Sustainability is Big Money and Retailers are Missing Out

In 2012, Dave Luba and Kalen Emsley came up with a simple idea to sell clothes: for every item sold, their company plants 10 trees. The two Saskatchewan business students would go on to found Tentree. Later, they successfully pitched their idea on Dragons Den and built a multi-million dollar brand synonymous with sustainable retail. More and more, shoppers buy based on their personal values and social trends. Many retailers overlook their own potential and brand messaging to cater to customers willing to do business based on a sense of moral purpose.

From glasses retailer Warby Parker, which gives glasses to those in need for every pair sold, to FIGS medical apparel, which donates free scrubs to underprivileged healthcare providers, there is a bustling market catering to young shoppers who look beyond product and service features; they want brands to be social custodians. This doesn’t mean businesses should completely upend their core concepts. However, many businesses may be missing opportunities to highlight their existing sustainable values to cultivate memorable in-store experiences—and that oversight is costly.

Data from Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report shows 66% of shoppers would spend more on products from brands they view as sustainable. Another study from Horizon Media finds eight in ten millennials “expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.” As more and more consumers get used to the convenience of online stores like Amazon, brick-and-mortar retailers need to consider what social value they can offer to differentiate themselves.

Consider the rise of uBreakiFix, the wireless repair franchise. The business was started in 2009 by Justin Wetherill, who taught himself how to fix phones. What started as a mail-in repair side gig for the young accountant became a multi-location, international juggernaut worth tens of millions. 

The success of the company lies in the fact that wireless devices cost more than ever before and customers are less willing to buy new. They would rather fix what they already have. Not only that, but uBreakiFix has also positioned its brand, which already promotes waste reduction through repair, to align with the increasing demand for corporate sustainability. This year, they announced recycling programming to prevent old parts from ending up in landfills. It’s important to remember that customers know the difference between greenwashing and a truly sustainable initiative. When they recognize brands as being environmentally-minded, they’re more likely to give that retailer repeat business. Why? Because those initiatives align with customer consciences.

An easy first step for businesses to become sustainable is to take stock of their existing practices and systems. Find where the waste is. For instance, on the supply and inventory management side of your business, are you constantly making redundant one-time orders? Do you have real-time process tracking across all your stores? Do you print reams of paper for basic transactions? Are you equipped to offer services like repair in addition to product sales to foster longer-lasting customer experiences? Are you marketing those practices in a relatable and targeted manner to your customers?

If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s time to evaluate how your business can engage a massive market of forward-thinking customers.

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