Retailers In the Dark on Consumers’ Sustainability Sentiment, First Insight’s New Report Finds

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Report Published with the Wharton Baker Retailing Center Reveals Consumers Will Pay More for Sustainable Shopping Options — Major Gaps Discovered in Retail Executives’ Knowledge of Consumer Sustainability Preferences

Pittsburgh, PA—January 17, 2022—Retailers should listen more closely to their customers about their sustainable shopping preferences, according to a new report based on data collected from the nation’s top retail executives and thousands of consumers. It discovered that a profound sustainability knowledge gap exists between these two cohorts, which presents opportunities for retailers not only to bolster their reputations and enhance consumer loyalty but also to increase profits.

Retailers were surprised to learn that consumers are willing to spend more for sustainable brands.

While two-thirds of consumers say that they would pay more for sustainable products, two-thirds of retailers believe that consumers would not be willing to spend more for sustainable brands.

Equally revealing was the discovery that nearly three-quarters of the consumer respondents value product sustainability over brand name; nearly all—94 percent – of the retailers believe the opposite, saying that brand name would be more important to consumers than sustainability.

Moreover, retail executives rank brand-operated resale/recommerce programs lowest when asked what type of sustainable shopping formats consumers would utilize the most. However, 41 percent of consumers say they already shop at brand resale/recommerce programs, such as those offered by Patagonia, Lululemon, or Levi’s. 

Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight, said, “This report clearly demonstrates that retailers are leaving money on the table. Brands and retailers must listen to the voice of the customer on issues as critical as sustainability. Consumers want more than performative measures from retailers and brands when it comes to ESG priorities, which will only become more important as Gen Z grows in influence.”

First Insight partnered on this report with the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as part of the company’s ongoing commitment to providing actionable consumer insights to the retail industry. Since 2007, First Insight has been helping retailers and brands to operate more sustainably and make better decisions by using the Voice of the Customer and predictive analytics to refine buys and eliminate poor performing offerings before costly development and inventory investments are made.

“It’s imperative for retailers to understand their customers’ values so that they can adapt for the future,” said Professor Thomas Robertson, Academic Director of Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center. “For example, half of retail executives believe that price is the primary reason consumers shop across recommerce formats. In fact, only 27% of consumers agree that price is their motivation, while a combined 54% say that they shop resale because they care for the environment and prefer sustainable or circular shopping. Brands such as Vestiaire Collective and Farfetch Second Life know that there is a big future in resale, even at luxury price points.”

An earlier First Insight Wharton Baker Retailing Center report demonstrated that Gen Z leads the way in sustainability and has outsize impact on older generations, especially their Generation X parents. Gen Z’s influence extends to shopping behaviors, including in resale, with sustainable-first purchase decisions becoming more prevalent among all generations.

Other key findings include disparities on how consumers wish to be compensated for resale items, how much and how often consumers actually use recommerce, and price targets for resale items.

Ironically, all of the executives in the data set —fully 100%—assume that consumers would rate retailers low on transparency around their sustainability efforts. Yet consumers give retailers more credit, with 59% indicating that they feel retailers are being sufficiently transparent.

Download the report to see all the key findings. 

About First Insight, Inc.
First Insight, the world leader in Next-Gen Experience Management (XM), is transforming how companies make better decisions leading to a sustainable future. Customers include some of the world’s leading vertically integrated brands, sporting goods companies, department stores, consumer products companies, CPG, mass merchant retailers and wholesalers. For further information, please visit

About the Baker Retailing Center at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
The Jay H. Baker Retailing Center is an industry research center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The Center develops insights, through programs and resources, with our faculty, students, and industry leaders that influences industry research and encourages discussion on trending retail topics. Our faculty are world-renowned researchers, and our board members are globally recognized omnichannel and direct to consumer brands and retailers. The center was established in 2002 through a generous gift from Jay and Patty Baker. Jay Baker, former President and Director of the Kohl’s Corporation, is a 1956 graduate of the Wharton School. Learn more about the Wharton/Baker Retailing Center.

Methodology: First Insight's findings are based on the results of U.S. retail executive and consumer studies conducted in partnership with the Baker Retailing Center at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The executive survey was based on a sample of 51 retail senior-level business executives and was fielded in October 2021. The consumer study of more than 1,000 respondents was completed through proprietary sample sources among panels who participated online. Further details on the findings are available upon request.

Media Contact:
Berns Communications Group
Michael McMullan

First Insight Contact:
Gretchen Jezerc
SVP of Marketing

Baker Retailing Center Contact:
Mina Fader
Managing Director

Report  sustainability  CONSUMER REPORT  Senior Retail Executives