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Retail Sustainability During the Holidays

by | Dec 18, 2019 | Blog, Responsible Holidays

U.S retailers are proclaiming 2019 as the “apocalypse”—nearly 9,500 stores have closed their doors this year. That list includes discount stores like Family Dollar and Kmart, clothing stores like Forever 21, and pharmacies such as CVS.

But brick and mortar retailers may find a reprieve from the negative rhetoric this holiday season. Consumers say they will spend an average of $1,047.83 this season, which is up 4% from last year, and they expect to do about half of that shopping in physical stores.

So what’s driving holiday shoppers back to physical stores? Largely, a growing consciousness around social and environmental sustainability.

Accenture’s 13th Annual Holiday Shopping Survey found that the online retail trend has actually influenced shoppers to become more concerned about the social and environmental impacts of online purchases. And regardless of how they’re buying, consumers want clear labeling for sustainable products, transparency into product origins, and less packaging. 

Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global retail practice, said that retailers designing products and their business around responsible initiatives will have an edge over their competitors—this holiday season and beyond.

“Consumers are becoming more environmentally and socially conscious and will increasingly turn to brands that not only talk about responsibility but demonstrate it through their business practices,” Standish said. 

Consumer demand for sustainability has done more than force retailers to look into responsible practices—some companies have made it a pillar for their business. For example, fashion retailers with clothing rental services such as Rent the Runway will see an uptick in holiday shopping this year as 34% of older millennials said they would be likely or extremely likely to rent clothes for holiday parties.

Conscious consumers are expected to spend more this year with retailers that have responsibly sourced products. For instance, millennials have started seeking out retailers like Everlane, who build responsible sourcing and transparency into their business ethos. Shoppers gravitate toward companies with values that support U.N Sustainable Development Goals and science-based climate targets. This has driven companies like Starbucks to work toward reducing plastics and decreasing waste from their products. Some retailers even play a role in sustainability education. Patagonia is actively working to find solutions to the environmental crisis through grassroots education. Nearly 700 companies are committed to science-based action on emissions targets, and consumers are noticing it. 

Sustainable shopping doesn’t end with the holiday season. According to a recent report by the Retail Industry Leaders Association, 93% of global consumers expect more of their beloved brands to support social and environmental issues. Because of this, retailers are moving away from ad hoc sustainability campaigns and adopting sustainable practices across their entire supply chain. 

Many companies think consumer demand for sustainability is about being less bad. But industry experts argue that companies need to be programmatic, making commitments to innovation, and understanding that they’re part of a larger system that needs to be radically transformed.

Building a sustainable supply chain that meets consumer demand and company goals around responsible sourcing relies heavily on transparency. In partnership with The Sustainability Consortium, SupplyShift hosts the largest platform for retailers to get visibility into the sustainability performance of their suppliers

In helping retailers develop insights about the products they sell, they’re able to act on sustainability data to drive improvement across the entire supply chain, which not only meets company goals—it helps them embed responsible practices into their core of their business, for holiday shoppers and beyond. 

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