5 Ways to Authentically Promote Eco-Friendliness in Retail

Cover: 5 Ways to Authentically Promote Eco-Friendliness in Retail

The retail world is a highly competitive environment. Business owners and managers face competition from area stores, big-box retailers, and internet giants. Promoting eco-friendliness could create a strong competitive advantage for brick-and-mortar stores. But the marketing tactic has its pitfalls.

When many companies try to promote eco-friendly practices or products, they sometimes get accused of "greenwashing," or claiming to be following green-practices when, in reality, they are only making those claims for the marketing appeal. However, there are authentic ways for companies to embrace eco-friendliness and sustainability. Explore the following five ideas to develop an authentic eco-friendly message for your retail brand. A little ingenuity and commitment to the green movement can help your retail business differentiate itself from the competition.

1. Add Consciousness to the Products and Services You Sell

Consumption is sometimes seen as a necessary evil. If your retail business can promote conscious capitalism to add a true feel-good or do-good aspect to the products you sell, customers may be less opposed to shopping more regularly.

TOMS Shoes is a great example. The company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes purchased. TOMS experienced explosive growth in the brand's first few years, matching sales by donating 88 million pairs of shoes.

2. Promote the Shopping Local Movement

Local brick-and-mortar stores can't compete against the big-box retailers or Amazon on price. But a SmallBusiness.com survey found that 93 percent of shoppers prefer small and local retailers. The reasons include:

  • 61%: Local stores offer a unique product

  • 49%: I couldn't find what I needed from traditional sources

  • 40%: I want to support the community or small businesses

  • 29%: I like to try new retailers

  • 26%: They feature a broader assortment

  • 24%: They provide an innovative shopping experience

You can capitalize on these figures by reminding customers to "shop local." Add an earth-friendly aspect by promoting your local products. Customers who purchase local products from local retailers help reduce landfill waste due to a lack of shipping packaging and a lessening of carbon emissions from transportation.

3. Rethink Your Store's Packaging

Consider steering your retail operations towards a zero-waste business. The practice of reducing the amount of trash and materials that could end up in landfills can save your store money and win over a loyal customer base. We've found that 73 percent of consumers would switch brands if there was something similar on the market that would support a good cause.

If you can't change the product you're selling, reconsider the packaging. Work with vendors to minimize plastic packaging. Consider selling products in bulk so customers can bring their own containers or bags to purchase them. Choose eco-friendly bag alternatives made from recycled materials or that are reusable. Boldly and beautifully brand the reusable bags with your retail store's logo. Your customer may like your store's bag so much they'd use it regularly, serving as your shop's walking billboard for others to see.

An example of this is designer Anya Hindmarch's sale of "I'm not a plastic bag" tote. Hindmarch created the shopper for charity as an alternative to plastic shopping bags. The bag, on sale for about $6, went viral. Thousands of people lined up to buy one.

4. Offer Customers a Recycling Program

Depending on what your store sells, a recycling program can broadcast a message of conscious capitalism to customers. Think beyond production and lifespan to the afterlife. Brick-and-mortar stores can offer recycling options or access to them for everyday products, such as electronics, packaging, and other items that should not be sent to landfills.

Nespresso, a subsidiary of Nestle, produces and sells coffee capsules for their high-end espresso machines. The capsules are controversial due to their single-use nature. To combat the concerns of consumers, the company started a free customer recycling program of the aluminum capsules at Nespresso retail stores and partners. The recycling program provides the company with many benefits. Customers visit stores more frequently to recycle old capsules - and end up buying more coffee. Nespresso recycles and reuses the capsules, reducing the cost of materials to produce the capsules. And sustainability-conscious customers continue to loyally support the brand.

5. Partner With Other Eco-Friendly Retailers to Relay Your Message

Once your retail business makes internal changes to stand apart as a business that cares about the environment, it's essential to broadcast the message to existing customers - and new ones. One of the most effective ways to market your store to the customer you're after is by partnering with other complementary retailers in the eco-friendly market.

Some examples include health food stores and restaurants, yoga studios, health spas, organic beauty shops, and local farmers' markets. Share your best designer-inspired decorating tips with the retailer next door to you. Swap sustainable supplier info with the menswear shop across the street. Reach out to other retailers and talk about creating an event or partnership. Some ideas include:

  • If you're a food or cookware retailer, host an organic cooking demonstration with a well-known local health food restaurant chef.

  • If you're a clothing retailer, consider hosting a sustainable fashion and beauty show with other retailers in your area.

  • Talk with your local health food store about selling one of your earth-friendly products at their store on consignment and include signage about your business and location.

  • Offer to partially furnish or decorate a busy yoga studio with your store's home accents with signage that the products are available for sale from your business.

Eco-friendly marketing tactics can come from an authentic place by taking just a few actions. The changes can set you apart from the national retailers and attract new and loyal customers to your retail business.

About the writer: Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer from the Northwestern U.S. Coming from a marketing background, Jori quickly took interest in media and blogging. She covers a wide range of subjects but finds a particular interest in covering topics related to Business, Marketing, and Technology. You can follow Jori on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Join the #retail, #ConnectedJourney and #SmartStore conversations on Twitter at @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.

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Jori Hamilton

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