As Retailers Ramp Up Social Responsibility Efforts, Consumers Focus on Prices

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Overwhelmed by inflation and a never-ending set of crises across the globe, consumers are placing less emphasis on social responsibility when choosing where to shop for everyday goods. 

According to a new survey by ENGINE Insights, 64% of consumers say they make purchases from retailers regardless of their stance on social responsibility. Nearly two-thirds of consumers say low prices influence where they buy everyday items. Convenient location, wide selection, and discounts or coupons were also cited as high-priority issues for shoppers.

Consumer spending increased 1.1% in March, but with monthly inflation surging, the price of everyday goods is on everyone’s mind. Seventy-two percent of consumers say they’re responding to inflation by buying more generic or lower-priced products, but it’s where they’re buying those products that’s the real question.

ENGINE found that consumers are preferring to make less frequent, larger trips for everyday household items. Walmart and Amazon came in as the two most popular retailers among consumers shopping for everyday items.

“I still think this will be an important trait for retailers to focus on in the future, [but] at present it could be that consumers are simply overwhelmed by inflation and what seems like a never-ending set of crises in the world,” says ENGINE Insights Vice President Rich Tomasco.

That’s a sharp turn from just last year, when surveys showed 64% of consumers preferred to buy from companies with a reputation for purpose as well as profit and 53% said they would pay more for brands that take stands on issues such as public health, the economy, and politics. More than half also said brand activism had impacted their purchasing behavior or brand impression.

That momentum has led many retailers to invest in social responsibility over the past few years. Back in March, Macy’s announced its commitment to creating a “more equitable and sustainable future” and pledged to spend $5 billion on the cause by 2025. Target has also made moves to become more socially responsible by offering expanded education assistance benefits and health benefits for its workers, and Godiva Chocolatier launched a campaign around women’s empowerment and sustainability.

While those types of strategies could be beneficial for employee retention, they’re relatively unlikely to drive additional sales in the current economic climate.

“The survey data serves as a good reminder that focusing on the basics remains key for marketing everyday items,” Tomasco says.  

According to the findings, consumers buying everyday items are most influenced by advertising that features promotions or deals, products, and loyalty programs. At the other end of the spectrum, they’re least likely to be influenced by advertising featuring children, spokespeople, and celebrities.

“[This] might work for some types of products, but for everyday items, the lesson should be to keep it simple,” Tomasco says. 

ENGINE found that 74% of consumers prefer to go into the store for purchasing everyday household items vs. online or curbside pick-up. More consumers would prefer to use self-checkout than wait for a cashier, although baby boomers are more likely to prefer a cashier than members of the Gen Z and millennial generations.

While the data shows that buying the same brands for everyday products is still preferred—66% of all consumers vs. 34% who like to try new products—younger generations still like to mix in newer experiences more often.  

“Retailers will need to carefully thread the needle to balance behaviors and preferences by age generation,” Tomasco says. “The findings demonstrate that it’s key not to overlook innovation, even for items that are considered ‘everyday’ in purpose.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.