In a few short months, the devastation wrought by COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on consumer attitudes regarding socially responsible behavior—their own and that of companies they expect to patronize.
That’s according to the latest survey by the marketing consultancy Good. Must. Grow, conducted earlier this month.
Published every year since 2013, the benchmarking study surveys more than 1,000 consumers to gauge the appetite for conscious consumerism and charitable giving, ultimately producing an overall Conscious Consumer Spending Index.
For the last three years, that index has been steadily heading south. But recently, with COVID wreaking havoc on consumers’ health and livelihoods, CEO Heath Shackelford decided to conduct a study in in May, instead of at the end of the year, as usual. And what he found was that, at a time when many Americans report a decline in income and/or overall well being, they’re also reevaluating their responsibility to society, as well as that of the companies they buy from, along with their purchasing decisions and donations to charity.
Specifically, the CCS Index increased 15%, to 46 on a 100-point scale. That’s the highest score since 2017 and a noteworthy change from the last grade of 39, which was reported in just last November.
“The past few years have seen a gradual erosion in the momentum of socially responsible choices,” says Shackleford. “To see that reverse in such a short time is a very positive sign. You typically don’t have that time of movement in a year, much less a span of six months.”
The Index score is calculated by evaluating the importance consumers place on purchasing from socially responsible companies, actions taken to support such products and services and future intent to increase the amount they spend with responsible organizations. Based on the design of the Index’s algorithm, even a one-point change in overall score indicates meaningful movement of consumer sentiment.
Some noteworthy findings:
COVID exposure leads to more social responsibility. Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or have cared for an immediate family member with the virus, were far more likely than others to report increases in charitable giving, supporting socially responsible companies and backing local businesses.
Greater expectations for companies to step up. Almost half of respondents said the pandemic will lead companies to be more socially responsible.
Company behavior now will affect consumer purchasing choices later. More than three-quarters of Americans say that how a company treats employees and customers during the pandemic will be an important factor when determining whether to support them in a post-COVID world.
Trust beats impact. While consumers are more enthusiastic about social responsibility than before, they also place greater importance on whether they trust a company than an enterprise’s social impact.
On another, odd note, when asked which companies were doing a good job of being socially responsible during the pandemic, the top two cited were Walmart and Amazon. And the top two businesses not being socially responsible? Amazon and Walmart.
As for whether the pattern in the CCS Index will continue, Shackleford isn’t sure. “As this wears on, you wonder what the staying power is for people to be motivated and positive,” he says. “The optimist in me hopes this is a real shift and people will be more likely to vote with their pocketbooks.”