UK Consumers More Focused on Recommerce, Reducing Carbon Footprint and Sustainable Packaging than US Counterparts, According to New First Insight Sustainability Report

UK consumers more skeptical than US consumers that brands are sufficiently transparent around sustainability efforts

A First Insight report reveals fundamental differences between UK and US consumers when it comes to their preferences on sustainable shopping. While recommerce is an important sustainable shopping format in both countries, major differences arise in its utilization. The report found that 57% of UK respondents sell items to secondhand markets while fully 61% of US respondents do not sell items to secondhand markets. Moreover, on a generational basis, 40% more UK Gen Z sell to resale platforms such as ThredUp or Tradsey than their US counterparts, with nearly 30% more UK Millennials than US doing the same.

More than 1,100 UK-based consumers were queried for The State of Consumer Spending: UK Shoppers Are Motivated by Recommerce, Reducing Carbon Footprint, and Sustainable Packagingthe fourth in a series of First Insight reports focusing on consumer sentiment and shopping behavior around sustainability. Differences between the two countries’ preferences were identified on topics including pricing for sustainable products, recommerce, defining and prioritizing sustainable products, and packaging.

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“A cookie-cutter approach to producing, marketing, and selling sustainable products will no longer work for brands and retailers across borders. It’s critical, especially with ESG priorities, that brands understand how to communicate effectively with their communities.”

The report discovered that while an almost equal number of consumers in both the US and UK prefer to shop sustainable brands, 30% of UK consumers do so in order to reduce their carbon footprint, as opposed to 22% in the US. The study also concluded that 80% of UK consumers believe too much packaging accompanies online purchases compared to only 71% of US consumers.

UK consumers were also found to be more skeptical and demanding on transparency than those in the US. Only 49% of UK consumers believe that retailers and brands are sufficiently transparent around their sustainability efforts compared to 59% in the US. Furthermore, 82% of consumers in the UK expect retailers to be more sustainable compared to just 76% in the US.

“In a world where global commerce is quickly becoming the norm, geographical nuances must be understood in order for brands and retailers to remain competitive,” said Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight. “A cookie-cutter approach to producing, marketing, and selling sustainable products will no longer work for brands and retailers across borders. It’s critical, especially with ESG priorities, that brands understand how to communicate effectively with their communities.”

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Highlights from the report include:

Generational Differences on Paying More for Sustainability

  • Overall, both nations’ consumers are aligned in their willingness to pay more for sustainability. Equal numbers of consumers—83% — in the US and UK say they would pay at least 10% more for sustainable products. Compelling differences arise when looking at different generations, especially between Baby Boomers and Generation X. Eighty-five percent of UK Baby Boomers say that they would pay at least 10% more for sustainable products, compared to just 76% of US Baby Boomers. For Generation X, only 76% of UK consumers would pay more versus 88% in the US.

Recommerce Disparities:

  • Sustainable retail models such as recommerce or consignment sites, brand-operated recommerce, and subscription boxes are utilized more in the US than in the UK. Combined across models, 84% of consumers in the US utilize these formats compared to 76% in the UK. Both countries’ consumers use resale/consignment options such as Tradesy the most at about 44% for each, while 41% of US consumers use brand-operated recommerce sites versus only 32% of UK consumers.
  • Fifty-seven percent of the UK’s Gen Z demographic prefer to sell or buy from third-party resale platforms such as ThredUp or Poshmark while 56% of US Gen Zers prefer to purchase second-hand items from the retailer or brand itself.
  • Preferred resale purchase categories differ between members of Gen Z in the UK and US, with footwear the most popular category at 27% for UK Gen Zers followed by apparel at 20%. In the US, Gen Z prefer apparel at 37% versus footwear at 28%.

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Differences in Defining and Prioritizing Sustainable Products:

  • Interestingly, the very definition of sustainability differs between UK and US consumers, even among Gen Z consumers. Overall, the greatest percentage of both country’s consumers believe that sustainability means products made from recycled, sustainable and naturally harvested fibers and materials. Yet when examining generational demographics, 48% of American Gen Zers define sustainability as sustainable manufacturing, while only 28% of their UK Gen Z counterparts agree.
  • Even though UK consumers do not rank sustainability as highly as a purchase consideration as US consumers do, both sets of consumers agree that sustainability is more important to them than brand name. In fact, UK consumers rank importance of brand name even lower than US consumers do, with 49% of consumers in the UK saying it matters versus 56% in the US.
  • Nearly an equal number of consumers in both countries prefer to shop sustainable brands, but for different reasons. Thirty percent of UK consumers shop sustainable brands in order to reduce their carbon footprint or, nearly equally (29%), to reduce production waste. Only 22% of US consumers rated those answers as reasons to shop sustainable brands.

UK More Focused on Improving and Using Less Packaging:

  • Sustainable packaging is important to both consumer sets, with 75% of UK respondents edging out 73% of those in the US.
  • Eighty-one percent of consumers in the UK prefer eco-friendly or environmentally conscious packaging compared to 78% in the US.
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