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Surprising Percentage of Consumers Will Pay More for Sustainable Brands

Consumers will shop less, more sustainably and more online in 2021, a new survey about the lifestyle changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has found.

In a poll of 500 consumers from the United States, United Kingdom and the rest of Europe by Wovn, a retail analytics platform, respondents reported dialing down their overall wardrobe spending by 25 percent. Drilled down by category, party wear saw the biggest decline, with consumers purchasing 64 percent less, followed by workwear (-55 percent) and shoes and accessories (-27 percent). Only loungewear saw a boost from the lockdowns, ticking up 13 percent.

Consumers are also changing the way they spend their dollars, the report noted. As shoppers continue to shun brick-and-mortar stores that don’t stock household essentials, online spending rose an average of more than 23 percent, accelerating the pre-crisis transition to e-commerce by as much as five years.

The behavior is split by age group: older consumers aged 55 and up were the least likely to have shopped for clothing online pre-coronavirus. They also demonstrated the smallest migration to e-commerce out of all the demographics. Consumers aged between 35 and 44, on the other hand, reported the highest average percentage of online clothing purchases. Gen Z consumers aged 24 and under were also more likely than millennial consumers aged 25 to 44 to make their fashion purchases online.

“It’s possible that these younger consumers are generally more inclined than their older counterparts to see clothing shopping as a social activity,” Wovn wrote. “As physical retail returns to importance in 2021, brands will need to think about how to monitor these shifting preferences.”

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Despite tightened pursestrings due to increased job insecurity resulting from the pandemic, 40 percent of respondents said the clothes they are buying now are more expensive. Just one-fifth reported buying cheaper garments.

Most of them claimed they’re trying to buy less fast fashion (69 percent of respondents) and that they care more about sustainability (63 percent), though Wovn pointed out that cheap retailers such as Boohoo have also raked in enormous profits over the past year, “so it remains to be seen whether consumers will follow through.” The implication, however, is that by buying less and buying better, consumers are moving toward more mindful shopping—or at the very least, they aspire to.

These changes in behavior, Wovn said, might be here for the long haul. An overwhelming number of respondents—89 percent—said that they’re likely to maintain some of the shifts they’ve made even after Covid-19’s been nipped in the bud, with the most popular being “buying less” (39 percent) and “shopping more sustainably” (19 percent). A smaller number of those polled also said that they plan to patronize smaller businesses, buy more secondhand and home in on higher-quality items.

In what may be indicative of increasing awareness of the impact of the fashion industry on the climate, 84 percent of respondents were willing to pay more for clothing from a sustainable brand. Consumers also want corporations to be held to greater account.

While 55 percent of respondents said brands should be the most responsible for reducing clothing production’s environmental impact, only 18 percent said consumers should be the ones primarily responsible.

At the same time, consumers are expecting brands to cast greater scrutiny on their supply chains. Looking ahead to 2021, 86 percent of respondents said they wanted brands to focus more on sustainability and/or ethical labor practices. In a nod to reducing consumption, a third (31 percent) of those polled said they would like to see brands do fewer drops this year. “Very few,” the study noted, or 2 percent, said they wanted to see more drops. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of respondents said they expect brands to lower prices, “perhaps signaling a growing consumer understanding that ethical production of quality clothes isn’t cheap,” Wovn said.

The brands that survive post-pandemic, the company said, will be the ones that are able to pivot in response to these changing consumer tastes, habits and sentiments.

“No one knows exactly what 2021 will bring or whether consumers will stick to their new habits as much as they say they will. If anything is for certain, it’s that things will look significantly different a year from now,” Wovn added. “Genuinely more sustainable practices and more listening to customers will be absolutely essential for survival.”