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Published April 21st 2020

Sustainable, Local, Ethical: How is Covid-19 Changing Our Shopping Habits?

Ethical and sustainable shopping have seen a boost in conversation since the outbreak began. What's behind the trend?

Using our Consumer Research tool, we wanted to investigate how the pandemic had affected consumer appetite for sustainable/ethical goods and shopping local.

To investigate, we searched for English-language mentions of these kinds of shopping in March 2020. Here’s what we found.

All the rage

In March, 261k people took to social media to discuss local, ethical, and sustainable online shopping, and discussion jumped up as lockdown measures came into place.

Comparing March 2020 to Dec 2019 (when we’re shopping for the holiday season), the conversation was up 362%.

What are people buying?

In particular, English-language mentions of sustainable products (items which don’t deplete the Earth of natural resources) were up 217% compared to December, with 18k mentions in March. Within that conversation, 2.4k were talking about avoiding fast fashion. Attention was turned instead to alternatives like vintage shopping online, which supports reusing clothes and independently owned stores, with 1.4k mentions.

March mentions of purchases made for personal ethical reasons were up 132% compared to December. These mentions tended to focus, again, on fashion (1.8k mentions), as well as cosmetics like soap (1.5k mentions).

Shopping locally had the highest percentage increase in mentioned volume. Comparing March to December, conversation was up 440%.

Looking at mentions of local businesses, support for local grocery stores has been an important topic for consumers, with 16k mentions on social. Meanwhile, 8.9k people were discussing supporting their local restaurants by ordering takeaway deliveries.

Demographic analysis reveals that women are more likely than men to discuss ordering local take out or buying indie products. Meanwhile, men are more likely than women to take to social media to ask about the best sustainable, ethical, or local shopping options

Moral dilemma

Shopping locally, ethically, or sustainably is creating a lot of positivity in online conversations, with 41% of emotion-categorized conversation appearing as joyful.

But there are negative sides, too.

The second strongest emotion driving this conversation is anger (33%), driven by people calling out corporations staying open while smaller businesses closed their doors.

And, for shoppers who have decided to support ethical, local, or sustainable businesses or products, there’s a moral dilemma about delivery. We found 19k mentions featuring concern about workers delivering non-essential items during the crisis.

For these consumers, buying ethically now also means thinking about ethical delivery. It’s not enough to just order locally or from an independent, ethical, or sustainable business – it’s also vital the product be essential enough for the delivery chain to support it without putting people in danger.

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