Retail Sustainability

Retail Trends: The Do’s and Don’ts of Sustainable Retail

Charlotte Malbasa, Client Development Manager, at Threefold comments on the latest news and trends within the world of retail.

Charlotte Malbasa
Written by Charlotte Malbasa on 27 Aug, 2019

Sustainability. It’s the word of the moment.

And I have no qualms with it. In fact, I champion retailers and brands being more mindful about the impact they have on the environment – not least because I’ve lived in Melbourne for the last three years #green.

But, what about the bottom line for businesses? Can being supporting sustainability actually be sustainable?

Spoiler alert (!), yes, but there are a few do’s and don’ts to consider first…


Implement Recycling Initiatives

David Attenborough is a wizard. The impact he’s had on climate change across the world is unparalleled and I can’t think of anything better than watching Frozen Planet for the tenth time. But can the legend himself even implement societal change without providing some form of tangible reward? I’d argue, no. At least not for shoppers and their purchasing habits.

One retailer who might agree, is Sainsbury’s, who has recently launched a scheme allowing shoppers to return plastic bottles and drink cans to stores in exchange for money off their shopping. So, not only are shoppers saving money, they’re being actively encouraged to return to Sainsbury’s stores to drop off their recycling and then spend more in-store. In a retail environment where the Big 4 are losing market share to the German discounters, this is a prime way to encourage repeat visitation while giving shoppers a pat on the back for their recycling efforts. At this stage, the scheme is being trialled at Sainsbury’s Newcastle Northumberland Street local store but it’s certainly one to watch out for.


Start Woke-Washing:

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know what ‘woke-washing’ was until Unilever’s Chief Exec, Alan Jope warned the industry about the dangers of it recently. For those as in the dark as I was, woke-washing essentially sees brands promising to improve the world but failing to take real action…

I bet we can all think of brand campaigns we’ve seen that fall into this category.

During my time in the southern hemisphere, I witnessed much of this first hand between grocery heavyweights, Coles and Woolworths. While the plastic bag ban has been in circulation in the UK for the last few years, it was only introduced Australia-wide last year. After a rocky start, it’s now been widely received with Australian shoppers. Hurrah!

So, why, Coles and Woolies are you still trying to push the Little Shop and Lion King collectables campaigns? After preventing an estimated 1.5 billion bags from entering the environment in 2018, environmental groups are now finding the ‘collectable’ tiny toys on Bali beaches. Sigh.

Yes, it was immensely popular for Coles last year; M&S have even had stab at it in the UK; but short-term profit solutions, while enticing, are too damaging in the long-term for brand authenticity. According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, 64% of consumers now spend on belief – a surge of 13 points since 2017. These consumers will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands socially. With figures rising so dramatically, it’s not worth the hassle. Instead, keep practising what you preach – if you preach it, and reap the benefits.


Embrace Digital Communication to Shoppers:

Digital anything is nothing new but the benefits of a wider digital offering to shoppers and retailers alike is vast, while still being more sustainable.

Let’s take coupons as an example. Again, far from revolutionary but a recent Statista report found that 54% of internet users ranging from ages 18-29 in the U.S. stated that discounts and coupons were very important to their overall online purchasing decision. Not only does this report give retailers and brands insight on what millennial shoppers value, at least in the U.S., it presents an opportunity to collect valuable shopper data to create more personalised offers.

Not only that, a separate survey conducted by Inmar highlighted that 80% of shoppers said that coupons changed their shopping behaviour in some way. Behaviour that could be purchasing sooner, trying a new brand or purchasing more than usual without the coupon.

The sustainable benefits? No trees were killed in the making of this coupon. The bottom line benefits? Data! Sing from the trees!

Sure, there’s an upfront investment from any retailer or brand to create a platform for said coupons, and that needs to be considered, but ongoing printing is expensive, and you can’t track its purchasing impact as accurately as its digital counterpart.

Tracking impact is hugely beneficial for everyone involved, and it shouldn’t be limited to a coupon. Take in-store media as another example. If retailers house more digital signage in stores for shoppers, this not only allows for more reactive advertising to take place, but it ticks the compliance box whilst still being profitable.


Be Like Harry and Megs:

Now, don’t get me wrong, hopping on Elton’s private jet for a holiday in Nice sounds delightful. Sign me up, I’m keen! But whether the Sussexes’ flight was carbon neutral or not, they opened themselves up to criticism from the public. And the public, like shoppers, don’t always look at the detail unfortunately; especially when the media can run rife and heavily impact brand valuation. If you are going to make a bold statement, be prepared for all kinds of public scrutiny.

The benefits of supporting sustainability are incredibly valuable to organisations around the world. Repeat visitation and data capture are a couple of reasons but being able to encourage a new way of thinking while still supporting profits is not only exciting for business, it’s exciting for employees, investors, shoppers and the planet.