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The role of consumers

Learn about the role that consumers play in the fashion company strategy.

The interconnections of fashion business success and customer attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors are illustrated in many news and research articles and play out in the industry every day.

Insightfully, in the HuffPost article “The Wrath of the Customer: Why Fashion Retailers need to Invest in the Customers’ Needs”, St. John Dunne reflected on the importance of positive customer service at the point of sale in supporting consumers’ satisfaction with the brands themselves. In this article, Dunne describes how salespeople themselves are the face of the brand—the point at which customers form their attitudes and make (or abandon) purchases.

At a product development level, Ki-Hoon Lee and Dongyoung Shin explored Korean consumers’ awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices and whether those company practices influence customer purchase intentions. They found a significant positive relationship, observing that customers have higher intentions to purchase fashion goods that are produced by companies exercising CSR.

In 2016, Morgan Stanley executed a study, Do Consumers Care About Ethical Retailing?, reporting on the behaviors of 1,000 United Kingdom (UK) consumers. Notably, 51 percent of the respondents indicated that “good ethics” are somewhat or very important when selecting a retailer, and the relative importance of ethics as a criterion in shopping decisions has increased nine percentage points since 2010.

Additionally, the younger the consumer, the more importance placed on ethics.

To further illustrate the significance of the role of consumers in fashion company strategy, the organization Fashion Revolution conducted a Consumer Survey Report in 2018 to collect information about European Union (EU) consumers’ purchasing intentions for clothing, accessories, and shoes in light of corporate supply chain transparency and sustainability practices.

The 5,000 consumers were asked about topics including clothing made by people earning a fair, living wage, environmental protection, safe working conditions of apparel laborers, animal welfare, local productions, and the use of recycled materials.

Among the respondents, the majority of consumers agreed that fashion brands should be required by law to:

  • respect the human rights of everybody involved in making their products (77%)
  • protect the environment at every stage of making their products (75%)
  • provide information about the social impacts of their business (68%)
  • provide information about the environmental impacts of their business (72%) and
  • say if they are paying the workers who make their products a fair, living wage (72%).

Nielsen’s 2015 Global Responsibility Report (The Sustainability Imperative) contains insights from 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, including the United States, about their expectations for the products they buy. The report contains data supporting a growing trend toward consumer desire for products made by companies with a commitment to sustainable practices. According to the Nielsen report, 66% of respondents said that they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands (up from 55% in 2014 and 50% in 2010).

The report documents the importance of consumer attitudes to brand well-being:

Consumers are trying to be responsible citizens of the world, and they expect the same from corporations. So when it comes to purchasing, they are doing their homework. Checking labels before buying. Looking at websites for information on business and manufacturing practices. Paying attention to public opinion on specific brands in the news or on social media.
Recognizing that attitudes and behaviors do vary by demographics, the report’s authors summarized current findings, emphasizing “the opportunity for significant brand growth, on a global scale, for those willing to listen and respond to a new kind of consumer.”

Throughout this course you learn how the growth in consumer awareness and increasing willingness to prioritize ethical spending is evidence of the importance fashion companies must place on consumer expectations and demands to deliver ‘ethical fashion’.

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Consumers and Ethical Considerations in the Fashion Industry

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