Consumers are now making more choices based on positive social, economic, and environmental impact during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We are entering the age of conscious consumerism - an ethos of thoughtful consideration for the world we live in today and protecting the future for generations to come.
This is being driven by growing awareness around the impact of what we buy, where it comes from, how it is designed and what happens at ‘end of life’ - alongside the effect of what we advocate, share and do. Consumerism may not be new, but today, perhaps more than ever, it rests firmly at the heart of our values, ethics and indeed our very identities.
Impact matters and we are observing cultural transformation on an unprecedented global scale coupled with falling levels of trust in established systems, institutions and even brands. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘climate change’ has become a ‘climate crisis’ with people demanding more than behind closed doors discussion and conceptualisation – but seeking collaboration, transparency and action. Similarly, consumers no longer just passively consume – they demand knowledge, informed choice and values alignment; rightly expecting more from their products/services and the organisations which provide them.
83% of Millennials say it’s important for the companies they buy from to align with their beliefs and values.
5WPR 2020 Consumer Culture Report
90% of Gen Z believes companies must act to help social and environmental issues and 75% will do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand on issues.
Porter Novelli / Cone’s 2019 Gen Z Purpose Study
With conscious consumerism on the rise, brands must adapt - or to borrow a technology term, ‘reboot’ - and do things differently. I believe this also includes creating trusted and long term co-creative, inclusive and emotional connections with consumers and stakeholders, including employees. This is especially relevant to the Retail and Fashion industries and at the National Retail Federation event in New York City, I had the opportunity to explore this first hand. Bringing together over 40,000 people, organisations and bleeding edge emergent technology was an immersive, visionary and hybrid experience that integrated online and in person, a key facet of the future of retail and, moreover, the future of work.
Given the year-over-year rise in the e-commerce share of retail sales, transforming the in-store experience has never been more critical. And I believe both emergent technology and conscious consumerism has a significant role to play in this evolution. During the event, I explored the use of Augmented Reality by SAP to improve retailer’s processes. For example, Smart Shelves that catalyse a store into a digital online shop that is tailored to a consumer’s personal preferences and purchasing history; with the appropriate informed consent.
I also tried the Smart Mirror – a superb innovation that integrates radio-frequency identification (RFID) for tagging and tracking and smart mirror technology to help close the customer experience gap. These can be customised to offer a variety of benefits from projecting images of selected clothing items directly on to the ‘reflection’ of the customer, to scanning tags and allowing shoppers to make easy contact with in-store assistants with specific requests. It can also provide immediate access to information about the fabrics and supply chain of a product with the tap of a finger. This increases awareness, interaction and personalisation so that the consumer can make informed purchasing choices based on the areas that matter to them. For example, being able to understand the materials and lifecycle of the clothing from source to store.
A further highlight of the trip was speaking to Billy and Darren, the team behind BILLY Footwear, where the potential to combine fashion, function and inclusion came to the fore – proving these elements can be integrated and are not mutually exclusive! Alongside this, the role of behind the scenes technology powered by SAP became truly visible, helping the team to turn their vision into reality by empowering employees, building operational efficiencies and driving informed customer decision making. This is an inspiring example of people and technology in partnership. See my interview with Billy here with a follow-up podcast being released shortly.
Born out of a need, we seek to be a brand of significance. Our company strives to add value to the lives of others and make a measurable difference in the world, one foot at a time.
Billy Price, Co-Founder
Continuing this theme, I also spoke with Mindy Scheier, CEO & Founder of Runway of Dreams about her work and specifically how technology is changing the fashion industry, providing new options for people with disabilities. This is the largest minority grouping in the world and affects us all at some point, taking into consideration the impact of ageing. A key theme here is that inclusion is not an initiative - people with disabilities are consumers too and need to be part of mainstream conversation as standard with the opportunity to co-create the solutions that they will use and purchase. Indeed, authentically addressing inclusion is possibly the leading under explored business opportunity of our time. When we think about brand evolution, we also need to rebrand the way in which people with disabilities are viewed. A very special conversation and one that will be continued together this year ‘on the road’ - a hint at this in our spontaneous video here – such a pleasure!
Technology has so much room for growth as it relates to people with disabilities.... whether that is the technology contained in clothing or how and where we purchase it. We are in the position to make this change happen … and we must.
Mindy Scheier, CEO & Founder
The Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that only one in three respondents trusted most of the brands they bought from and used in 2019, so the ability to embed trust through the combination of people and technology can be transformational. Blockchain can play a pivotal role, as illustrated by the latest IDC survey which reveals over 50% of companies anticipate blockchain to drive digital transformation in the next three to five years. For supply chains, the application of blockchain is a natural fit, embedding transparency, reliability and accountability, whilst also ensuring that data is accurate, verified, secure and compliant.
SAP is helping businesses make better supply chain decisions through blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. This combination can deliver business confidence and empower customer trust. It enables the vital traceability that lays the technological foundation for retailers to accelerate and demonstrate ethical and sustainable business practices. Examples include minimising the impact of fast fashion and being able to follow the entire production journey of fair-trade produce. The time is now to evaluate all parts of supply chains and production processes, not merely adjust a small component and risk a ‘green wash’ to the public as large scale sustainable change. This necessitates genuine leadership and will allow technology to be harnessed as a ‘coming together’ of good business and societal impact to create shared value at scale.
To fulfil this potential also requires a commitment to education alongside technology to cultivate and develop talent, and support nascent entrepreneurs and their developing ideas, businesses and networks. I visited the SAP Next-Gen lab, a space dedicated to infusing open innovation with purpose. They provide events, programs and mentoring that gives access to expert advice from academia, business and technology, including SAP employees and partners.
This is all aligned to the ethos and aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and during my visit to the SAP House, I was delighted to see this commitment taken further with the announcement of SDG Ambition – a new SDGs implementation framework launched by Global Compact, SAP and Accenture to help scale business impact and focus on measuring sustainability. This can help both catalyse a decade of action and support conscious consumerism to thrive. I believe wholeheartedly in advancing purpose driven business that embraces impact as a core tenant. We can do well by doing good and this is best achieved by bringing together business, technology, education and society so that systems, people and processes work in harmony. I look forward to sharing more about this journey to the realisation of the UN’s Agenda 2030 and moving beyond this new era of conscious consumerism, to one of conscious futurism too.
Dr. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technologies and a Global Strategic Advisor on Digital Transformation specialising in the application of emergent technologies, notably AI, FinTech, Blockchain & 5G disciplines, for business transformation and social impact at scale. An international Keynote Speaker and Author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations in 2018 and has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’ founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion and diversity in the technology space and beyond.
Dr. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technologies and a Global Strategic Advisor on Digital Transformation specialising in the application of emergent technologies, notably AI, FinTech, Blockchain & 5G disciplines, for business transformation and social impact at scale. An international Keynote Speaker and Author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations in 2018 and has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’ founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion, diversity and belonging in the technology space and beyond.