Retail is well-known as one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The industry faces mounting pressure to drastically improve its environmental impact both from government legislation and eco-conscious consumers. The reputation and credibility of a brand’s ethical and sustainable behaviours are increasingly important factors to consumers. As a growing number of fast fashion, premium and luxury retailers start to offer resale and repair initiatives as part of their approach to sustainability, will these become permanent features of strategy?
A generation of more eco-conscious consumers
The younger customer segments of Millennials and Gen Z are more environmentally aware than others. This has been reflected in their purchasing habits in recent years and the rise in popularity of online thrift shop apps such as Depop and Vinted. The cost-of-living crisis will affect these younger consumers most, however, some sustainability initiatives provide a cheaper shopping alternative that can make their pressurized spending budgets stretch further.
Fast fashion versus luxury
Premium retailers in this space, such as Patagonia, have offered repair services for years. However, the likes of Zara, well-known for their short product life cycles, have now launched their own repair, resale, and donate initiatives.
Similarly, Shein, one of the ‘fastest’ fashion brands, has come under criticism for the quality, price, and perceived 'throw away' nature of their assortment, however, it too has entered this space with the launch of its peer-to-peer resale platform. While this may be virtue signalling, where brands offer alternatives but make no effort to augment their new, virgin, product and supply chain, the entry into this market will reveal telling data about how much customers actually value these types of channels.
The luxury market also continues to grow in this responsible retailing space, with multi-brand department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges, and Saks Off 5th offering either resale, rental or both, perhaps as a response to the observed growth of platforms like The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective. Luxury brand Balenciaga has also just launched its own direct-to-consumer resell channel, offering greater control over product authenticity, customer experience, and brand loyalty.
Authenticity poses a key challenge – there is added value if brands are able to provide the customer with a simple, trustworthy resale service that helps them sell their designer goods faster as a result.
What does the future hold for responsible retailing?
As the choice in this space continues to grow, we can expect the addition of these alternative models to condition customers to expect such alternatives, or even condition them to think more carefully about the source of goods. The cost-of-living crisis will put the most pressure on younger customers whose spending budgets will shrink. As costs increase, there is an appeal in opting for cheaper options such as buying second-hand, reselling items to afford new ones and repairing old items at a lower cost than replacing them. This is something which all brands should be conscious of when they’re considering their strategy, operations, and business capabilities.
Retailers that want to remain relevant and competitive, will not only need to carefully consider the messaging and perception of their ESG and ESG-adjacent initiatives but whether they have the capability within their current operating models and retail capabilities to adapt and scale as their customers demand more choice.
This article is part of our 2023 "Crystal Ball" Trend Predictions report. Download the report here and discover more exciting topics we'll be exploring throughout the year!