Is inflation eating away at consumer support for targeted companies?

Ten years after its launch, an annual index measuring the socially responsible attitudes and behaviors of American consumers shows mixed progress.

On the one hand, after reaching a record low of 39 in 2020, the index rose to a record high of 51 the following year. In 2022, there was a slight drop to 48.

On the other hand, the result for 2022 was the second highest since the survey began.

That’s according to the Conscious Consumer Spending Index (CCSIndex), which measures whether or not consumers embrace conscious consumerism, charity, and environmental practices.

“Following those results in 2021, we expected at least a slight decline this year,” said Heath Shackleford, CEO of Good.Must.Grow, a socially responsible marketing consultancy that manages the research. “But the vast majority of consumers continue to feel that purpose is important when they shop.”

The CCSIindex is calculated by assessing things such as the importance consumers place on purchasing from socially responsible companies, how they support those products and services, and the intention to increase their support for such companies. This year’s survey surveyed 1,005 Americans. According to Good.Must.Grow, thanks to the design of the index, even a one-point change indicates a meaningful shift in consumer confidence.

Higher prices

Shackleford points to inflation as the main culprit for this year’s decline. That’s because socially responsible products tend to be more expensive — or at least perceived to carry a higher price tag — than their non-responsible counterparts, he says. Only 57% reported purchasing goods from socially responsible brands in 2022, compared to 64% in 2021. In 2013, the year of the inaugural index, it was 62%.

The research shows that, says Shackleford, “a hard core of Americans will support purposeful brands no matter what.” But most of the country, even though they think such purchases are important, feel they cannot afford to buy them at a time when their purchasing power is low.

At the same time, “a vast majority of consumers consider purpose important when they shop,” he says. In addition, 25% in 2013 reported boycotting brands that were not socially responsible compared to 32% in 2022.

The lesson for companies is: They must meet consumer expectations for factors such as price in addition to their mission, Shackleford said.

Other findings

Additional notable results include:

A growing pessimism among Americans. Respondents reported a growing sense that the world is getting worse. In 2019, 36% agreed with that statement, rising to 42% in 2020 and 44% in 2021. In 2022, it was 45%. And while those who say the world is getting worse have a lower index score than those who say things are getting better, the lowest score was for respondents who think things are about the same.

Decline in charitable giving. The proportion of people who made a financial contribution to a non-profit organization decreased by 20% between 2013 and 2022. The number of volunteers also decreased.

Vote for the most socially responsible company. For the eighth year, respondents were asked about the company or organization they think of first when they think of corporate social responsibility. The top five: Amazon, Google, The Salvation Army, Apple and Walmart. Amazon, which has topped the list for four consecutive years, received twice as many votes as Google in 2022. For the first time, TOMS, an iconic social enterprise, fell off the list. It was the top brand for the first two years of the poll.