Conscious consumerism: shop by cause

The decision tree is an extremely important concept in marketing today. It allows us to visualise how customers mentally structure the decision-making process for every choice they make, from what snack to eat to which cardiologist to visit. This consumer insight has given rise to shopper marketing and category management: stores and websites are being adapted to make the process easy for customers, so that they find what they’re looking for quickly and spend more money.

Today, the decision tree is powering an exciting trend at the intersection of marketing and society: the “shop by cause” concept. Tell me what causes you’re interested in, and I’ll offer solutions tailored to each one.

Some organisations have just started to develop this idea. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers “anti-cruelty” and “anti-puppy mill” gadgets. Building Lives Up (BLU) has taken the model to a more sophisticated level by offering customers non-traditional ways to help charity organisations raise cash: a supermarket featuring products related to 32 very different causes.

“Shop by cause” is becoming professionalised at private companies. Philosophy, a line of cosmetics featured on “Oprah’s Favorite Things”, offers an innovative shopping menu: “shop by category” (hair care, shower gel, etc.), “shop by scent” (fruits, blooms, tropical, etc.) and “shop by cause” (women’s cancer, Rainforest Foundation, WhyHunger, etc.).

Toms Shoes has taken it a step further with its “One for One” model. Going beyond this innovative cause-related marketing approach, last November the company launched Toms Marketplace. At this new website, people can shop by the causes they care about as well as by product type. The site offers a different shopping menu for each of the 34 brands sold on the Marketplace, but shoppers can also browse by region or by social cause. The causes – animals, children, education, health, job creation, nutrition, social justice, water, women – were defined using insights obtained from the decision tree.

Aware that the appetite for conscious consumerism is on the rise, Toms Marketplace offers a different way to shop. Private companies are optimising their marketing; NGOs ought to follow their lead.

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