Today's 'green' shoppers

Try to picture a “green” shopper—one who considers environmental and social responsibility when buying everything from eggs to mattresses. Have an idea in your head?

You’re probably wrong, according to a new report, “Finding the Green in Today’s Shoppers,” released by global consulting firm Deloitte LLP and the Grocery Manufacturers Institute in Washington, D.C.
Green consumers are more likely to be older, more affluent and better educated. But “demographically, they are diversely spread along all income ranges, age brackets, education levels and various household sizes,” the report says.

In studying the behaviors of consumers when it comes to purchasing green products, the researchers created a profile of today’s shoppers, finding that they aren’t stuck in their patterns. Instead, they generally move through several stages in their beliefs and shopping habits. Manufacturers and retailers who understand these consumers can benefit from their significant spending power.

Who’s a green shopper?

The researchers estimate that more than half of all shoppers consider environmental and social issues when making at least some purchases. About 20% see sustainability as a key driving factor in their decision making.

You may think that consumers concerned about sustainability issues shop less often and buy fewer products than others, but that’s not the case.

“Green shoppers visit stores more frequently, buy more products on each trip and demonstrate more brand and retailer loyalty,” the report’s authors say.

When shopping, green consumers bought more than they had planned (29% more often than the total survey population) and shop more frequently (26% more often). In general, these consumers are “routine, weekly” shoppers, the surveyors found. They also are less price sensitive than the larger population.

“Green shoppers identified themselves as being among the most active shoppers and consumers,” the report says. “Our hypothesis is that these shoppers buy green to help reduce the social impact of their consumption.”

But even for green shoppers, sustainability is not a primary driver of purchases. Instead, consumers tend to consider these issues when comparing similar products, using environmental benefits as a tie–breaker.

“Because of this effect, sustainability characteristics drive a relatively large amount of product switching,” the report says. “Once a more sustainable product has captured the shopper’s commitment, it tends to create brand stickiness by retaining the shopper’s loyalty through repurchase.”

When it comes to demographics, green shoppers generally have higher–than–average incomes, live in smaller households, have more formal education and are older (part of the baby boom generation).

“We intuitively expected younger shoppers to be the greenest demographic, but instead found that younger green shoppers place a higher importance on green issues, but have not fully integrated it into their actual shopping practices,” the researchers say. “We believe that these younger shoppers will become more green in their purchasing behaviors than their parents over time because they reported feeling strongly about the importance of sustainability.”

But for any manufacturer or retailer to focus solely on one demographic when developing products or marketing strategies is a mistake, the researchers say. Green shoppers can be found in all demographics.

A dynamic consumer

Researchers found that green consumers’ beliefs and behaviors evolve over time and organized them into five segments or stages of development: Unaware, Unsure, Influenced, Proactive or Committed. All shoppers surveyed were placed somewhere on that continuum and researchers found that consumers of all five types were found across demographic categories.

  • Committed Only 2% of shoppers surveyed said they make most of their purchasing decisions based on sustainability considerations whenever possible.
  • Proactive About 18% of consumers fit into this category. They actively consider sustainability issues when making most of their buying decisions.
  • Influenced About 34% of shoppers consider sustainability as a secondary factor when making purchases. It’s this group that sees environmental and social benefits as a tie–breaker.
  • Unsure A similar percentage (33%) say they are unsure how sustainability issues affect their purchasing or don’t let such considerations sway them.
  • Unaware The remaining 13% of shoppers were either unaware of or didn’t care about sustainability. However, they will buy green products if they meet all of their other criteria.

Those in the Committed and Unaware groups are unlikely to change their opinions about purchasing green products. But the other groups are “in a state of flux,” the report says.

For instance, consumers in the Influenced stage generally buy green products in only one or two categories. But, over time, they begin making more routine purchases of additional green products “probably as they learn more and recognize the social benefits,” the researchers found.

The report continues: “While the Proactive and Committed shoppers adopt green products across categories at a faster rate, each shopper segment is on an adoption curve and developing new purchasing patterns. There is risk in assuming that green shopper segments will be constant over time and across categories. Sustainability as a product attribute puts people on a learning curve and creates a dynamic marketing environment.”

Lost opportunities

When it comes to producing and marketing green products, businesses could be doing much more.

“Ninety–five percent of shoppers surveyed indicated they are ready and willing to consider more sustainable products, but green products were only purchased in 22% of the shopping trips,” the report says. “There are substantial gaps between the market’s readiness for sustainable products and the delivery of those products to the shopper’s market basket.”

There are several things manufacturers and retailers could be doing to tap consumers’ interest in buying green products, including improving consumer education and enhancing in–store communication.

About a third of shoppers said they would consider buying green products but aren’t inclined to seek them out. The researchers say this is, in part, because consumers don’t fully understand the benefits of green items.

“Many are unaware of what makes a product sustainable versus merely ‘good for you.’ A large number of shoppers remain unsure of what is green and some are still unsure of the whole green movement,” the report says.

Among other things, companies can improve advertising, product labeling and packaging to better educate consumers.

“Retailers and manufacturers need to provide more coordinated communication and education about sustainability,” the report says. “They need to make the business case for buying green to the shopper.”

Disturbingly, the surveyors found that although 63% of shoppers surveyed sought green products, only 47% actually found them in the store.

“It is very possible for green products to become lost in the assortment. A good sustainable product strategy provides clear visibility and selling cues to the shopper to highlight green products in the assortment. Retailers and manufacturers need to work together to determine the appropriate assortment of green products, minimize out–of–stocks and clearly identify green products in the store,” the report says.

Here is where manufacturers and retailers can work together to create a consistent, cohesive message about green products and draw shoppers’ attention to them through in–store signage and other point–of–sale materials.

“With a little hard work, manufacturers and retailers can succeed with sustainability,” the report concludes. “Companies can turn green to gold.”

Defining ‘green’

The survey defined “green” as representing a broad set of product attributes linked to environmental and social sustainability: low–water usage, reduced packaging, organic, locally grown, fair trade, energy efficient, biodegradable, nontoxic, low volatility organic compounds, and recyclable materials or content.

About the survey

For the “Finding the Green in Today’s Shoppers” report, global consulting firm Deloitte LLP studied the behavior of consumers when it comes to purchasing sustainable products. Deloitte used questionnaires and interviews with nearly 6,500 consumers shopping at 11 major retailers. The survey was conducted on behalf of the Washington, D.C.–based Grocery Manufacturers Association but included shoppers at a variety of types of retailers. The organizations have conducted two similar surveys: “Sustainability: Balancing Opportunity and Risk in the Consumer Products Industry” in 2007 and “Sustainability: From the Boardroom to the Breakroom” in 2008. For more information, check www.deloitte.com or www.gmabrands.com.

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