Do consumers really care about the environment?

16 November 2009

Many retailers seem to be permanently on sale at the moment. They drift from mid season to end of season and I’ve even seen new season sales! A sign of the recessionary times that we live in I suppose.

Many retailers seem to be permanently on sale at the moment. They drift from mid season to end of season and I’ve even seen new season sales! A sign of the recessionary times that we live in I suppose.
Price is ‘the’ key in any purchasing decision on any product let alone a leather item at the moment and all other factors (apart from style (brand) and high performance) appear to be a distant second in most consumers minds despite the fact that when asked most say they do care about the environment and most merely assume that the product in question was processed in an ecologically sensitive way, even if it is dirt cheap!
As a consumer my own mind works this way. When shopping for everyday items such as shoes or leathergoods, as well as for larger one-off occasional purchases like furniture or a new car, the right model at the right price are foremost in my mind. If you ask the vast majority of main stream retailers where the leather came from or what it is made from, they won’t have a clue let alone know whether the tanner processes in strict ecological conditions or not. It is not a question that a consumer ever asks. Price is always considered.
I recently had a conversation with a respected European tanner who confirmed my suspicion that the ultimate decision in most cases on whether to buy or not to buy is based solely on price.
The tanner in question had received a smallish order for quality men’s upper leather in three shades of brown. Between the customer placing the order and the leather being processed the client was back on the phone telling the tanner that another tannery had offered to do the same for a quarter of a euro per square foot less and demanded to renegotiate. In the current economic climate what could they do! Raw materials had been ordered, chemicals supplied and the leather was passing through the tannery.
The tanner in question complained bitterly about this practice which I assume goes on all the time. So knowing the tannery quite well I said what about the other USPs that your tannery offers such as strict environmental control, worker safety and conditions, high technical specs and general reputation? It’s all about price, price, price they said,
environment does not come into the buying decision.
You can take the last part of that sentence in two ways. The first being that the leather buyer just wants to buy the best specified leather at the lowest possible price but has no regard for how it is made as long as the consumer is safe. Or, all of the other parameters, except price, are merely taken for granted as part of the deal. One way or another it could be bad for the tanner and/or the environment.
In the ‘price purchase’ culture we now live in it is little wonder that many tanneries are finding it difficult to compete with small and large, environmentally sound (and unsound) tanneries from emerging markets, particularly in Asia and Latin America where overheads and economies of scale make them more price competitive. It is becoming clear to me that tanners from the developed world must look at fashion, bespoke or high performance leathers to mark them apart from the mainstream. Sadly, such technologies are easy to copy so innovation has to be constant in order to survive. Competing on price has no longer been an option for many for a while now.
If you have any comments or opinion on this or any other topic please email me at [email protected] and we will publish any relevant views and opinion.

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