Older shoppers driving biggest shift in shopping sustainably, research shows

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With the environment continuing to drive political and business agendas post-pandemic and ahead of COP26, the green credentials of a brand have taken on increased relevance to consumers’ shopping habits. OC&C’s latest RPI reveals over a third of the UK population (35%) are actively shopping from more sustainable brands. Most surprisingly, this shift in behaviour is being driven by Gen X and Millennials who the research identified as the most likely to swap their current habits for more sustainable ones. 

This is welcome news for the planet given this group has a higher overall retail spend than Gen Z. To put this into perspective – £150bn of retail spend is now controlled by consumers who care deeply about sustainability and spend accordingly. Although older generations are driving this behavioural shift, there has also been an increase across the British population with 71% now caring about sustainability and changing their behaviour compared to 44% in 2019 (+27%). 

Sohini Pramanick, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants, commented: “Consumer behaviour and habits have long been a focus for retailers, however in a post-pandemic world it has never been as important as now. Brands face a tipping point as all generations, most notably older demographics and especially Gen X, are shunning old habits and actively shopping sustainably. It is vital that retailers recognise this change in consumer behaviour and put sustainability front and centre of their business strategy – it’s a positive impact for the planet, makes good business sense and is non-negotiable to the consumer.” 

Mairi Fairley, global head of retail at OC&C Strategy Consultants, added: “When retailers consider how to meet consumers’ expectations, it is the efforts to reduce carbon emissions that now tops the priority list. While it is important to act on a broader ESG agenda, championing and talking to consumers about environmental initiatives will help retailers resonate more with conscious shoppers. Ikea and Gymshark are positive examples of companies that have listened to their consumers and placed ESG strategies at the heart of their business.” 

The RPI also highlighted the extent of the shift towards online spending since the pandemic. OC&C’s research revealed that Baby Boomers intend to do 39% of their shopping online (compared to 30% pre-Covid), demonstrating the growing attraction of the convenience offered by online channels. 

Gen Z, however, are the demographic most eager to get back into stores. The research showed that this younger demographic sees shopping as experiential and an opportunity to socialise and spend time with friends and family. For retailers to capture their audience, a seamless omnichannel experience is vital to give consumers the best brand experience through whichever channel they choose to shop and engage with the brand. 

The RPI crowned M&S Simply Food the winner of this year’s index, with trust and ease of shopping the strongest drivers of consumer sentiment. M&S Simply Food scored highly on consumer trust and ease of shopping, capitalising on the pandemic trend of consumers seeking out reassurance and reliability from their purchases amid a period of unpredictability. Richer Sounds, meanwhile, entered the top 10 rankings for the first time with consumers lauding the expertise of in-store staff, as well as the business’s ethos – founder Julian Richer has committed to donating 15% of company profits to charity each year. Amazon continues to lead the ease of shopping experience with speedy check outs and an obsessive focus on end-to-end customer journey.