‘Twas the Season… to Shop Responsibly

It’s a new year, but reflecting on the 2020 holiday season— COVID-19 spiking since Thanksgiving, the lingering US election drama, social division— our new Social Justice Research Department had to know how this would have an impact on people— and more specifically— their shopping habits.

We conducted a survey asking consumers how their shopping has or hasn’t changed. We wanted to know not just how holiday shopping has changed in terms of volume and method, but also if attitudes have changed. Has a global pandemic affected where consumers choose to shop? How much does corporate responsibility matter to consumers? Have the experiences of this year influenced what types of gifts consumers gave? The answer to all of these questions was a resounding yes— but let’s see what that really means.

Consumers tried to shop more responsibly in 2020 – not only when it came to their physical safety, but also in an effort to support their communities and socially responsible businesses.

Not surprisingly, online shopping rose last year for both strictly e-commerce stores and big box chains. Consumers took advantage of stores offering curbside or in-store pickup to limit the amount of time they spent inside a store.

But while consumers say they shopped online more, that didn’t necessarily mean that the big chains had an advantage. Shopping local was a priority, with 58% of respondents reporting that they have/will shop more at small businesses to support their local economy even if that means shopping somewhere new. Additionally, consumers looked closer at what products they gifted, expressing a desire to do their research and give practical presents that the recipient will truly value and find useful.

Perhaps most interestingly, shoppers stepped up their own social responsibility by demanding it from retailers, even if it cost them a bit more. Descriptions of personal behavior are often more aspirational than accurate but nevertheless, respondents reported that they will be patronizing businesses that are looking to “make a difference” and are supporting their community. This includes shopping at stores that align with their values, particularly when it comes to supporting small/local businesses, food banks and food security programs, and sustainability/environmental preservation.


What makes a company/brand socially responsible?

At the top of the list is how companies treat their employees. Many people have been subjected to economic uncertainty as layoffs, closing businesses, and illnesses have threatened their livelihood. The public is noticing how businesses have treated their employees in this time of crisis and are willing to use the power of the dollar to express their opinions on this treatment. In alignment with fair treatment of employees, consumers want to see a diverse and inclusive culture with ethical and sustainable practices. Gone are the days of hitting the mall and buying what catches the eye in a store window— this past holiday season, shoppers shifted to making purchases with a social impact.

So what does this all mean for businesses?

Actions matter. Ethics matter. Social responsibility matters. Consumers— people—  pay attention to where their hard-earned money is going, and they want to shop at businesses that not only talk the talk but walk the walk.

The best way for corporations and brands to attract their consumers isn’t to simply offer rock-bottom prices and gimmicky sales— it’s to show that they care about the welfare of their communities, families, and homes as much as their valued shoppers do. After all, isn’t that the true meaning of the holiday season?

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