In brief

In brief

  • In this new era of responsible retail, companies need to operate ethically and fairly to customers, workforce, stakeholders and our planet.
  • Purchasing decisions are increasingly influenced by retailers’ environmental and social credentials.
  • Consumers are turning to the circular economy—with fashion waste a big turn-off and grocery shoppers expecting their retailers to be responsible.
  • To adapt, retailers must focus on customer analytics and offer a brand purpose that resonates with the responsibility agenda.

Accenture’s 13th Annual Holiday Shopping Survey of 1,500 US shoppers shows how quickly consumer expectations continue to shift, with the need for responsible retail the most notable trend this year. While most consumers are feeling good about their holiday spending (around six in every seven shoppers plan to spend the same or more than they did last year), they’re also becoming far more carbon-conscious and socially aware—and they expect their retailers to reflect this. This is having a growing impact on their shopping decisions.

Consumers show a new willingness to trade retail extras in favor of environmental and social responsibility.


said they’d choose slower shipping or in-store pickups to reduce their environmental impact.


think retailers have a responsibility to address wider social issues through business practices and working conditions.


said environmental issues were very or extremely important in choosing which retailer to shop with.


want the option of packaging-free products and deliveries.

Source: 2019 Accenture US Holiday Shopping Survey

The research also casts doubt on simplistic narratives about the decline of physical retail. Shoppers still really value in-store browsing—and they’re more willing to make their purchases in-store too, especially over the holidays.

Retailers need to design stores, products and their businesses on the responsibility agenda—those that do could win this holiday season and beyond.

But they’re also reassessing what the bricks-and-mortar store is for, seeing it as a place to both do their shopping and experience a retailer’s ethos and purpose—while reducing their carbon footprint by picking up online purchases at the same time.

The customer is the channel

Smart retailers know they must be alive to these subtle shifts in consumer behavior if they want to sustain the seasonal retail surge across the whole calendar year.

They recognize a clear brand purpose and greater customer-centricity are the best ways to get the most valuable consumers to buy into the brand beyond the holidays.

It’s a tough proposition. Many retailers still struggle to generate the right kind of detailed consumer insights and translate them into a profitable purpose-led strategy the whole business can center itself around.

The solution? It’s not about making false distinctions between online and in-store retail channels. Rather it’s about recognizing that the customer is the channel—and serving the needs of each individual in each moment.

Get smart with customer data

To do that, retailers still need to get smarter about customer data, using micro-segmentation to orient the whole retail strategy (both online and in-store) around the needs and expectations of the customers who deliver the most value to the business.

Retailers should also be rethinking outdated loyalty programs, and linking up available data to identify the brand superfans—the hyper-engaged customers who are most happy to invest their money or their time in the brand.

Combined with a clear brand purpose centered around responsible retail, that’s how retailers can ensure they deliver for their customers over the holiday period, and long into the future.

Jill Standish

Senior Managing Director – Global Lead, Retail


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