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Shopper Trends|August 23, 2021

No Faking: Young Shoppers Want Brands to Clean Up Their Act

Millennials and Gen Z to Brands: Prove Your Sustainability 

Young shoppers think large corporations bear the bulk of responsibility for the negative consequences of their actions regarding sustainability and the environment, WSL’s latest survey shows. And they are fed up with double-speak and buzzwords. Brands need to deliver truth and transparency, and retailers should showcase those brands that are delivering. 

You Say Your Brand is Sustainable? Shoppers Want Proof

The Youth Have Spoken: Buzzwords are No Longer Sustainable

The Youth Have Spoken, and They Aren’t Using Buzzwords 

When It Comes to Brand Claims, the Young Aren’t Hearing It

In fact, being blunt about your non-recyclable packaging and high sugar content may be better for a brand’s image than hiding them.

WSL’s latest How America Shops® survey, of consumers 23 to 38 years old, gave voice to a movement of consumers who are not fooled by flimsy claims that a brand is sustainable, socially responsible, ethically sourced or even healthy. 

As one 31-year-old told us: “(We're) not going to fall for green-washing, because consumers want to know details, they do their research of what they're purchasing.”

We conducted this latest research to establish the emerging consumer values that could ultimately displace well-known traditional values, such as price and convenience. Knowing these values is so important for brands and retailers because two-fifths of shoppers have historically told us they will pay more to adhere to them.

Among the values that top the list with this group of consumers when making decisions about what to buy and where: the environment, personal happiness, wellness, fair labor and transparency.

From our interviews with these consumers, we’ve identified five important themes that brands should consider guidelines to the future, and that retailers should expect from the brands they carry. 

  • Say what you means, and bury the buzzwords. These Millennial and Gen Z shoppers are looking for “hard,” verifiable descriptors and details about the goods they buy. Buzzwords such as sustainable, pure and recycled are so pervasive they no longer add value or clarity. Marketing is often viewed as “smoke and mirrors.”
  • Be clear about what you sell. Shoppers under 40 demand transparency when it comes to how and where products are sourced. This includes child labor, wages and the nature, quantity and origin of ingredients. If a company can’t back up such efforts, then it shouldn’t make the claims. One 23-year-old put it this way: “What will put us over the edge is policy … actual solutions and innovation.”
  • Shout out the tale behind your improvements. When steps have been taken to be healthier and/or more sustainable, brands shouldn’t bury the efforts beneath marketing buzz speak. Shoppers want to know what a brand is doing, and the story behind how it did it. If it can’t all be said on a package, then companies can use TikTok, YouTube and other social media platforms.
  • Seize the opportunity to be first. As doubters, young shoppers are daring brands to be the first to convince them that they are doing what is necessary to meet the values that matter. This discerning generation represents an opportunity for brands to stand apart in their category in unexpected ways. We suggest looking at what other brands are doing, then doing more, and taking it to market.
  • Don’t underestimate their willingness to push back. Young consumers are mindful of their actions and they are not reticent to launch collective movements, such as boycotting and protesting. They recognize their power, and they know how to leverage it via social media and technology. Don’t underestimate that power of nearly 140 million people.

Shoppers who are younger than 40 are intuitive researchers and skeptics by instinct. Brands that underestimate them are at risk of losing their buying power, and the halo effect that comes with it. Retailers that showcase the brands that do listen – they will inherit the wealth.

Helping brands and retailers anticipate shoppers’ needs, wants and values starts with How America Shops® consumer research. You can access our “New Consumerism Qualitative Exploration" report and others, here.

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