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Are Your Customers Eco-Centric or Eco-Chic?

November 17, 2008

Not all green customers are created equal. According to new analysis from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), there is significant disparity in how well environmentally conscious consumers actually follow their convictions by purchasing environmentally friendly products—and those convictions factor heavily into repeat purchase decisions.

According to Robert I. Tomei, IRI’s president of consumer and shopper insights, 82% of the population claims to make going green a priority, “but as this data proves, the behaviors of those consumers vary drastically. While certain green conscious consumers do make a concerted effort to buy green products, there are certain segments of the population that are environmentally sensitive but that does not necessarily translate into their actual behavior. This inconsistency is the real challenge for marketers and retailers in order for them to fully understand the nuances of green consumers and how to market to them effectively.”

The IRI analysis comes via research based on TNS’ Shades of Green, a consumer segmentation approach generated from a comprehensive global environmental survey of thousands of individuals. By analyzing survey responses, TNS separated consumers into eight distinct attitudinal segments based upon environmental concerns. By applying the TNS Shades of Green segmentation to its U.S. Consumer Network purchase panel, IRI was able to link the attitudes that individuals have toward the environment with their actual shopping and purchasing behavior to determine whether “concerned” individuals actually follow through by purchasing environmentally sound products.

According to IRI, despite containing individuals who claim eco-friendly beliefs, two key environmental attitudinal consumer segments—the “eco-centrics” and the “eco-chic”—show extremely different behavioral patterns related to green product purchases. While eco-centric consumers have shown a willingness to change their buying behavior and a commitment to use of environmentally-friendly products, the eco-chic segment, comprised of younger, more trend-influenced consumers, appears more interested in riding the wave of environmental consciousness by claiming to embrace environmental concerns, but not following through with their dollars.

Eco-chic consumers did show a willingness to try some green products at a comparable rate to the eco-centrics, but unlike the eco-centrics, the eco-chic consumers ultimately returned to their favorite non-green brands. For example, the eco-chic group was quick to purchase products from a recently launched eco-friendly household cleaning line, according to IRI, but their repeat rates for the same products were well below the general population average. In addition, when asked to choose between taste and perceived quality versus environmental friendliness, they ultimately chose the former as seen by lower than average purchasing of eco-friendly food and beauty items in categories, including cereal, milk, oral care and skin care.

On the flip side, the eco-centric segment, comprised of high-income, educated urbanites actively doing their part to protect and improve the environment, truly appears to follow through on their environmental beliefs with purchases of eco-friendly products. In 15 of 16 eco-friendly product groups analyzed, eco-centrics tried products at a rate above the general population. Their willingness to try eco-friendly products spans from their food and beverage purchases to their personal care and cleaning product purchases, including oral care, skin care and laundry detergent. And, what really matters to manufacturers is that they continued to purchase these eco-friendly products illustrating their long-term environmental commitment. According to IRI, there were especially high repeat indices for dish detergents.

“Given some of the obvious issues that consumers face in today’s market, such as high gas prices, higher unemployment rates and concerns over the financial investment community, it will be increasingly more challenging for many consumers to incorporate their sensitivity to the environment into their actual behavior, particularly for those green products that may cost more to purchase,” said Mr. Tomei. “This analysis proves not only the efficacy of the Shades of Green segments in defining consumers to target, but also the undeniable importance of green positioning to manufacturers and retailers.”

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