The pandemic changed how shoppers think about life generally and the products they use specifically, according to reports from Google, Accenture, and others. This includes picking brands and products for ethical reasons instead of economic ones.
“A majority of consumers — across backgrounds, demographics, and geographies — have reimagined their values and purpose over the past 18 months. They’ve made a consequential shift to focusing on what matters most for them in life; their motivations for what and how they buy are, accordingly, meaningfully different,” wrote the authors of Accenture’s “Life Reimagined” (PDF) report.
Changing Buying Habits
Consumers had to find new ways to shop when stores closed during the pandemic. Very often, that included some form of ecommerce.
These necessary changes to buying habits afforded, or in some cases required, shoppers to reconsider the brands they choose. For example, a favorite brand of cereal may have been unavailable in March or April 2020. Consumers might have had to consider new products in many categories because of availability.
Combine these changes with social pressures and cultural shifts, and some shoppers picked the products that matched their worldview.
“With more time at home and in our local communities, we reevaluated what’s important — for ourselves and the brands that represent us. This, coupled with rising movements championing racial equality and sustainability, has significantly impacted search interest, with people actively looking to support businesses that align with their personal values,” according to a Think with Google report titled “How shopping has changed: the 4 sustained shifts that matter for every purchase journey.”
The Google report noted that search queries for the terms “ethical brands,” “ethical online shopping,” and “black-owned” had risen 300 percent, 600 percent, and 700 percent, respectively, during the past year.
This trend is also seen in the rise of related shopping resources. For example, the Kind Find newsletter sends subscribers a weekly list of brands that only sell vegan products — food, belts, shoes, clothing, or household items.
As a second example, consider Betterworld Shopper, which aims to identify companies involved in environmental protection, social justice, human rights, community development, and animal rights.
Betterworld Shopper grades businesses based on social, ethical, and political causes, as follows.
- A: These companies are social and environmental leaders in their category.
- B: These tend to be mainstream companies taking social/environmental responsibility seriously.
- C: These companies have either mixed social and environmental records or insufficient data available to rank them.
- D: These engage in practices that have significant negative impacts on people and the planet.
- F: These companies have the worst social and environmental records in the industry.
The result is a tool shoppers can use to select brands that match their worldview.
The idea behind Betterworld Shopper is that consumers can “vote” with their dollars and support brands that support causes they care about and avoid others. For example, Walmart is on the Betterworld Shopper’s list of worst brands.
“A full 50 percent of consumers say that the pandemic caused them to rethink their personal purpose and re-evaluate what’s important to them in life. Forty-two percent say the pandemic made them realize they need to focus on others more than themselves,” Accenture reported.
“These consumers are changing their buying habits accordingly across all 14 industries we covered. In doing so, they’re creating enormous opportunities for companies that respond by resetting strategies and setting new standards for meeting and exceeding their expectations.”
So-called “cause commerce” is not a new concept. For example, Jake Kloberdanz, CEO of OneHope Wine, a cause-centric company, has promoted cause commerce for a decade, even giving a TEDx Talk on the topic in 2012. But if the reports from Google, Accenture, and others are correct, it may be gaining momentum.
Cause commerce could have at least two potential impacts on ecommerce and retail in general.
The first impact could be the “enormous” opportunity Accenture described.
Challenger brands that represent a cause could attract like-minded customers. This is what Google calls “supportive spending.” It is the idea that shoppers would support a brand they align with socially or politically.
Incumbent brands could also take advantage of this impact and associate their products with a cause.
The second impact has to do with the causes themselves. If a brand strives to be sustainable or donates a portion of revenue to relieve poverty, as examples, then the cause itself benefits.
“Cause-centric commerce. This is the future of business,” Kloberdanz said in his 2012 talk. “Where cause is built into the DNA of capitalism, cause is woven into the fabric of businesses. Every business has an opportunity to make a greater impact than just their bottom line.”