As brands and businesses are aware, today’s consumers want more than just products and services from the companies they engage and spend with—they also want to know they’re transacting with an organization whose values align with their own, shares the same societal (and, often, political) beliefs, and conducts business ethically and sustainably, among many others. And the list just got a little longer—new research from global management consultancy Baringa finds we also want our favorite brands to be kind..
The firm’s new global survey study, The Economics of Kindness, reports that today’s consumers are increasingly speaking with their wallets when it comes to perceptions around corporate kindness and ethics, More than half (57 percent) of all U.S. respondents said they have refused to buy a product or service in the last two years because they felt a company was unkind or did not display kind qualities. In the context of the current economic downturn, 81 percent also said that they are more likely to purchase from companies they considered kind.
“Our research shows that kindness is factoring into purchasing decisions in a significant way,” said Jeff Hartigan, partner and North America consumer products & retail lead at Baringa, in a news release. “Consumers recognize when brands live out their values and when they don’t. Individuals will always make their own decisions in terms of whether those values are consistent with their own, but our findings illustrate that brand integrity remains vital.”
The firm’s global survey of 6,028 employed consumers who have either a pension or some kind of investment, including 1,010 U.S. respondents, aimed to explore how associations with kind and unkind attributes are impacting their purchasing decisions. The top qualities that Americans surveyed associate with kind companies include integrity and honesty (38 percent), fair pay and treatment of staff (34 percent), customer transparency (30 percent), community giving (30 percent), and commitment to workplace equality (29 percent).
Other key findings from the report include:
- When making a new purchase, 54 percent of U.S. respondents 44 and under said they always consider how a company treats its employees, and 54 percent said they always consider the behavior of the company or its executives—the most-cited factors after price (65 percent) and service (61 percent). Other top-cited factors include brand image (51 percent) and environmental impact (50 percent).
- Thinking about the economic downturn, 88 percent of U.S. respondents ages 25 to 34 said they are more likely to purchase from ‘kind’ companies. Nearly seven out of ten (68 percent) respondents in this age group reasoned it’s more crucial than ever to consider the consequences of actions, while nearly half (48 percent) said they want to see ‘kind’ companies succeed rather than support ‘unkind’ companies.
- U.S. respondents said they would pay more for a product or service to avoid purchasing from a company known to treat its workers (52 percent) or suppliers (51 percent) poorly. Other attributes that would turn customers away from purchasing a product or service included customer dishonesty (54 percent), animal cruelty (54 percent), and the unethical treatment of its communities (52 percent).
“Consumer perception matters, and in a tight marketplace, brands must pay attention and be able to react quickly to change,” said Hartigan. “In sectors like retail and fast-moving consumer goods—where industry growth has been hovering around 3 percent—even marginal potential impacts could provide a material financial edge, and we believe the effect of kindness is much more than marginal.”
Globally, Americans consider certain attributes of “kindness” more frequently than individuals in other countries surveyed. Nearly half (48 percent) of all U.S. consumers said they always consider the behavior of a company or its leadership when making a purchase—the highest proportion of any of the seven countries surveyed, including Australia (35 percent), Germany (32 percent), and the UK (26 percent). Americans were also most likely to report always considering the ethics of a company’s supply chain when deciding whether or not to buy from that company (43 percent), with the next-highest proportion coming from Singapore (30 percent).
“Rigid, inflexible businesses are poorly placed to adapt to a rapidly changing world, to new competitors, or to new consumer behaviors,” said Big Clean Switch founder Jon Fletcher, who contributed his insights to the project, in the release. “Ultimately, it’s the businesses that ask the difficult questions, that support their people in meaningful ways, and that look to the future who will survive and do well. In short, kinder businesses prosper.”
The survey was conducted between April 26 and May 2, 2023 by independent market research consultancy Censuswide. The survey was conducted online with 6,028 employed consumers who have either a pension or some kind of investments in the UK, US, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Singapore. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society, which is based on the ESOMAR principles, and are members of the British Polling Council.