Consumers: Social Responsibility Matters in Some Areas More Than Others

April 5, 2023

A slim majority of consumers in the US agree that they try to buy from brands that act responsibly, even if it means spending more. Recent survey results [pdf] from KPMG indicate that social responsibility is important to one-third of consumers when making purchasing decisions, with some criteria more important than others.

Indeed, the most important social responsibility topics to consumers when making purchase decisions are related to employees. Among those respondents who said that social responsibility is important to them, employee human rights carries the most heft as a topic, followed by employee living wages and employee and supply chain health and safety. This is supported by other research that has likewise found that when it comes to brand activism, consumers care most about how employees are treated.

The KPMG survey of almost 1,100 US consumers also reveals that the importance of social responsibility in purchase decisions tends to decrease alongside age. Of note, though, while the youngest respondents in the survey (Gen Zers under the age of 18) were the most likely to place importance on brands’ social responsibility, separate research has found that Gen Zers are the least likely to believe brands’ sustainability claims.

So how do consumers make up their minds about social responsibility? As it turns out, among those who say that a company’s social responsibility is important to their purchase decisions, a leading 51% determine a product’s social responsibility by checking the product label for social responsibility claims. This is followed by 42% who rely on word of mouth as important to their determination, while others identify these brands based on product marketing (39%) or research the company’s social responsibility efforts online (also 39%). Only about 1 in 4 (26%) say that an important way of determining this is by relying on social media influencers that they follow.

Meanwhile, there are some categories in which social responsibility is a more important part of the decision-making process than others. Restaurants lead the way, with 43% of respondents overall saying that they would be extremely likely or likely to choose a particular brand in this category because of its social responsibility values or commitments. That’s followed closely by Apparel (42%) and Personal Care Products (41%). Fewer are likely to choose brands in the Automotive (29%) and Toys (29%) categories on that basis.

Overall, close to 1 in 3 (31% share) would be extremely likely or likely to boycott brands they believe are not environmentally sustainable. Among respondents who say that social responsibility is important to their purchase decisions, that figure rises to almost half (48%).

Separately, the report finds that adults expect to generally spend more rather than less this year on essential categories, with 58% expecting to spend more on Groceries versus just 9% expecting to spend less, and 54% planning to spend more on Automotive compared to 15% who will cut back. By contrast, more expect to pull back than hike their spending in discretionary categories such as Office/School Supplies, Hobby Supplies, Furniture, and Toys. This aligns with another recent study which also found consumers likely to spend more on essentials but to cut back on discretionary areas.

For more, check out the report here [pdf].

About the Data: The results are based on a January-February survey of 1,091 consumers, including 100 Gen Zers under the age of 18. Those respondents were excluded from the category spending expectations results.


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