Online Shoppers Take Note of Socially Conscious Retailers


With so many options online, consumers are beginning to compare retailers based on factors that go beyond products and price. In a recent study of ecommerce websites, we noticed an increase in the number of ecommerce sites that showcased the organization’s values and its meaningful efforts toward causes that consumers care about. Participants in our study noticed as well. Many of them commented positively about those companies that demonstrated values aligned with their own.

Companies that made a concerted effort to give back to society and their communities were perceived as more benevolent and responsible than companies that didn’t. Participants liked to see that organizations cared about people and the environment; support for these causes influenced users’ perceptions of the companies and elicited good feelings about doing business with them.

A few of the common social causes that impressed users were:

  • Philanthropic efforts and giving back to communities in need
  • Environmental consciousness and sustainable practices
  • Voter registration and encouragement of social responsibilities

A participant shopping on the Toms website came across a page of information about the retailer’s support for various causes. He skimmed the entire page outlining the causes that Toms supported and the company’s programs in these areas

Toms impact report
On Toms.com, an entire page informed visitors about the company’s values and philanthropic efforts.

Afterward, he commented favorably about the company:

“So, they go into detail about those three things that they believe are important. They’re raising money for a COVID-19 Global Giving Fund and they also focus on providing people with equal access to opportunities of all types: physical safety, mental health, income equality opportunities.

So, I mean, that’s great. I think more companies can, you know, share their profits to develop and improve people’s lives for the better. Why not?”

Another user who was purchasing a pair of shoes on Toms site recalled hearing about Toms philanthropic causes elsewhere. She made the connection when she saw a note in the checkout about the company donating a portion of its profits.

“I just saw the Toms guy on Shark Tank [a television show] last week and I remember that they give money for underprivileged kids to get shoes. So that’s a cool thing. And it says that right here ‘for every $3 we make, we give $1 away.’”

toms donations at checkout
Toms let buyers know that a portion of their purchase would go toward helping others in need. Toms let buyers know that a portion of their purchase would go toward helping others in need.

Introduce Causes Throughout the Site

It’s nice to have a dedicated page about these programs like Toms did, but not all users will look for this content. Companies that contribute to common social causes should build information about these programs and values into the site experiences.

Toms’s incorporation of its philanthropic causes into the purchase workflow was an effective way to educate users and alleviate purchase guilt as people discovered that a portion of the money from their purchase will go to charity. Thus, Toms created a happy moment for customers and an emotional connection that could develop into a long-lasting relationship.

Levi’s also emphasized the company’s interest in sustainability by including small icons next to the products that were created with sustainable materials. This small detail helped users understand that the brand was conscious of its impact on the environment and allowed shoppers to choose sustainable products.

“That blue icon there. It says ‘sustainable.’ So, it’s made from recycled materials. I know Levi’s is heavily into that. So, it’s just letting me know if I want to shop more organically or help the environment, I can.

It’s pretty cool. It gives people the option and helps people understand that they’re contributing to a good cause when they’re buying jeans.”

levis sustainability
Levi’s site included blue leaf icons next to products made using sustainable practices. The site also had a navigation category for secondhand Levi’s products.

Be Cautious with Polarizing Topics

Not all shoppers have the same values. Be aware that, you may alienate some of your shoppers by taking a strong stance toward a specific cause. Some companies that decide to emphatically endorse the issues they believe in are ready to risk losing some customers.

Toms also reminded US visitors of the importance of voting in the presidential election (which was approaching during the study). Although elections are generally polarizing, the neutral way in which the topic was delivered on Toms’s site was welcomed by one user. He saw banners about voting on the home page and said,

“It’s talking about voting. They just want people to know that we’re getting to the time to vote and that we should get out to vote. It’s not making any type of suggestion about which way to vote, but just that it’s important to do so…

So, obviously for this company, they stand for everyone’s participation in an election. Having that on the site is fine. I have no problem with it as long as it’s neutral. They’re not telling me which way to vote, and they’re not doing any type of political advertising. That’s fine.”

Toms election vote prompt
Toms’s site included various messages reminding people to vote and linked to a website where they could register. The information was appropriately neutral.

Another user saw a similar note prompting visitors to register to vote on Glossier.com, a beauty-product site. She commented:

“I love this. I love this. I think every company should be doing this. I was just reading today about how people that go to hospital emergency rooms were less likely to be registered to vote. So, this guy created this system where, if somebody was in the emergency room (ER) and they’re filling out their paperwork, they would give them the opportunity to register to vote right there along with their ER paperwork!

So, it’s these things, you’re doing something as simple as buying an eyeshadow and you can help people out by getting registered. Someone might say, ‘you know, I was thinking about doing this, and I see this link for it. So, I’m gonna click it and do that right now!’ So, yeah, I think that’s a great thing to do. This, along with the fact that this is a cruelty-free brand, again, it says to me that you are a socially conscious company.”

Glossier remember to vote banner
Glossier included a pink banner at the top of their website with a link for people to register to vote and find related resources.

Clearly Disclose that Your Products or Processes Are Sustainable

More and more consumers are aware of their impact on the planet, so brands that have sustainable practices should make these practices well-known to their audiences. In our studies, eco-conscious participants took note of these brands.

One shopper on an Australian shopping site was pleasantly surprised to learn the site shipped with compostable bags.

“That compostable packaging is actually kind of interesting here because I haven’t always seen that from a lot of brands. So sustainability, I’m assuming, must be important to them, because they’re including that, which is nice to know. I always feel bad about the amount of trash I’m creating from the packages I always get.”

mister zimi sustainable packaging
mister zimi noted its compostable packaging on all product pages. This information was easily discoverable as part of the shopping process.

A shopper who visited Vrai.com, a lab-grown diamond brand, remarked positively about the sustainability benefits promoted on the site. She was already intrigued by the company’s jewelry and site experience when she said,

“This draws me in even more just because when I research brands today and when I’m deciding to buy things or follow a brand, sustainability is a big factor for me, like in all aspects. So that’s really important.”

Vrai sustainability info
Vrai.com, a company that creates lab-made diamonds, informed visitors about its process and how its practices are better for the planet than traditional diamond mining.
Vrai sustainability stats
Vrai.com even showed convincing stats to illustrate the volume of pollutants saved by purchasing a lab-created diamond, rather than a diamond mined via traditional practices.

Conclusion

Of course, not all users will find these social causes important, but many will. The number of consumers who look for brand partners who share their values is growing. Many people want their money that is spent on a purchase to bring at least some peripheral benefit to the causes they support.

Because many brands now include content related to their social causes and practices, explicit displays of support for such causes have become an added differentiator for choosy consumers.

The presence of such content (at least when presented in a relatively neutral, nonpolarizing way) does not seem to alienate those consumers who don’t care about such causes. However, don’t overdo it — make sure that such content is not overly obtrusive and does not get in the way of user experience. For example, using a splash page or a popup to trumpet a donation made by the company will be disruptive.

So, the bottom line is: show people that you care and how, but don’t let these messages annoy, interrupt, or alienate your audience.



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