Imagine this: you’re buying a product, let’s say it’s the latest and greatest white t shirt. You have two retailers who can provide you with that white t shirt. One is £12, and with it you are told (or able to access) where its raw materials were sourced from, the supplier and factories that manufactured it, and how it was transported to the distribution centre, the store, and to your home. Not only that but you can find out the latest ethical audit status of those suppliers, the risk ratings of the raw material sources, and the carbon footprint impact of its delivery. The other is £10 and you are told that it’s machine washable. Which are you more likely to buy?
According to recent studies by Unilever, at least one third of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand they believe are doing social or environmental good, and one fifth of consumers will choose a sustainable product, over a non-sustainable one. This is more evident in a world where information is available at the click of a button, or the tapping of a touch screen phone, and consumers are able to see the impacts of their choices more and more easily. That said, in a world where the opportunity for choice is at its highest, the price of that product cannot be ignored. With the best will in the world, even if a consumer’s aim is to be ethical and sustainable, if the product is double the price there will at least be some hesitation.
We are undergoing a seismic shift in the focus; it used to be a tall enough ask for retailers to understand the provenance of their goods themselves but not in today’s market. Often held in multiple systems and spreadsheets, or not held at all, rationalising this data and ensuring it was accurate was (and still remains to be) a mammoth task for most retailers. Conscious consumerism is now posing a new challenge – not only do retailers need to understand it, but they need to be able to present it to consumers readily and easily. This means not only does the data need to be understood, it needs to be accurate, and it needs to be true as of right now.
In order for retailers to be successful, they need to invest not only in solutions for individual problems such as tracing raw materials back to source, managing ethical statuses of suppliers, or tracking the real-time the locations of their goods, but the solution to pull this all together and make it readily available for consumption. They need to achieve all of this whilst having a minimal impact on the price point of their products. With this deeper understanding of the social and environmental impact their goods are having on the world, retailers will have the power to make real change: ensuring that their products and processes truly are “good”, and highlighting where certain things might actually be out of their control, and that perhaps that is something they can throw their weight behind. Imagine that.