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07.11.2021

Responsible consumption: what discrepancies between wills and concrete actions?

What changes are we seeing? On the consumer side? In the way brands encourage us to consume?

The COP 26 started on November 1st in Glasgow.

This was an opportunity for Dékuple’s strategic planning to question the current changes in our consumption patterns.

What changes are we seeing? On the consumer side? In the way brands encourage us to consume?

Let’s start with what hasn’t changed: the urgency to change everything!

  • The IPCC report is damning: 1.5°C. This is the global warming temperature we are expected to reach as early as 2030, 10 years earlier than predicted. This figure will reach 4.5°C by the end of the century if nothing is done.
  • And the UN is warning us: there are only 8 years left to limit warming to 1.5°C.
  • The World Meteorological Organisation reveals that CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions were at record levels in 2020.

The forecasts are not optimistic, and this is reflected in the perception and morale.

Two-thirds of respondents believe that climate change is “a global emergency”. (UNDP and Oxford University study).

And this is even more obvious among the youngest populations:

  • Almost 40% of young people worldwide are now reluctant to have children because of climate change.
  • 84% of young people say they are worried (and 59% extremely worried). More than 50% feel sad, anxious, angry and powerless. (Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon).
  • 60% of 15-24 year olds think that we will not succeed in limiting global warming by the end of the century and three quarters of them therefore think that living conditions will become extremely difficult. (CREDOC study).

In this context, expectations of brands are clearly expressed.

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The French expect brands, symbols of consumption par excellence, to encourage them to consume less: 60% of the 35 categories monitored (*) must reduce packaging AND 57% must provide answers to over-consumption and waste (Kantar study).

But despite all these observations, this general awareness, and the importance of the situation, actions do not follow.

  • Despite all our good will, it sometimes seems difficult to act more responsibly: 61% of French people think they can help change the world through their choices and actions BUT 81% find that sustainable products are still expensive and 74% find it very difficult to determine which are the “good” products. (Kantar survey).
  • 62% of 18-24 year olds take advantage of the sales, 15 points more than the average. Nearly one young person in five even admits that they are not ready to extend the life of their products and reduce their consumption. (CREDOC study).
  • Environmental protection and local production are in the TOP 3 of expectations of 15-25 year olds with regard to brands. But Shein was the most popular brand for their post-confinement cracking according to the Belle/Jam study conducted in 2020 (you will understand the paradox right after).

The insolent success of SHEIN: an extreme example of “unreasonable” consumption.

If you are one of the few who don’t know SHEIN, here is a little catch-up: Shein is an online store for fashion clothes and accessories, mainly targeting the 15-25 year olds (but not only).

And the numbers are staggering:

  • Most downloaded app in the shopping category in 50 countries, including the US (ahead of Amazon).
  • 10 billion in annual sales by 2020 according to Forbes (up from 4.5 billion in 2019).
  • It is the most visited fashion site in the world. And one of those where people stay the longest: 8 minutes and 36 seconds.

But beyond the numbers, what is most striking about the analysis of the SHEIN model is the extent to which it is the antithesis of current responsible considerations:

  • An ultra-addictive interface, which only makes you want to buy more and more
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  • An ability to be “on track” with unrivalled speed: SHEIN adds between 5,000 and 10,000 items per day compared to only 1,000 for Boohoo (despite being a fast-fashion reference), only a few days are needed between design and sale compared to at least 3 weeks for a player like Zara.
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  • Use of the app and its communication levers in total communion with the Gen Z target: Tik Tok Spirit, Haul, competitions and everything that goes well to make them addicted.
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And despite all the good intentions of our Gen Z, it endorses a system that seems far from virtuous:

shein

But then why on earth such a success for a brand that seems to represent the exact opposite of the values that this generation, and more broadly today’s consumers, promote?

mignons

Simple, because SHEIN represents everything that is fun and exciting about shopping: almost endless (digital) window shopping, the possibility to be on top of the trend in real time, a culture of immediacy that characterises this generation and last but not least: shopping.

And this last point is not insignificant: we are all (or almost all) convinced that we need to change our consumption patterns, but this should not have an impact on our wallet. According to the Getty Images/Market Cast study, 87% of French people would be prepared to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle if it cost them “the same or less”. And for 44% of respondents, cost is the main obstacle to adopting this lifestyle in their daily lives.

Fortunately, all is not lost.

Because yes, there is hope, and also convinced entrepreneurs. Many responsible brands have existed for a long time. To stay in the fashion sector, Patagonia or Veja have been militating for responsible production and consumption since their creation.

And it is even more interesting to observe that new brands are being created by putting this vision at the very heart of their business model (like Asphalte, which we will talk about next, but also for life, the clean T-shirt, Jules & Jenn or Pimpant in the household products sector… and so many others).

The symbolic (and French) example: Asphalte.

Asphalte

Asphalte is a fashion brand created by two French entrepreneurs, which promotes a different model, based on the quality of the products, the responsibility of the production but also of the consumption.

The key points of the brand’s model:

Production based on pre-orders, avoiding unnecessary stocks and adapting products to demand.

Constant consultation of its community for the design of new products, thus allowing to direct the novelties towards the strongest demands.

asphalte-sondage
  • A choice of quality raw materials to extend the life of the products, coupled with a very special relationship with its suppliers.
  • An assertive pricing policy: no low prices as this is detrimental to quality, no promotions so as not to encourage unnecessary over-consumption.
  • An orientation of styling that promises clothes that will “neither tire you, nor let you go” (dixit the brand’s presentation film).

And it works!

The brand is developing, making the most of its success and has even launched itself on the women’s market (before the children’s market?)

Proof that by educating and inspiring, it is possible to propose responsible production and consumption, and to be economically successful.

What can we learn from this dissonance to advance our consumption patterns?

1. Reconciling the pleasure of shopping with a responsible approach

Combining the pleasure of shopping with a responsible approach will clearly be the challenge to be taken up in order to reconcile what seem to be two opposing consumption trends, but which are clearly present among the majority of consumers.

2. Understanding consumerist motivations

It will be necessary to have a very detailed understanding of consumer motivations and expectations, especially those that we do not dare to assert (such as consuming products that are not very responsible).

3. Be a teacher

It will also be essential for brands to explain why responsible products cost more, and above all how this benefits consumers over time (the famous “we can’t afford to buy cheap”).

A very good example: the explanation of the Clean T-shirt.

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4. Accepting consumer annoyance

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For this to happen, it will be necessary to assume that products are not sold at the price at which consumers would like to buy them! Or not to offer ultra fast consumption when everyone wants everything and everything immediately.

Confronting the consumer is not easy, but perhaps the key to the evolution of our models?

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