Sustainable beauty success? But what do customers think?

Huge strides have been made in recent years towards greater sustainability within the beauty industry. We’ve seen a boom in beauty products that are better for the planet and people, 

with ingredients and packaging in many cases, being given a complete eco-overhaul. 

However, unless we see more positive customer perception, it’s hard to imagine how the sustainable beauty industry can be an outright success, reports CosmeticsDesign-Europe

Last year, the two top beauty trends to watch in the EMEA region (identified by CosmeticsDesign-Europe) were green beauty and self-care society. These two concepts see the worlds of good-for-the-planet and good-for-me (aka wellbeing) collide. Together, they encapsulate the move towards more mindful consumption. 

Speaking at SEPAWA 2021, Tina Choi-Odenwald, research director and head of beauty and home at market research firm GIM explained how mindful consumption was becoming an increasingly crucial customer trend throughout the beauty industry and beyond. 

There are all sorts of words that tap into the realm of mindful consumption. These include: sustainable, natural, organic, ethical, eco-friendly, and healthy, to name but a few. 

As a result, when we talk about mindful consumption, it’s as complex as it is holistic. According to Choi-Odenwald: “It’s about the environment and sustainability, but also health aspects, for example, doing something good to respect yourself, your body, and also respect others.” 

From a customers’ point of view, this level of complexity can seem like a bit of a minefield. For instance, some terms – such as ‘sustainable’ – have different interpretations for different people. 

According to a recent GIM online survey, there are five customer perceptions of sustainability. These are: climatic sustainability; resource sustainability; ecological sustainability; social responsibility; and economic sustainability. 

Two of those were found to be front of mind for consumers when it comes to sustainability: resource sustainability (saving vital resources such as water, food and land), and ecological sustainability (protecting the world’s precious ecosystem). That’s not to say the other definitions are deemed unimportant to customers, rather that climatic sustainability, for example, is not what immediately comes to mind when they hear the word ‘sustainable’. 

Choi-Odenwald went on to speak about customers being driven by the desire to buy ‘better for the environment’ and ‘better for me’. However, central to this is customer perception. Unless a consumer perceives a product as completely sustainable and buys it, it can never really be deemed a success. 

Sometimes, reality doesn’t necessarily align with consumer beliefs. Take a plastic bottle, for example. The first thing customers see when they look at it is that plastic bottle floating in the sea. By contrast, glass cardboard and paper carry far more positive connotations for consumers – despite these not always offering the most sustainable alternative. 

The answer lies in education. Manufacturers and brands that have well-refined, sustainable packaging need to communicate its benefits clearly and concisely to the consumer.

As for whether brands need to focus their efforts on sustainability perceptions or sustainability actions, it comes down to a balancing act. Education can help inform customer perceptions and help the industry move towards true sustainability. However, it’s important not to patronise customers. Ultimately, it’s about genuinely trying to make positive changes on a global level through actions. 

Another consideration for brands and retailers is that there can sometimes be a gap between customer belief, mind and behaviour. For instance, many consumers see fair trade or environmental protection as important. Yet, when they are shopping they don’t always make purchases based on those convictions. That’s not always the case, but it can happen – and for a number of reasons. 

Those reasons can be anything from price to convenience to routine. There can also be a belief behaviour gap which is linked to the perceived performance and end results of a product. In the beauty sphere, some consumers might think that sustainable products do not perform as strongly as non-sustainable products.

Other reasons consumers are interested in sustainability but are reluctant to invest in it include a lack of knowledge, transparency and conviction.

At Delta, we help retailers and brands showcase their authenticity and credibility to achieve sustainable beauty success. To find out how we can help your business, get in touch today: hello@thedeltagroup.co.uk.