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Conscious Consumer Research

PFS & LiveArea Research | Consumerism vs. Conscious Commerce: Striking the Balance


Research Section 1: Sustainability

2020 has been a year of great change for consumers and retailers alike. Buying habits have been hugely affected, with the closure of physical stores pushing more people online and putting great strain on retailers to keep up with demand and retain loyal customers during a period of great adjustment.

PFS and LiveArea commissioned research agency, Arlington Research, to survey 2,500 consumers about their current shopping habits, environmental and ethical expectations from brands, and how their buying behaviour has changed during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Nationally representative interviews were carried out with consumers aged 18+ with nationally representative quotas set on gender, age and region at a country-wide level. Respondents came from the UK (1,500 respondents), Republic of Ireland (500 respondents) and France (500 respondents). Fieldwork took place between 28th May and 4th June, 2020.

The report highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased consumer awareness of the environmental impact their online shopping habits have and how they are responding.

Supporting sustainability

We gain insight on how consumers are supporting sustainability measures in the wake of COVID-19 through their shopping choices and the expectations they have for the brands and retailers they shop with.

Key finding: Around three-quarters (73%) of consumers expect the brands they shop with online to use recyclable packaging. The same number expect packaging to be minimised (74%).


We explore how many consumers are still over-purchasing goods, at odds with a sustainable outlook. Still, our findings suggests that the pandemic has actually made consumers think twice before making a purchase for a number of reasons, including the environmental impact of sourcing goods and delivering them.

Key finding: In light of the pandemic, over a third (37%) of shoppers claim to have stopped over-purchasing items.


We discover there is a lack of awareness among consumers about what happens to items they decide to return. We look at how a better understanding of the returns process and the waste generated from returns might change consumer behaviour.

Key finding: Our research suggests that 71% of consumers would change their online shopping habits if they knew that returned items would go to landfill or be destroyed.

Maintaining change

We learn that the changes COVID-19 has brought about across consumer behavior and retail practices are likely to become part of our new normal. This is in-line with findings from PFS’ previous consumer survey conducted in the UK at the start of the lockdown.

Key finding: Almost three-quarters (72%) of consumers plan to continue with the changes they have made to their shopping habits during the pandemic. For 27% this means not over-purchasing items; 23% will continue to buy locally sourced or manufactured products.

Download the whitepaper for further insight.

LiveArea’s view

There is a lot of noise and so much happening around sustainability that it is hard for consumers to know what’s real and what’s greenwashing. However, highlighting products, for instance, that are eco-friendly, have recyclable packaging, or are locally sourced, and communicating a brand’s sustainability initiatives through product pages is important to inform the consumer, potentially influencing their buying decision.

Traceability is very important, and we’ve seen recent examples of brands suffering major reputational damage due to issues down their supply chain. If some consumers are willing to pay a premium for brands that provide full traceability of their products, brands should be eager to provide this. Consumers do more than just check the list of ingredients on a label now, they want details about sourcing, how products are made, and how they are delivered. Access to this information, most commonly through online policies and packaging, drives better decisions and helps create more sustainable products.

We can see that price is still an important decision-driver for many consumers, and rightly so, particularly at this time. So, while some consumers may be willing to pay more for something that is environmentally friendly, the goal for brands should be for sustainability to be price-friendly and accessible to their consumers. What’s more, there’s an onus on governments and regulatory bodies to introduce legislations to incentivise businesses to better their sustainability practices and help find uniformity across industries. We shouldn’t just have to rely on the demand of the customer to impose these changes.

Benoit Soucaret, Creative Director, LiveArea EMEA

“Consumers do more than just check the list of ingredients on a label, they want details about sourcing, how products are made, and how they are delivered. Access to this information drives better decisions and helps create more sustainable products.”

PFS’ view

There is a complicated dichotomy at play here for both consumers and retailers. Consumers are still cost conscious, but feel a growing responsibility to care for the environment. Our research indicates that consumers are willing to commit to the environment, ethical sourcing and more mindful commerce practices with their wallets. However, consumers are relying on retailers and brands to help them do their part while remaining affordable. The challenge for retailers is to meet this growing consumer expectation while protecting their bottom line.

The reality, though, is that there are actually many benefits retailers can gain through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that go beyond their central goal of caring for the environment. For example, by getting products closer to the customer through alternative fulfilment methods such as pop-up distribution (pop-up DC) or micro-fulfilment centres, brands can provide an improved customer experience while reducing carbon emissions. Likewise, PFS’ RetailConnect store fufilment solution enables BOPIS and ship-from-store functionality at your brick-and-mortar locations, empowering brands to provide a more convenient customer experience that accomplishes their goal to use sustainable shopping methods, while the brand is able to compete with major marketplaces offering fast delivery options.

Through more efficient packaging solutions such as right-size packaging and frustration-free packaging, retailers can minimise environmental impact while also minimising returns due to product damaged during shipment. Products is more protected in right-size packaging, and the smaller size means you can fit more in transportation vehicles, therefore decreasing carbon footprints.

As you implement and expand your CSR initiatives, keep an optimistic mindset and look for ways these measures can help make a difference for the environment as well as your bottom line.

Christophe Pecoraro, Managing Director, PFS Europe

“By getting products closer to the customer through alternative fulfilment methods such as pop-up distribution or micro-fulfilment centres, brands can provide an improved customer experience while reducing carbon emissions.”

Our experts

Benoit Soucaret | Creative Director, LiveArea EMEA

With over 14 years’ experience, Benoit is passionate about finding the intersection between brand and digital product. Market and consumer insights, aligned with product strategy, essential business needs, and exceptional digital experiences form the core of his design ethos.

Christophe Pecoraro | Managing Director, PFS Europe

Christophe has extensive experience in eCommerce with over 15 years of experience in a variety of roles at PFS. His internal influence effects change within the business to better client and consumer experiences, while externally he adds value to client and partner operations through the implementation of effective, industry-leading eCommerce solutions. Christophe is the Founder and Owner of the LinkedIn Supply Chain Management Group, brimming with over 200,000 industry professionals.