Love a Brand or Leave It: Gen Z and the Rise of the Conscious Consumer

Love a Brand or Leave It: Gen Z and the Rise of the Conscious Consumer
The move to more conscious, values-driven shopping is growing year on year. Learn more about how you can tap into the conscious shopping mindset authentically.
by Square Feb 22, 2023 — 4 min read
Love a Brand or Leave It: Gen Z and the Rise of the Conscious Consumer

The move to more conscious, values-driven shopping is growing year on year, and the pandemic has only supercharged the trend. Consumers are demanding locally made, environmentally sustainable and ethical products. Our Future of Retail report – a survey of 1,000 shoppers and 500 retailers – reveals that a brand’s values and ethics matter to 88% of Australian shoppers.

“Consumers are becoming more value-driven when it comes to their shopping,” says Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra.

“They resonate more strongly with the brands that reflect the social and environmental issues that are important to them, so issues like sustainability are becoming key issues for businesses in terms of their customer relationships,” Paul says.

That’s across all age groups, but it’s Gen Z that’s leading the charge. Research by Afterpay shows that 57% of Gen Z shoppers try to buy sustainable products where possible and 42% are loyal to brands that use transparent and ethical advertising. In fact 20% of Gen Z shoppers reported abandoning a brand in the past year because it had a poor reputation for ethics and sustainability. (The good news is 68% were willing to forgive, and return to, a brand they felt had changed its ways.)

What’s more, according to a University of Pennsylvania study discussed by Forbes, Gen Z consumers have an “outsized influence on not only their Gen X parents but even their Boomer grandparents when it comes to sustainable shopping”.

There are huge opportunities for businesses of all sizes here. Conscious shoppers are prepared to pay more for products that fit with their values. In fact, sometimes they expect to pay more. A recent UK university study found “a positive correlation between the price and consumption of ethical goods and indicated that consumers would boycott goods which they believed were not ethically produced”. In other words, consumers accept that it costs more to create an ethical product, and they may in fact be turned off by one that seems too cheap.

So, how do you reach the environmentally conscious or ethical shopper? And what messages will help you cut through? We’ll concentrate on three main areas that, done right, can help you reach that values-driven customer, boost your bottom line and help the planet. We’ll look at how to find your purpose and tell your story, and where you should be telling it (spoiler: think omnichannel).

Find your purpose

Tapping into the conscious shopping market requires you to find your purpose, beyond just making money. This could be as simple as asking, “Why were we founded?” A restaurant exists to feed people and make them feel good. From there, you might ask “What can we do about all this waste?” Suddenly a hundred possibilities for sustainability open up.

It might help to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Here are some of the main questions they may be thinking of:


Make sure the purpose you land on is authentic to you and your brand. It almost goes without saying that those shopping with their values (voting with their dollars is another way we can think about this) are on high alert for insincere brands jumping on the greenwashing or social justice bandwagons.

Based in Perth and recently branching out to Sydney, Second Life Markets offers a case study in authenticity. It’s a quarterly event for vintage and pre-loved clothing collectors as well as local designers and artists – its founders, Stella and Meg, say greenwashing is a persistent problem in fashion, especially fast fashion.

“Fast fashion and sustainability can never work together. Buying quality, only buying what you need, and buying second-hand, are all steps we can make towards creating a greener planet,” they say.

“Fashion isn’t going away, so this movement is about creating a more circular fashion system, and for us as individual consumers to change our mindset towards thoughtful and sustainable purchasing decisions.”

Tip: With Square for Retail’s Customer Directory, you can create custom fields such as toggles for customer preferences like “Australian-made” or “ethically produced”.

Share your story

Once you have found your purpose, you need to get the word out there. Conscious shoppers need to trust and emotionally connect with their chosen brands. Vivid storytelling that captures the “why” of your business is so important. Make sure your copywriting is on point and speaks consistently across your channels.

As we said, authenticity is critical. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect from day one. There’s room in your storytelling to explain that you’re on a journey. For example, Patagonia, the poster child for ethical and responsible outdoor wear, highlights the areas in which it falls short by using less-than-perfect materials in certain products – and uses the opportunity to explain what it’s doing to improve things.

Think omnichannel

Remember we said that Gen Z is spearheading the push to values-driven shopping? It’s no coincidence that these digital natives expect to find answers online. Strategically, think omnichannel – how your eCommerce presence, your chosen social media platforms and your physical store, if applicable, work together.

As data analysts NielsenIQ point out, “conscious consumers are omnichannel shoppers by nature”.

“Omnichannel shoppers take their research seriously; they search for relevant attribute keywords online, educate themselves on ingredients and materials, engage with brands on social media to discover products, investigate product reviews, and dive deep into finding products and brands that align with their values.”

Keep in mind that many customers, particularly in the Gen Z and Millennial demographics, are opting to shop where they spend the most time online: on social media. As these platforms build increasingly engaging in-app shopping experiences, retailers that think strategically about their social selling are in a position to drive increased revenue. Square can help you with real-time integration for Facebook and Instagram.

Whatever your omnichannel strategy, don’t forget to lead with that narrative of purpose and sustainability, and highlight what you’re doing that sets you apart from your less-conscious competitors.

With these three areas covered, hopefully your business or brand can put its best foot forward, with purpose, to meet the ever-expanding market for high-quality, ethically made products that today’s conscious shopper is already searching for.

The Bottom Line is brought to you by a global team of collaborators who believe that anyone should be able to participate and thrive in the economy.


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