Natural Foods Merchandiser

How to court newly eco-conscious consumers

More and more consumers are becoming eco-aware—even given the current economic recession—making the newly environmentally conscious a key kind of new shopper to lure into your store.

More and more consumers are becoming eco-aware—even given the current economic recession—making the newly environmentally conscious a key kind of new shopper to lure into your store. However, eco-awareness doesn’t necessarily translate to dollars spent on green, socially responsible products, so retailers can benefit from learning what drives these new green shoppers, how to attract them and keep them coming back.

Copresenters Jeff Hilton and Deborah de Moulpied addressed these topics at Wednesday’s Natural Products Expo East Retailer Workshop session, “The Crossover Consumer: The Newly Conscious.” Hilton, cofounder of Integrated Marketing Group, a full-service branding company that works with the natural products industry, kicked off the session by dissecting the eco-conscious consumers of today and what drives their purchasing decisions. Then, de Moulpied, owner of Bona Fide Green Goods in Concord, N.H., an independent department store in which every product—except lightbulbs—is vetted for socially responsible production, offered practical tips on how to attract and satisfy these shoppers.

According to Hilton, for many consumers, green is a tiebreaker, not a game changer. This means that green for green’s sake is not enough to drive a purchase—rather, a product must satisfy in performance, taste, quality, price, etc., and if it also is green, then that’s a plus. He also said there’s a huge gap between eco-awareness and actual purchasing behavior. Research shows that a majority of shoppers have begun to care about the environment, but the number who actually use those ideals to make buying decisions is much lower. The challenge for retailers, then, becomes offering products and communicating that you carry the products that will meet the most purchasing criteria.

Hilton also stressed that, especially in the wake of the recession, the consumer's definition of “the environment” has shifted away from faraway rainforests and the ozone layer and toward that individual’s home front. Consumers are adopting more green practices in their households and incorporating them into family activities and actions—therefore, they’re looking for more practical products and solutions to help them live green. 

Following Hilton’s presentation, de Moulpied offered these practical strategies for attracting and catering to the newly environmentally conscious crossover consumer:

Don’t typecast customers or assume a certain type of person wouldn’t shop at your store. Many types of people are growing interested in green living, regardless of age, income, education level or gender. A Libertarian ex-Marine with a crew cut may be as likely to stock up on LED lightbulbs as a college-age Greenpeace volunteer.

Present your store as mainstream, rather than fringe. Traditional, stereotypical “hippie” things like burning incense and thick patchouli oil can turn new customers away. Make sure your offerings are accessible and your environment clean and not off-putting.

Make sure every employee is highly educated. Every shopper-staff interaction will make an impression, so be sure each employee knows in-and-out the products you carry, current trends, etc. It’s especially important that the person running the register be informed, because this is likely who the shopper will interact with last. A cashier saying something like, “By the way, did you know that if you do this with this product, then …” or “Isn’t it great that this product has this attribute?” can go a long way in ensuring a complete positive experience.

Offer a wide selection of gift items. Shoppers are more likely to spend money on unique, eco-friendly items for others than for themselves.

Focus on personal care. Concern about health-harming chemicals, preservatives and synthetic ingredients in cosmetics and body care products is quickly moving mainstream. This is a department through which you can capture new shoppers who are looking for information about a wide selection of clean, effective products. 

Join a "Be Local" initiative. Many towns have organizations made up of local, independent businesses that want to band together to promote the idea of shopping small and local. As part of a larger collective, you can offer discounts, participate in events, and give and receive referrals from fellow local businesses. If your community doesn’t have such an initiative, start one.

Pick your politics. De Moulpied decided from the onset of her store that she would steer clear of politics. She pointed out that everyone, regardless of party affiliation, wants to preserve the environment, and you can cater to that without getting into political arguments. People often enter her store looking to fight about climate change or some other issue and quickly find out that nobody is there to fight back. Or, conversely, there may be issues—such as non-GMO—and platforms of advocacy that you feel are important enough to champion and incorporate into your business. Just be conscious of the repercussions and stick to whichever route you go.    


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