Women Shopping Ethically

by Amy-Willard Cross


The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick knew that you can do business better--give people what they want, make a profit and change the way things are done. Her success showed women wanted to buy cosmetics differently.  The legions of Body Shop’s fans cared less about the fancy packaging and advertising—and more about what was inside the jar. 
Roddick helped popularize the idea of ethical consumerism and sold her company for $1.4 billion by doing so. 
Nowadays, millenials and women might want to buy everything differently.  More people care more about what’s inside the product or behind it—whatever it might be.


Now that women’s economic power is so palpable, we’re seeing a rise in ethical consumerism.
Nearly 60% of Millennials say that a company’s ethics and practices factor into their purchasing decisions, according to Intelligence Group's Cassandra report.  MarketELLE’s study on brands that the ladies love and loathe says, “Women are more likely than men to be aware of and influenced by questionable company policies. Those policies not only impact their feelings about brands and companies, but often determine who they will (or won’t) do business with”. 


Many women care about what we buy and from whom we buy.  We research before shopping.  Millenials even research while they shop-and 50% use their phones to do so in store.  


There are many tools to help consumers with research before buying.  Beyond the well-known GoodGuide, or Think Dirty, which evaluates toxicity of personal care products.  The Human Rights Campaign Buyers Guide for Workplace Equality, was early to the party evaluating LGBT policies and is responsible for huge changes in policies.  Now there are certifications that assure customers that products were made without hurting bunnies, harming forests and marine life, or that they were produced using Fair Trade Principles all along the supply chain. 
This feeling of consumer activism is making companies pay attention. Some are cleaning up their supply chains, as Apple recently announced.   Clothing companies now hone and post their sweatshop policies—and neglect to do so at their peril. 


Brands now want to reach this generation of ethical consumers.  Realizing the power of good-vertising many companies are starting to find new ways to communicate: McDonalds is building apps about their ethical practices. Walmart has committed to buying $20 billion of women-sourced goods. Companies that communicate their good messages well will do better—and see have better sales.  Consumers will reward them with their allegiance. 
Buying ethically through a gender lens is starting with the investment community. There are new financial products from Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund, Morgan Stanley and Barclays.  Barclays “Women in Leadership” ETN actually came about as the company struggled to fix its own gender equality problems: three separate employees came up with the idea of creating a financial product built around gender equality.  Although some of these products might exceed typical returns, Barclay’s Meier told the Global Banking Alliance Summit, that many investors merely ask for returns that met the standard—they are willing to forego a few points to invest ethically in companies with female leadership.  Why would people miss out on a bit of profit?  As the line in the L’Oreal commercial said, “I’m worth it.”


There are more people who think like that.  Some 12 million millennials already shop ethically, add that to the 12 million people who support non-profits advancing women and you’ve got a lot of prosperous ethical consumers who want to know what’s inside the bottle—and are willing to read the label and make the right choice.  As the second L’Oreal tagline said, “Because you’re worth it.”
            
Amy-Willard Cross is the co-founder of The BUY UP Index and editor of VITAMIN W Media.  A longtime magazine editor and author, Cross was named for suffragist Frances Willard—a comrade of her great-grandmother’s.  Where Willard saw prohibition as a path to equality, Cross thinks prosperity could lead to parity—but wouldn’t deny any grown-up a glass of wine.