Listening to our customers Understanding our customers better

Our annual sustainability customer insights survey, in partnership with GlobeScan, helps us listen to and act on the issues that matter most to our customers. The insights we gain from the survey guide how we speak to our customers about sustainability in our products and campaigns – ultimately leading to a better sustainability strategy that not only reduces impact and risk, but is also tailored to their concerns. 

2018 was the fourth year we ran the survey, asking over 6,000 customers in six C&A markets – France, Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, China, and Mexico – about their priorities and expectations for sustainability. Here are selected insights from the 2018 results.

Our sustainability leadership

Our goal is for C&A to be recognised as the most sustainable retail fashion brand in all our regions. In 2018, we were once again recognised as the most sustainable retail fashion brand in Brazil and the Netherlands. We were recognised as the most sustainable retail fashion brand in Germany for the first time. The 2018 survey also showed that our use of Bio Cotton and other natural and organic materials remains one of the key reasons C&A is recognised as a sustainability leader in Europe.

In China, customers reported stable levels of trust in C&A, but did not view us as a sustainability leader.2018 C&A China campaigns such as the two #WearTheChange engagements rolled out to consumers during April and August might help to shift these perceptions in the future. The 2018 survey also showed that our momentum in Germany, the Netherlands, and Mexico seems to be slowing a bit and returning to our 2016 perceived performance levels. To address this, we plan to try new approaches to engaging customers through #WearTheChange and other communications outreach, as we have done in Brazil. In that retail market, where C&A is recognised among customers as the number 1 sustainable fashion brand, #WearTheChange is known as #VistaAMudança and is accompanied by specialised engagement events.

When survey respondents were prompted to consider C&A’s performance in detail, they scored us favourably across a range of sustainability issues. 

 

The world's largest user of organic cotton, which saves a considerable amount of water. (C&A customer, Mexico)

C&A publishes an annual sustainability report. It has a used clothing collection programme. It has an electronic trash programme and several other programs and initiatives that generate sustainability in partnership with several countries and programs. (C&A customer, Brazil)

They sell organic clothes (jeans among others). (C&A customer, France)

If you hand in your old clothes, you can discount your new clothes. (C&A customer, Netherlands)

They have made serious efforts to significantly improve the working and living conditions … in the low-wage countries. (C&A customer, Netherlands)

C&A strives to reduce wastewater discharge during the garment manufacturing process. (C&A customer, China)

Energy saving, environmental protection, materials are recyclable. (C&A customer, China)

 

Their positive responses when prompted show that we have a significant opportunity to improve the spontaneous recognition of our work. The 2018 survey also demonstrated that conveying openness and honesty is key to amplifying the reputational impact of our sustainability initiatives. Being seen as open and honest includes how we communicate our environmental commitments with transparency and humility. Strengthening our perception as an open and honest company means we need to continue building on our 2017 and 2018 campaigns to better integrate sustainability into our overall brand communications.

What customers care about

While the issues driving C&A’s sustainability reputation varied across regions, some core priorities were common to customers across the world. Globally, the top five issues remained relatively similar from 2017 to 2018. Notably, minimising climate change has climbed two years in a row, now ranking as the sixth most important issue, and minimising pollution has become one of the most important issues for C&A to address. The top five issues driving C&A’s sustainability reputation are:

  • Sourcing materials responsibly
  • Treating workers fairly
  • Openness and honesty
  • Fair trade
  • Minimising pollution

The issues that drive C&A’s sustainability reputation

Source: Globescan, 2018 Focus areas where C&A performs less well (below average performance), but which are important in driving sustainability reputation Manage attributes that may present future risk which are less important now but where C&A’s performance lower (below average) High leverage attributes on which C&A is perceived to perform well (above average performance) and which are important in driving sustainability reputation Maintain less important attributes on which C&A already meets Category Buyer expectations and performs well (above average performance) Dependent variable Environmentally responsible + socially responsible Environmental Product Social Economy and transparency Attribute types MAINTAIN FOCUS HIGH LEVERAGE MANAGE IMPORTANCE PERCEIVED PERFORMANCE OF C&A Source material responsibly Treats workers fairly Fair trade Employees Charity Communities No child labour Respects diversity Open/honest Locally sourced Jobs Economy High quality Durable Fashionable Easy to wash Comfort Affordable Minimise pollution Minimise climate change Avoides water pollution Minimal chemicals Recycled materials Renewable energy Customer recycling Organic No animals skins

Our 2018 performance

A core part of our sustainability commitment is to help our customers look good, feel good, and do good. The survey gives us strong insights into how we can bring our customers along with us on our sustainability journey. In 2018, our customers told us what we have been doing right, and what we need to focus on in the future.

Increasing our sustainability communications to customers

In 2016, we found that while C&A was not named as the leader in sustainable fashion retail in all regions, many more customers believed that our performance is good when questioned more closely. Based on this insight, one of our priorities for 2017 was to align our sustainability communications with brand communications.

In line with this priority, we developed #WearTheChange, our first global, multi-channel sustainability communications platform, during 2017. The aim of this ongoing platform is to align our sustainability communications with our brand communications, and speak with a single voice to customers in all regions. Throughout 2018, we have leveraged #WearTheChange to communicate with — and engage — our customers in the journey towards making sustainable fashion the new normal. The 2018 survey revealed that our messages are getting through to consumers in Brazil and China, but less so in Europe and Mexico. Perhaps not coincidentally, #WearTheChange has been localised and translated in Brazil and China, but is expressed in English in our other markets, a factor we will look into going forward.

Read more about #WearTheChange
 

Strengthening our reputation for openness and honesty

Since 2015, customers’ perception of C&A as open and honest has been a core driver of our reputation on sustainability. Our 2018 customer survey showed that our perception as open and honest has declined somewhat in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as in China. In 2019, we will work to improve our perception of openness and honesty amongst customers by communicating more on sustainability and our supply chain.

According to GlobeScan, our survey partner, being seen as open and honest is more often a challenge for companies than a strength. During 2018, we built on our positive reputation for openness and honesty to help our customers engage with our sustainability efforts more widely, through a variety of in-store communications campaigns as well as broader outreach to the public, such as the new Fashion Futures events held in Brazil during 2018 and the creative #WearTheChange activations in China during 2018. The China initiatives also leveraged social media, cited in the 2018 consumer survey as a key communications channel for us in Brazil, China, and Mexico. As a family company that has been trusted by generations of customers for 178 years, we are determined to create a deeper and more direct connection with customers on our sustainability efforts.
 

Sourcing materials sustainably and responsibly

Our 2018 survey showed that, once again, customers continue to appreciate the importance of sourcing materials responsibly — rating it as the most important reputation driver four years in a row. We continue responding to this expectation by communicating our efforts in this area through the #WearTheChange platform in stores, online, and in social media, and by publishing our updated and complete list of suppliers.

Where next?

We will continue communicating on the sustainability topics that are relevant for our customers and take our product storytelling to the next level through #WearTheChange. In order to truly break through and engage our customers, we are activating #WearTheChange across multiple channels.

We also recognise that connecting with consumers involves cutting through the barrage of other information they receive every day. Our 2018 consumer survey results point to a need for multiple communication channels at the same time — including but also beyond what we are doing now in stores, online, and through social media. This means we will continue leveraging our sustainable products as one way to help customers view us as leaders in environmental, supply chain, and community efforts, but will also need to demonstrate our sustainability leadership beyond our products as well. As a 178-year-old, family-owned company with strong values, we will need to emphasise our longstanding beliefs and values in our customer communications at the brand level.