How can brands adapt for a sustainable holiday season?

Consumers are planning eco-friendly celebrations. What does this mean for brands?
21 December 2022
sustainable shopping
Karine Trinquetel

Global Sustainability Offer Lead

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With increased concerns about sustainability, many are starting to feel some discomfort in navigating the festive season as they think about how to have an eco-friendly end-of-year holiday without skimping on the festive magic. We explore how people’s attitudes toward sustainability influence how they decide to celebrate and what this means for brand owners. The survey was carried out online between December 9-11, 2022 and covered 12 countries: USA, Colombia, Argentina, UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, South Africa, India, China, and Australia. We interviewed 4800 people in total, with 400 national representative interviews in each country.

Making the festive season sustainable to keep its magic

If people look forward to the festive season, between over-consumption and waste, people’s desire to do whatever they can to fight climate change and environmental issues remain. At a time typically charged with an abundance of goodwill, people are looking for ways to make the festivities more sustainable.

Sustainable shopping chart 1

In terms of what people are trying to do during these end-of-year festivities, two things stand out globally: first 46% say that they are trying to be mindful of food waste and second people are looking to buy less but better, as 45% say they favor quality over quantity. 

Across Europe, people are being particularly mindful of their energy usage this winter, including their use of decorative lights. In India, Columbia, Italy, France and Australia, people are also making an effort to eat what is in season. 

The topic of gifting is another important area of consideration with 34% globally saying they try to choose gifts sustainably and responsibly. 

Exchanging gifts with friends and family is one of the top 3 most important aspects of end-of-year festivities, yet for 25% of people the exchange of presents can sometimes feel excessive.  

sustainable shopping chart 2

For the majority, 64%, the festive season is first and foremost a time for them to connect with their loved ones. Celebrating traditions also plays an important role for half of the population across the globe, and one of these has become exchanging gifts with friends and family. Unfortunately, 64% globally say they have received gifts they didn't end up using or didn’t want during end-of-year celebrations. 

sustainable shopping chart 3

Black Friday and Cyber Monday fueling a culture of overconsumption

We asked people when they start to buy presents for the end-of-year festivities. With some local differences, 38% start before Black Friday and Cyber Monday and almost as many, 36%, start after. For brand owners, it means that people are not only just after deals; the consideration and planning around gift shopping goes beyond the frenzy of these well-known commercial events. 

That said 42% of people globally actively took part in Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales, and amongst this group, 67% have purchased gifts on these occasions.
Amongst the gifts purchased, there is a mix of planned and unplanned purchases:

  • 46% said they bought gifts they would have bought anyway
  • 41% said they bought gifts they chose when browsing because they were on deal (that’s 17% amongst national representative population)

This year, we have seen an increasing number of brands opting out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday due to the negative impact it has on the planet and the unfair treatment of workers in the process of manufacturing and distribution of products. A quarter of the population globally say they purposefully avoided Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year. This movement is even stronger in Australia and Europe, reaching 41% in Germany.

sustainable shopping chart 2

Ultimately, for a large majority of people, these events feed consumerism; purchasing based on impulse rather than necessity as 59% agree Black Friday and Cyber Monday encourage overconsumption, while only 10% disagree.

How can brands adapt for a Sustainable Festive Season? 

Navigating end-of-year celebrations can be challenging for both people and brands. Discomfort around over-consumption and waste is palpable, yet people want to make people feel loved and appreciated at this time of the year. Similarly, brands can be conflicted between the commercial opportunity of the festivities and their desire to advance their sustainable agenda. We share three considerations for brands to embrace a planet-friendly end-of-year:

1. Don’t let your brand become the gift that people wish they didn’t get

The festive season is a key opportunity to tap into sustainability trends and show people that you are aligned with their push for greener festivities and lifestyles. This means showing up with offers designed to last, favoring quality over quantity, being more local and seasonal, and minimizing waste, including eco-friendly packaging. Gift shopping starts early, so the best activation will come from ongoing efforts that authentically meet evolving consumer expectations around sustainability.

2. Take a different approach to Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Whether taking part in Black Friday and Cyber Monday degrades perceptions of your brand, or not, is undefined. However, as a growing number of people feel strongly about these events, making a statement for more sustainable consumption at this moment could certainly send a strong signal about where your brand stands on the question of sustainability. Part of defeating overconsumption is about promoting more responsible consumption, for example, through second-hand and reconditioned products. Promoting or discounting sustainable offerings or services only during these events might be a way to differentiate, whilst taking part in this highly competitive moment for brands. 

3. Embrace circular thinking and stay away from landfills

If, unfortunately, you do end up being the unwanted gift, consider how you can make it easy for people to regift, swap or return your products. Learn from how people dispose of your products and utilize this knowledge to adapt and optimize your portfolios with circular thinking.

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