In today’s chaotic world, shoppers aren’t just looking for products. They’re searching for something deeper and more meaningful: an experience, an expression of belonging, an articulation of their place in the world. That’s a lot to ask of a retail transaction — but brands that rise to this challenge, and use it to deepen and redefine their relationships with their customers, have an opportunity to win lasting loyalty in 2022.
Here are five key ways this trend is playing out:
Sustainability used to be a niche interest: important to young trend-setters, but largely ignored by mainstream consumers. Not any more: according to IDC, almost seven out of 10 shoppers say a brand’s sustainability practices shape their purchasing decisions. And those are the numbers for all ages: they climb even higher when you zoom in on younger demographics.
For brands, that means that it’s no longer enough to nod to sustainability in corporate statements: you need to embed environmentally friendly policies into everything from supply chains and distribution networks to your products themselves — and you also need to find ways to communicate your products’ benefits in an authentic and credible way. Transparency is now a must-have.
One sign of the sustainability boom: the “reuse economy” is surging, with Americans spending over $69 billion on previously owned items during the past holiday season — a 24 percent increase on the previous year’s number — and more than three quarters of adults buying at least one secondhand item over the holidays.
While saving money is the main factor driving secondhand shopping, consumers say they’re also eager to find eco-friendly products, meaningful gifts, and more personal experiences that don’t involve shopping at big box stores. Companies such as Patagonia and REI now sell used products alongside new items; other retail brands can also tap into the trend by offering buy-back programs, or easy recycling or resale options for used products.
When it comes to gift-giving, physical products remain popular, but one in six shoppers also like to give their loved ones experiences. Such gifts — running the gamut from spa passes and theater tickets to DIY projects such as book-binding sets and even knife-making kits — offer the promise of being more memorable and “real” than conventional gifts and can help to bring people together.
Still, buying experiences raises the stakes for shoppers: you can’t return or exchange an experience that doesn’t work out. That means shoppers will want to know exactly what they’re getting before they pull the plug on an experiential purchase — and they’ll be more likely to reward brands that can use rich media and immersive shopping experiences to help them appreciate what they’re buying.
The e-commerce boom has left everyone drowning in cardboard boxes — a trend that’s good for cats, but bad for the planet. Moving into 2022, brands have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by offering more thoughtful and sustainable packaging and shipment options.
We’ve already seen some companies, such as Amazon, allow customers to group deliveries into single shipments to reduce waste and transportation emissions, and that’s a good start. Brands in the retail sector can also consider offering sustainable alternatives to conventional packaging and gift-wrapping — perhaps recycled shipping boxes, or biodegradable tissue paper instead of foil-lined wrapping paper — to win over consumers.
Your sustainability efforts won’t count for much if you can’t communicate them effectively — and the pandemic has only made consumers warier of the conflicting information that’s floating around. To promote your brand as planet-conscious, it isn’t enough to simply say that: you’ll need to use data and clear evidence to communicate the work you’re doing.
Crucially, consumers are now much savvier about brands’ sustainability messaging: you won’t be able to project planet-friendliness unless you bring the receipts, and prove you’re actually making a difference. The rise of startups offering climate-focused software and carbon accounting tools speaks to this trend: increasingly, successful brands will use hard data — such as carbon footprint or food-miles metrics — to document and validate their sustainability gains, and find compelling, credible ways to communicate their achievements to customers.
These trends present both challenges and opportunities for brands. Creating meaning isn’t easy, especially when so many consumers are feeling exhausted and even a bit jaded. The key will be for brands to show, not tell. You can’t simply use marketing messages to make customers feel something; you need to use your products to create experiences that hold real value for customers.
Fortunately, customers are actively seeking those kinds of product experiences. According to a recent Akeneo survey, half of shoppers now actively check product information for details about sustainability practices, and large numbers also look for responsible sourcing and social commitment information. People want to contextualize and deepen their product experiences, and they want brands to help with that process.
By using product information in smart, consistent ways, it’s possible to stand out even in today’s crowded marketplace. Customers are asking brands to give them more — so answer their call, and commit to finding ways to offer more meaningful, sustainable, and powerful retail experiences in 2022.
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Image credit: Blake Wisz via Unsplash