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GUEST COMMENT Spelling out sustainable commitments: The ‘greening’ product information management

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Articulating company values is now a key part of the product experience, says James Barlow, Regional Director UK & Ireland at Akeneo. So, how can brands and retailers best demonstrate their commitment to the planet?

Most companies have made some kind of commitment to the environment by aiming to lower their carbon footprint, but many have not made it explicit in terms of the products and services they sell. Doing so influences key performance indicators such as brand trust, brand attachment and brand commitment. In our own survey 2021, 52% of consumers said they would be prepared to pay more when brand values are part of the product information shared.

Moreover, in the research consumers are willing to pay more, which is good considering that green products cost more to produce. A study by Simon-Kucher & Partners showed that a third of UK consumers will pay more for sustainable products and services while across 17 additional countries, the figure was 25% prepared to spend more for greener alternatives to their current purchases.

The journey begins not with a blanket approach to communicating sustainability, but through segmentation because different consumers in different demographics and geographies will have different environmental aspirations, so it is important to adapt content and product information to what is known about key audiences.

For instance, Marks & Spencer has just announced that it is inviting its 14 million Sparks loyalty scheme customers to try a lower carbon diet, feel healthier and save money, while living more sustainably. The eight week Sparking Change challenge includes a range of resources designed to help customers make healthy, more sustainable meals from scratch.

But how can this be brought to life through product information and product experience? We’ve outlined our top five key principles.

1.Share brand values through product content – but do it authentically

Because customers want to know about products and services, but also the company’s purpose, mission and values, it makes sense to communicate these using real people, ideally the company founders or leaders, who embody these values and share them for greatest impact. The ‘About Us’ page simply won’t cut it.

There must also be transparency in these communications. Leading brands tend to share information about the suppliers they work with, the materials they use, their vision of the business, the concrete actions they take, organisations they donate to and so on.

Providing meaning for consumers leads to higher engagement and growth.

2. Educate on certificates and quality labels

Words are not always enough so proof of commitment needs to be provided, and this is credibly communicated through conformance to industry standards, registration schemes and awards for quality.

62% of consumers consider certificates and quality labels as the #1 information that demonstrates brand commitment.

3. Guide consumers to the right products

Certification works if in addition product discovery and search are made easy so that customers can filter proposed purchases to their purchasing preferences.

And these filters need to be managed in the central system used to manage product, using automatic rules based on information they contain.

4. Take back second-hand products

Consumers’ awareness of the impact of product manufacture has led many to buy second hand or rent via the likes of depop, Vinted and ThredUP. The best way to meet these new competitors is to play them at their own game and agree to take back purchases, as brands such as Patagonia and Isabel Marant have done.

However, promoting second-hand products alongside new ones requires a different approach to how products are discovered and described. This is made much easier if the PIM system is able to easily access the right product data inherited from a trusted foundation rather than having to re-create it.

5. Switch to a more climate-friendly shipping solution and reduce packaging

Increasingly, the product’s environmental credentials are often as important as how it is shipped, given that worldwide freight transport accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions, and last-mile shipping makes up a large proportion of this footprint.

Greener delivery options should be displayed alongside products, to include slower delivery, order bundling and smaller boxes so not space is wasted.

The bottom line is, sharing and making explicit the extent to which companies are minimising their carbon impact will have significant impact on customer loyalty and growth.


James Barlow, regional director UK & Ireland at Akeneo

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