Enabling customers to act more sustainably

We care deeply about our customers and what’s important to them. Listening carefully to our customers around the world gives us valuable insights to address their priorities and expectations—especially when it comes to sustainability. In 2015, we completed our first-ever global survey of consumer perspectives on sustainability to understand what our customers think about sustainability, where they recognize our progress, what we’re doing well, and where we can make a difference. This comprehensive study yielded rich data, and since 2015 was the first year of our new sustainability goals, we’ll measure our future progress on customer engagement against this 2015 survey going forward. Already, the results are informing our sustainability priorities and strategy. Ultimately, this information will help us meet our sustainability goals while supporting business success.

New consumer insights on sustainability

This year we worked with research experts GlobeScan to benchmark perspectives in each market and gather feedback on consumers’ sustainability motivations, perceptions, and preferences. More than 7,600 consumers in six key markets (Brazil, China, France, Germany, Mexico, and the Netherlands) participated, and we plan to make this global survey and engagement approach an annual event1. We will also do regional studies and research initiatives to get more local insights, beginning with China. C&A's reputation as a leader in sustainability varies across markets, but in general it is difficult for consumers to recognize any brand as a leader in sustainability at the moment. We receive the most top-of-mind mentions in Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands compared to competitors. Prompted ratings on environmental and social responsibility indicate that C&A has a good basic level of recognition on sustainability in all markets, mostly in line with, or ahead of competitors. This tells us that we have an opportunity to connect with consumers better and more frequently on our sustainability work to increase the percentage of consumers that recognize C&A as a leader over time.

Understanding what our customers care about most

A central part of our sustainability approach is to listen—and listen deeply. We conducted a driver analysis to understand which sustainability issues were most important to our customers. The analysis evaluated the importance of sustainability areas to customers against how they felt that we were performing in each area. While there are some nuances from country to country, several important issues were clear and require additional focus:

 

  1. Sourcing responsibly and ensuring fair treatment for workers - Supply chain initiatives were strong drivers of sustainability in all countries tested.

  2. Openness and honesty - The perceived openness and honesty of C&A was one of the strongest drivers of our sustainability reputation in all six countries. At the same time, the survey revealed that some customers are not aware of the information we’ve been sharing.

  3. Pollution and climate change – Promoting and supporting suppliers in minimizing pollution from factories and transportation, as well as using organic materials and contributing to minimizing climate change, were seen as key sustainability factors.

  4. Water – Avoiding water pollution in clothing production was valued highly, underscoring the importance of our water strategy and the work of the C&A Foundation in water conservation in cotton production. 

  5. Fair trade - Using materials where a fair wage has been paid to workers and farmers was viewed as very important, emphasizing the importance of cotton traceability and our work with Action, Collaboration and Transformation on the living wage.

C&A's Sustainability Reputation

newborn collection

What do consumers want to see from C&A's sustainability efforts?

More communication and transparency on environmental and social performance

 

In some markets, like Europe, we’re strong in organic cotton and sustainable children’s clothing. But other sustainable business attributes—even those where we have strong programmes in place—were generally less well recognized. We will use this to identify areas where we can defend, accelerate and develop our programs and communication to customers. As we move ahead, we’ll compare customer ratings against these 2015 results to track improvement.

Consumers have told us clearly what sustainability issues matter the most to them and how they perceive us on those issues. For instance, when asked what C&A could do to improve trust, consumers in every market said more communication about sustainability was key, especially when it comes to transparent information around the origin of materials and fair conditions for workers in the supply chain. Likewise, when we develop policies for water and climate change, we’ll need to communicate them.   Some other areas where our customers would like to learn more from us:

  • Product sustainability - Customers said they want to know more about product attributes and their positive environmental and social impacts. This could include our journey towards more sustainable cotton, our commitment to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals, our initiatives to reduce water and energy use, or our work to build a circular economy for the apparel industry, among others.

  • Responsible sourcing - In Brazil, China, and Mexico, sourcing materials responsibly is seen as a C&A strength. But in Europe, we’re not yet viewed as a leader in sourcing responsibly, even though our practices for Europe are just as robust as for other parts of the world.

  • Fair and ethical workplaces/treating employees well - Customers are also curious to learn about the initiatives we undertake to make sure apparel industry workers, especially women, are treated fairly. They also said that they want to be sure that we maintain ethical workplaces and treat employees fairly in our stores, offices, and other facilities in all our regions, and that we value and respect our employees.

  • Charity that makes a difference in local communities - Our charity work in local retail communities could be more focused, involving and motivating customers with our store-giving programmes, local initiatives, and community-based volunteering.

  • Engaged employees who enable HER to act more sustainably – Customers asked that we make sure our store employees are aware and engaged so they can share their knowledge about our sustainability journey with customers.

What consumers told us would improve their trust in C&A

Be more transparent about the method of producing clothes

consumer in France

Have videos in the stores to show the origin of the fabric

consumer in Brazil

Be honest about where the products are manufactured

consumer in the Netherlands

1 Customer research was conducted online in November 2015. Sample sizes: Brazil = 998, China = 1,006, France = 1,675, Germany = 1,403, Mexico = 1,093, Netherlands = 1,485

Case Study

Brazil: Top mom blogger supports C&A’s sustainable cotton

Communicating with our customers about sustainable cotton is vital to achieving our goal of reaching 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020. So it’s important we help them understand how this cotton is better for the environment—and for the farmers growing it.

In 2015, one of our customers, a blogger in Fortaleza, discovered our more sustainable options and decided to share our story. Her popular blog, Papo Materno (Maternal Talk), has more than 112,000 followers, and she has posted several stories about C&A Brazil’s more sustainable cotton, including bodysuits from our ‘Fun’ collection. Importantly, she explains to her readers that it’s better for a baby’s skin, uses less water, leads to fewer toxic chemicals in the environment, and helps cotton farmers improve their income and quality of life. 

Europe: Engaging with customers through brochures and blogs

C&A Europe’s Spring Kids Brochure 2015 was our first to focus primarily on sustainable clothing. It introduced our baby wear collection made entirely from organic cotton certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and included other helpful sustainability facts. We also included dresses for girls made from more sustainable viscose (derived from non-endangered trees), and denim incorporating 28% recycled polyester (made from recycled plastic bottles) for toddlers and boys.

Jeans are a customer favourite, but they’re a high-impact product to make, and taking better care of them can go a long way to extending their use. In 2015, we began sharing tips for making jeans last longer, like pre-treating them at home, washing them as infrequently as possible, using a low temperature, and letting them air dry. These and other tips were posted in a blog and in stores as part of our Saving Water jeans collection. Read more in Sustainable Products.

Europe: Mothers Make the Difference

We know our customers appreciate that we support charitable organisations working to improve the lives of children. Many of our customers are mothers themselves. During 2015, we gave C&A customers opportunities to lend their own support to Mothers Make the Difference, a C&A partnership with Save the Children that work with mothers and children in crisis areas. Customers could donate in collection boxes in stores, interact directly with Save the Children in selected stores, and buy Mother’s Day cards or Christmas gift tags that support the organizaton. Customers donated more than €452,000.

Mothers Make the Difference is part of our wider partnership with Save the Children, through which C&A Foundation will donate at least €3 million annually for the next three years. The funds will help mothers keep their children safe and healthy in emergency situations, help families in sourcing countries prepare for disasters, and protect children’s rights across the supply chain. Already in 2015, C&A Foundation donated an initial €50,000 towards Save the Children’s efforts to help provide basic sanitation, water, and food to refugees in Serbia. This help provided vulnerable families with needed humanitarian aid, including safe drinking water, food, and shelter.

Europe: Enhancing the Customer Experience

As part of our longstanding strategy to keep our customers at the heart of everything C&A does, our European stores make it easy for customers to give feedback on their shopping experience through an online survey at home. We use the information to improve the customer experience within individual stores and at the country level. During 2015 we received more than 460,000 responses across 19 European countries.

While customers told us they’re fairly committed to C&A, we need to work even harder on improving overall store impression and service. This also means making it easier for customers to act sustainably. In the Netherlands, we invite our customers to recycle their old clothes at every one of our stores. Read more about this and our approach to the circular economy.

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