The Shopping Bag of Socially Responsible Consumers
Have you ever purchased something because the proceeds were going to a good cause? Most of us have. But have you ever followed up after the purchase to find out what kind of impact your purchase had? We talk a lot about socially responsible businesses but we very rarely, if at all, talk about what it means to be a socially responsible consumer.
We live in a world where socially responsible efforts are prompting cause-marketing campaigns. The cause-based promotions have come to be “expected” in businesses by consumers. But are there socially responsible expectations of consumers?
In the last few weeks of my graduate marketing strategies class, we focused on corporate ethics and social responsibility. During that time, I had read a classmate’s blog post on TOMS Shoes. TOMS, a company founded on CSR efforts, has a commitment summed up in their slogan, One for OneTM. For every pair of TOMS shoes sold, a child in need receives a free pair of shoes.
Being a huge TOMS Shoes fan, I was intrigued. I love my TOMS. Even my 15-month-old sports a pair of sparkling glitter TOMS. I must admit, even though I am aware of TOMS business model, their socially conscious efforts did not sway my purchase. I bought them because they looked... well, cute. I am pretty sure Nordstrom carries the brand because of their high fashion and sell-through rate. The charitable angle is nothing more but an added bonus.
The rest of my class was quick to comment about how socially responsible TOMS Shoes is. I decided to dig a little deeper and found that the company has recently been challenged by Cheryl Davenport, Director of Mission Measurement. In a recent Forbes magazine article, Davenport had this to say, “Toms could actually strengthen their business model by moving away from charity and toward scalable manufacturing and production practices that better monetize Toms by pulling former ‘charity cases’ into an actual productive economic relationship with Toms and with one another.”
I think Davenport’s point is that people feel good buying TOMS, but is anyone really making sure TOMS is solving a social problem? Maybe consumers just don’t bother to take the extra time to find out, or maybe they don’t care? Whatever the case may be, consumers are expecting more from companies without parallel expectations from themselves. We live in an age where we expect the world from businesses. Businesses who are all trying to vie for market share in a down economy.
The economic climate won’t be down forever, (I hope), so when do the tables get turned onto the consumer? Maybe never, but it sure is something to think about. My advice is, next time you are out shopping and you see a brand’s charitable product promotion, percolate some questions in your head. Maybe start with something simple like, “Is this making a real impact?” or “Are they just trying to sell me a product?” Chances are they are just trying to sell you a product. That being said, the product might be making a real impact and you, as a consumer, have the opportunity to be a driving force behind it.
The take-away here is that being a socially responsible consumer is about being knowledgeable. And being knowledgeable only stems from asking questions.
Ever wonder where your food comes from? Stay tuned for my post on Erin Byers Murray, a chic Boston editor who asked this very same question, and how she ditched her lavish lifestyle to work on a sustainable oyster farm.