Ethical issues a minor consideration for shoppers

Cost and function are more important to consumers when buying products and services.

Only a small minority of shoppers take ethical factors into consideration when making purchases, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week.

The ‘Shopper Tribes’ study by g2 Field Marketing shows that only 15 per cent of consumers are influenced by their ethical values when buying products and services. The research involved a survey of 2,000 UK adults about their motivations during the purchasing process.

Using these findings, g2 divides consumers according to different segments or ‘tribes’. Some shoppers display a number of different motivations and hence fall into several categories.

While the ‘ethical shoppers’ group is the third smallest tribe tying with ’habitual shoppers’ (15 per cent), and ahead of ‘social shoppers’ (12 per cent), the largest tribe by some distance is ‘cost-conscious shoppers’ at 71 per cent. This refers to people who seek out the best deals, make use of vouchers and often shop in the sales.

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Rupert Cook, director of g2 Field Marketing, says that consumers’ general apathy towards potentially unethical brand practices is indicative of the small effect these considerations have when people come to make purchases. The ongoing difficult economic climate also means that many shoppers are primarily concerned with price rather than their own ethical values.

Price versus ethics

“If you think about some of the recent horrible stories about factories in Bangladesh connected to the likes of Primark, you would think it would make a difference,” says Cook. “But people don’t seem to stop shopping in the stores.”

The research shows that the ethical shopper tribe is divided evenly between men and women but with a stronger weighting towards older people. While 31 per cent of ethical shoppers fall into the 55-plus age bracket, only 12 per cent are aged 18-24.

Jaimie Fuller, chairman of sportswear manufacturer Skins, believes that demographics have a large bearing on shoppers’ ethical outlook. Skins takes an outspoken approach to a range of issues around sports governance – a positioning that chimes with its target audience of sport enthusiasts who buy high performance gear.

“We are about fuelling the true spirit of competition,” says Fuller. “Our philosophy is quite simple – if you want to improve your performance, you don’t need to cheat; wear Skins. We feel it’s not just a right but an obligation as a commercial partner and sportswear provider to stand up for these ethical issues.”

A campaigning brand

In addition to supplying retailers, Skins provides compression clothing to athletes and teams including New Zealand cricketer Tim Southee and British rugby union side Exeter Chiefs. The company campaigns regularly against doping in sport and last month ran a Twitter campaign during the Winter Olympics to “highlight how fundamental Olympic principles have been compromised and certain social groups left isolated by the staging of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi”.

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Fuller says such activity is less about driving sales and more about building the brand for the long term. By standing up for ethical issues, Skins aims to resonate with consumers’ deeply held concerns and change their behaviour over time. “We’re talking about responsible sports governance and tackling hypocrisy, which is something most people identify with,” he adds.

While ethical considerations may shape perceptions of a brand over time, factors such as cost and functionality are much more immediate triggers of purchasing behaviour. Functional shoppers are the second largest tribe in the research with 45 per cent of people and status shoppers are third with 36 per cent. Functional shoppers agree that reliable and functional purchases are most important to them while status shoppers save up in order to buy special items.

The study breaks these segments down further in order to determine the size of the tribes within particular shopping categories including clothing, DIY, beauty and electronics. This involved asking the respondents to consider their mindset when buying items in each sector.

The less cost-conscious

In all four categories, cost is less important than it is among shoppers overall, with only 56 per cent of DIY shoppers and 32 per cent of beauty shoppers in the cost-conscious segment.

Cook at g2 Field Marketing notes that DIY is a rather “aspirational” category in which people are often willing to pay a premium in order to obtain the right materials for their home. Beauty shoppers, meanwhile, are often ruled by instinct and brand preference rather than price.

The research also demonstrates that shopper categorisations are less valid in certain retail sectors. For example, while the functional shopper tribe is made up of a greater proportion of men overall, in the beauty sector this shifts to 67 per cent female versus 33 per cent male. 

“Although there might be a perception that men do more research and put more thought into buying something, when it comes to beauty it is clear that they don’t care as much,” says Cook. “Women are more likely to do research and spend more money because they care a great deal more about the product.”

Social shoppers

One of the smaller, emerging tribes is the social shoppers group, which accounts for 12 per cent overall. This refers to people who use social channels such as Facebook to share their shopping habits with friends and seek recommendations about future purchases.

All social networks are seeking to encourage this behaviour through partnerships with retailers and payment brands, while LinkedIn aims to facilitate social shopping in a professional context via business-to-business interactions on its site.

Cook argues that the emergence of new trends such as social shopping is contributing to a decline in brand loyalty. Habitual shoppers, for example, who say they love labels and are conscious of the brands they buy, account for just 15 per cent of people.

“People are constantly being sold to today,” he says. “If it’s not an advertisement on a billboard, then it’s a deal sent by a friend on Facebook. You can’t switch off. People are bombarded with messages and we don’t have the same loyalty that we used to because there’s always something better or cheaper around the corner.”

Marketers’ response

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Jaimie Fuller
Chairman
Skins (sportswear brand)

Our demographic is very different to the McDonald’s demographic for example, and common sense tells you that [our ethical positioning] is more likely to get pick-up and resonance with our demographic than theirs. But it’s difficult to judge the impact.

If you are trying to move the needle on sales with an ethical positioning, then it is a complete waste of time. I look at it from a longer term brand awareness perspective. If a brand becomes recognised and known for having a voice for what people believe in, it might not move the needle tomorrow but down the line when those people are making their choices against other brands, it could be an important factor.

It is definitely not a sales-driven mechanic – it is a long-term brand-building device.

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Fredrik Bernsel
Marketing solutions partnerships director
LinkedIn EMEA

People have always turned to their social and professional networks when making purchasing decisions. Whether it’s what outfit to buy for the weekend or which web design agency a small business should engage, word-of-mouth and personal endorsement work both to inform and reinforce buying decisions.

The rise of social media has simply made this process more visible and open, and, importantly, given brands an opportunity to engage. Professionals come to LinkedIn to discover insights that help them make better business decisions, and we know that members are up to 60 per cent along the decision-making process before they engage a vendor.

Being present on LinkedIn enables brands to engage their audience in that critical zero to 60 window.

Methodology

The ‘shopper tribes’ are derived from a survey of 2,000 UK adults about their shopping habits and motivations, commissioned by g2 Field Marketing and conducted by OnePoll. Respondents were asked both general questions and questions related to specific retail categories including DIY and electronics. Some people show multiple shopping habits and hence fall into more than one ‘tribe’. 

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