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. 

2019 was the fifth year we conducted 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 2019 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 2019, we were once again recognised as the most sustainable retail fashion brand in Brazil and Germany. The 2018 survey also showed that our use of organic cotton and other natural and organic materials remains one of the key reasons C&A is recognised as a sustainability leader in all four of our retail markets. This represents an important expansion from previous years, when recognition of our leadership in organic cotton was most prominent in Europe. In Brazil and Mexico, customers associate C&A with sustainable children's clothing, while in China, we are associated Binzhou cotton, which is in transition towards organic cotton. Trust in C&A also remained especially strong in Germany, the Netherlands, and Brazil -- where C&A is the most trusted fashion brand.

When survey respondents were prompted to consider their degree of understanding about C&A’s sustainability initiatives, they scored us favourably across a range of sustainability issues, but some also reflected a partial recognition of our sustainability progress, indicating we have more work to do in effectively communicating with our customers. 

C&A has made it its mission to produce garments as ecologically and socially responsible as possible. (C&A customer, Germany)

C&A has launched a global campaign that invites consumers to also take part in actions promoting sustainability. (C&A customer, Brazil)

#WearTheChange means a quality product that makes me look good without sacrificing the balance of the planet. (C&A customer, Mexico)

Cradle to Cradle Certified [means] certification by an independent body, focusing on a company's eco-friendly behaviour. (C&A customer, France)

Cradle to Cradle Certified refers to some sustainability campaign, but I don't know the exact meaning. (C&A customer, Brazil)

These and other responses when prompted show that whilst some customers understand our sustainability initiatives, we still have ample opportunities to improve the spontaneous recognition of our work. The 2019 survey also demonstrated that conveying openness and honesty is key to amplifying the reputational impact of our sustainability initiatives and to maintaining the level of trust we have achieved over the years with customers. 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 integrating 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 issues remained relatively similar from 2018 to 2019. Notably, promoting circular fashion appeared in the survey results as an important driver to our reputation for the first time since the survey has been conducted. We plan to continue adopting circularity principles in the design and production of our clothing, and to fostering circular fashion more broadly across the industry. 

Promoting gender diversity and inclusion in factories and workplaces, which was new to the survey in 2019, was viewed as an area of strength for C&A, and one we will continue to encourage among suppliers. The top three issues driving C&A’s sustainability reputation are:

  • Sourcing materials responsibly
  • Treating workers fairly
  • Openness and honesty

The issues that drive C&A’s sustainability reputation

MAINTAIN FOCUS HIGH LEVERAGE 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 is 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) MANAGE IMPORTANCE PERCEIVED PERFORMANCE OF C&A Dependent variable Environmentally responsible + socially responsible Environmental Product Social Economy and transparency Attribute types Sources material responsibly Treats workers fairly Fair trade Employees Charity Communities No child labour Respects diversity Open/honest Locally sourced Createsjobs Economy High quality Durable Fashionable Easy to wash Comfort Affordable Minimise pollution Minimise climate change Avoids water pollution Minimal chemicals Recycled materials Renewable energy Customer recycling Organic No animal skins

Our 2019 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 2019, 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 a previous survey, we had 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 and 2019, we leveraged #WearTheChange to communicate with — and engage — our customers in the journey towards sustainable fashion. The 2019 survey revealed that our messages are getting through to consumers in most markets.

Read more about Wear The Change

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 2019 customer survey showed that our perception as open and honest remains an important part of our perception by customers.

According to survey partner GlobeScan, being seen as open and honest is more often a challenge for companies than a strength. During 2019, 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. As a family company that has been trusted by generations of customers for 179 years, we are determined to create a deeper and more direct connection with customers on our sustainability efforts.

Sourcing materials sustainably and responsibly

As in previous years, our 2019 survey showed that, once again, customers continue to appreciate the importance of sourcing materials responsibly — rating it as one of the three most important reputation drivers, along with being open and honest, and treater workers fairly. We continue responding to this expectation by communicating our efforts to source responsibly 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 with our customers about the sustainability topics most relevant to them, 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, including more social media.

We also recognise that connecting with consumers involves cutting through the barrage of other information they receive every day. Our 2019 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 179-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.