When Tracey Bailey launched her sustainable e-commerce business Biome 15 years ago retailers playing in the ‘eco-friendly’ category were few and far between.
That’s changed. After a year dominated by headlines about the climate crisis, extreme weather events and the effects of plastic pollution, the big retail chains are taking notice.
“All the mainstream retailers are leaning into it,” Bailey tells SmartCompany.
“This year there’s been a culmination of the personal impacts of climate change and plastic pollution dawning upon people.”
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And consumers are leading the way, shopping around online with a conscience this December. According to analysis released today by SEO company SEMRush, online searches for vegan and eco-friendly gift ideas have spiked in the lead up to Christmas.
The number of online searches for vegan Christmas recipes, eco-friendly gifts and toys has increased drastically, building on gains last year amid heightened awareness about environmental sustainability.
Searches for eco-friendly gifts have skyrocketed 813% year-on-year and are up almost 500% over the last two years, the analysis found. Sustainable toy searches have increased 291% year-on-year.
Meanwhile, searches for reusable wrapping paper are up 400% year-on-year, while the number of shoppers looking for ‘eco Christmas trees’ has increased 127% year-on-year.
Bailey says it’s still too early to tell whether consumer interest will translate to more sales, but the business owner hopes more mainstream interest in Biome’s category actually translates into more sustainable consumerism, rather than greenwashing.
“The concern is [retail chains] are doing it in a pretty superficial way,” Bailey says.
“They might be offering a reusable coffee cup, but they’re not necessarily looking beyond that into what it’s made from, who made it, where it was made, and how long it will last for.
“Consumers are purchasing those items thinking they’re doing the right thing for the planet, but all of those considerations might not have been taken into account.”
For Bailey, the top priority is actually encouraging consumers to buy fewer gifts this Christmas.
“We can’t consume our way to sustainability,” the founder says.
Saving, not spending
While it’s far too early to make any sweeping predictions about consumers’ Christmas shopping habits, there’s a macroeconomic angle here to watch as well.
September quarter national accounts released earlier this month revealed a dip in household consumption while the household savings ratio increased to its highest point in more than two years.
It came despite cuts to income tax rates and official interest rates, which Westpac economists have estimated will deliver more than $16 billion into household budgets by next June.
In short, consumers are hiding the dosh under their mattresses.
It is hard to tell whether this is being driven by broader economic uncertainty (consumer confidence is tanking), long-running substitution effects towards experiences and travel, or because of worries about the environmental effects of consumerism.
Figures released by lobby group the National Retailers Association yesterday predict consumers will spend $14 billion nationwide in the final week before Christmas, down from its $17 billion prediction last year.
Either way, the search data indicates consumer interest in at least considering sustainable options is increasing rapidly.