Stories are powerful. They help brands and retailers explain their place in the world and relate to shoppers and consumers in ways that no discount scheme or store design ever could. So in a world where 76 percent of shoppers say they want to be as informed as possible before making a purchase, brands and retailers have an opportunity to tell that story to an interested audience.

That’s where values come into play. Today’s shoppers approach their purchases with an eye to what the brands say about themselves and what buying their products says about the shopper. And just like all other parts of the shopper’s experience, merchants should take pains to be sure that consumers like what they see. That means aligning on values.

Shoppers Value Socially Responsible Brands

Our Shopper Influence research found that about 62 percent of shoppers believe that their purchases are a reflection of their personality. This means that for three out of every five shoppers, the brand’s story about itself and its products should be a reflection of how the shoppers see themselves and their social impact. The purchases become rather personal, even for everyday items that aren’t status symbols.

And about half of shoppers today expect brands to be socially responsible and conscious of their place in society, agreeing that brands and companies “making a positive difference in the world in which we live” is a major point of consideration during the purchase process. So not only are consumers looking for brands that tell stories that match up with their own, but shoppers also expect those brands to live up to the promises made by the stories they’ve told.

These are majorities, but not nearly overwhelming ones. And they’re definitely new to the retail landscape. But looking at generational data, it’s clear that this dynamic is here to stay and will strengthen in the future.

Social Responsibility Will Become More Important

On every metric we tested, older shoppers proved to be less interested in using issues of social responsibility in their purchase decision. The values of their generation do not motivate even a third of boomers to say that a company’s stance on equality, civil rights, economic fairness, or even transparent business practices should be a major consideration for a purchase. In this, they stand alone.

The shoppers who will control the bulk of purchasing power in the future, particularly millennials and Gen Z, disagree considerably with their older counterparts. They’re 15 percentage points more likely to say that a company making a positive difference in the world should be a strong consideration. They’re 16 points more likely to say the same about gender, racial, and LGBTQ+ equality or providing affordable healthcare for employees, and 12 points more likely for giving back to charity or being environmentally responsible. These shoppers value social and environmental responsibility and they expect to see it from brands and corporations in ways that their older counterparts do not.

For retailers, the time to adjust to this shopper reality is now. Consider the following steps to protect and grow your market share in the years to come:

  1. Build a brand story that reflects values and a commitment to the community, not just profit. If you’re already doing DEI work or engaging in community outreach, center that work in your brand story rather than letting it be a fringe message. Seek out the best way to effectively communicate that story with your customers.
  2. Think about the ways in which your business, from manufacturing and sourcing to supply chain logistics and point of sale, reflect or contradict your stated values. Then look at how it all lines up with the values held by your customer base. Once it does, be sure they know.
  3. Do the research to thoroughly understand your customers and their values. People and social norms change, so that work shouldn’t be static. It requires constant attention and revision to stay relevant and properly guide your business. Once you know what issues your customers care about the most, you can craft a story that really speaks to them.
  4. Prepare for change and be ready to discern between societal shifts and passing backlash. Planting a flag around a particular issue can be scary, but shoppers expect the companies from which they buy to stand for something rather than nothing.

Shoppers have never been static in their expectations of retailers and brands. The current climate is no exception. Keeping a pulse on evolving shopper values will position your organization for success and growth into the future.