “feel it’s important that their values aligns with the brands they like,”—compared with just 35% amongst baby boomers.
Increasingly, many of these values are centered around environmentalism. According to a recent poll conducted by the Washington post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, “a strong majority of Americans—about 8 in 10—say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects.”
The Retail Industry Leaders Association also supports this growing concern and traces it to how consumers engage with brands on the retail level. In its “The Value Of Sustainability In Retail Marketing” issue brief, the association states: “Brands with purpose, or brands that offer functional benefits, personal well-being, and collective well-being, perform better on marketing KPIs—such as impression, brand familiarity, premium pricing, and purchase and repurchase intent—than brands that are not purpose-led…Corporate sustainability commitments and achievements provide a valuable opportunity to connect with consumers and achieve marketing goals.” In fact, the RILA estimates that “68 million adult Americans base purchasing decisions on their values—personal, social, and environmental.”
“Retailers are having to think beyond product sustainability and apply their thinking to all aspects of the consumer journey – right down to the spaces where they access and engage with products,” says Caroline Mitchell, senior insights researcher at Checkland Kindleysides. “Although the industry is still lagging behind consumer expectations, businesses are starting to recognize the opportunity that the shop floor presents when it comes to showcasing their environmental efforts.”
Store Decor & Features
As Mitchell explained, the showroom floor is a valuable opportunity to communicate your commitment to sustainability. While some natural and organic stores may opt to represent that focus very clearly throughout their space—more traditional sleep shops can also make meaningful eco-friendly upgrades without overhauling their entire aesthetic.
Here are a few simple ways to update your store with more environmentally-conscious features:
Replace Your Old Lighting With LED Lightbulbs : This is one of the easiest ways to make your space for eco-friendly
Invest In Quality Window Treatments : Not only will they help regulate the temperature of your store, they can also provide much-appreciated privacy as customers rest-test
Power Down With Power Strips : Even when the electronics are turned off, plugged-in power cords can still be leeching energy. With power strips, you can turn off any adjustable bases, info kiosks, etc when not in use.
Minimize Paper : Giving customers the option of an email receipt rather than a physical copy will cut down on the amount of paper waste your store produces.
Delivery & Logistics
Though it may not seem like the most obvious issue at hand, fulfillment processes can have some of the biggest environmental impact of the entire shopping experience.
According to Dimitri Weideli, a manufacturing technology specialist who did an environmental analysis of online shopping while a research associate at MIT, at-home delivery can be detrimental because it produces an excess of CO2 emissions. That’s because many home deliveries reportedly fail in the first attempt, which results in multiple delivery attempts and sometimes even requires a consumer to eventually drive out to a distribution center to pick up their product.
Expedited delivery is even worse, Weideli says. “That is because your supplier no longer has the flexibility to bundle multiple orders into a single delivery, and because it sends out vans less full and to travel farther per delivery than they would if you were willing to wait a bit longer for your purchase to arrive.”
Of course, not every consumer will be willing to give up next day delivery for the greater good of the planet. But giving them the option of slower, more efficient delivery—and clearly explaining why and how this is the more sustainable option—can be appealing to a growing number of consumers. Just be sure to be transparent and communicative about when they can expect their product, no matter what.
Rethink Your Messaging Around Value, Trials & Returns
As any good retailer or marketer knows, there are many different ways to communicate with customers—both purposefully through direct messaging or with more subtle implications. If you’re not careful, you may be unintentionally insinuating a lot about the value of a product and how the consumer should interact with it.
Like “fast-fashion” apparel, low-cost mattresses are often seen as a more disposable option. Because they are cheap, consumers just expect them to not last very long; they have accepted the fact that they will have to replace the product more frequently. Because the laws around mattress recycling are often lacking and differ from state to state, this outlook can result in more unnecessary waste than if the consumer had invested in a more high-quality model that would stand the test of time.
But price is not the only message to consider. The DTC mattress market has made 100-day trial periods a new staple of the industry—but it’s important to think about the environmental impact of this practice as well. Instead of just one delivery, these trial periods could easily turn into at least three—as the company comes to pick up the unsatisfactory mattress and then another as the consumer replaces it with a new option. The same goes for standard comfort returns.
That isn’t to say that we should eliminate these options from the marketplace. When deployed correctly, they are valuable ways to foster a good relationship with your customers. Rather, it’s important to be open about their environmental impact—and clear about how you are helping your customer make the most sustainable choices.
In doing so, retailers can reenergize old messaging to better connect with today’s consumers. Rest-testing is not just an awkward relic of the past: it’s the best way to ensure that you won’t have to return your purchase and further contribute to CO2 emissions.
When a consumer makes a purchase, they should be confident that they won’t be returning their new bed. Not because it’s a difficult process or they feel guilty for doing so—but because they are fully satisfied with their choice.
Share What Makes You Sustainable
Now that you’ve made some updates for the good, don’t forget to clue consumers in. Find creative but subtle ways to bring your sustainable approach into your brand’s narrative. Even small tags in your store noting natural materials or encouraging shoppers to unplug products when they’ve finished a demo help highlight your awareness. If you’ve tracked your energy savings from switching to LED lighting, that’s a great data piece to share in an email message. Your sustainable updates offer a unique opportunity to engage with consumers in a purposeful way.
Be careful not to over-do it though—the key here is to be authentic. If your sustainability initiatives are at their core meant for marketing purposes, consumers will likely see right through them.
Align Yourself With Wider Initiatives
If you’re not in a place where you can make any major changes to your own store, you can still lend your support to the greater cause. By making an effort to connect with and promote certain programs or initiatives, you can help amplify the conversation—and will further differentiate your store from your competition. For example, you can learn more about Mattress Recycling Council’s new SP2 Certification Program here.
Your store alone cannot reverse the effects of climate change—but today’s consumers will still appreciate any effort you put forward. By taking the time to reevaluate your store and implement more sustainable practices, you can start to build a brand that has a more positive impact on the world around us. And as more people continue to recognize the importance and value of sustainability, that is simply smart business.