For Business

What ethical shoppers want

Research-backed insights to help you connect with shoppers that prioritize brand values.


Understanding the motivations of shoppers who interact with your brand can be a critical factor in turning them into customers—and then keeping them. Our Buy with Prime shopper experience team, led by UX Research Principal, Reece Dano, recently shared three common shopper archetypes that every ecommerce brand should be catering to: the ethical shopper, the quality shopper, and the economical shopper.

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll dive deep into each of these archetypes to help you understand the core motivations driving shoppers’ decision-making and help you build the strongest possible connection with each shopper archetype.

The rise of the ethical shopper

These days, price is still a major factor in purchasing decisions, but, according to a recent global survey from IBM, consumers who choose products and brands based on how well they align with their values now represent the largest segment of consumers overall, at 44%. That’s more than the share of consumers who are driven by price (37%).

Ethical shoppers want to feel good about where their money is going, so they seek to support purpose-driven businesses that match their personal values. Those purposes or values can align with causes as wide ranging as social justice and inclusivity, health and wellness, or environmental sustainability.

This type of consumer wants to see their values and lifestyle reflected in the products that they buy, and many care about how those products are sourced and manufactured. They’re also more likely to turn to ecommerce sites and social media to learn more about a brand’s values, so getting yours right should be a top priority.

Some ideas for how to incorporate your brand values into your messaging to connect with ethical shoppers are addressed below. But, to ensure your offerings resonate with today’s ethical shoppers, there are a few fundamental insights to consider.

Ethical shoppers are willing to pay a premium

According to our shopper experience research, ethical shoppers say that they’re willing to spend 5–15% more for a product from a brand that aligns with their values or to support a cause. “They’re also less likely to return items from small businesses because they don’t want to burden them with added hassle and costs,” Reece noted.

According to IBM’s study, across every age and income level, 50% of surveyed consumers said that they’re willing to pay a premium for sustainable or environmentally responsible brands. The survey also uncovered that 62% will pay more for “clean” products with nontoxic ingredients and 60% will pay more for greater health and wellness benefits or organic ingredients.

As researchers have discovered, when it comes to ethical shoppers and the environment, there’s often an “intention gap” between what they say they want to do and what they actually do. Ethical shoppers are willing to make compromises when convenience and urgency become their driving motivations, so the easier you can make it for them to understand your brand values and streamline their purchases on your site, the more likely you’ll be able to capture their attention. That’s why offering fast, free delivery, transparent delivery times, and a seamless checkout experience alongside your value proposition can be a winning combination.

Your brand values and story should be easy to find

Our shopper experience research also found that ethical shoppers want to feel a personal connection with your brand. That means they want to learn about your story, how the brand got started, and your mission. The more deeply and immediately you can help them engage with your brand’s story across your site and social channels, the more trust that you can build. Trust can start with a clean, coherent brand experience with messaging that’s intuitive and authentic.

According to IBM’s study, nearly 75% of value-driven shoppers conduct extensive research before they make a big purchase.

If you’re a values-based brand, communicate what you stand for with easy-to-find positioning statements. Consider showcasing your values and the causes that you support on an “About us” page alongside your brand story. Our advice is to carry that messaging through with detailed product descriptions and images that reinforce those values.

“It’s at the ‘explore’ stage where values-oriented information is most sought by shoppers, so the upper funnel experiences such as social ads and landing pages should be optimized with your brand values,” says Reece. “Ask yourself, as an ethical shopper, how do I identify with your brand on a personal level?”

In research conducted by Reece and his team, ethical shoppers seeking to learn more about a brand reported that if a merchant’s brand story is unclear and difficult to find, or that the brand’s social media page is poorly maintained it makes them more hesitant to engage.

If you’re a brand with appealing values to showcase, don’t make ethical shoppers struggle to find them. Tackle those pain points preemptively with cohesive content and a site optimization strategy.

Consistency matters
It’s important that your imagery, content, and brand story are consistent across all your channels. More than other shopper archetypes, ethical shoppers appreciate a branded experience that’s consistent from discovery to packaging. Reece notes that ethical shoppers are just as likely to be driven to support a cause through intentional online research as they are through serendipitous discovery, often through social media.

“You need to have a really strong social media channel to support the messaging on your ecommerce site,” he says. “If you’re not engaging with shoppers on social media in the same way that you do on your site, or if you’re sending different messages on different channels, that can make them suspicious.”

Supported causes are on a spectrum
The individual values, causes, and issues that drive ethical shoppers can range from broad to specific. Some shoppers might be interested in supporting sustainability, diversity, or small businesses in general, while others might be focused more granularly on, say, buying books from up-and-coming LGBTQ authors or independent, women-owned bookstores.

Ethical shoppers can be driven by multiple causes that aren’t mutually exclusive and often overlap. The more details you can give them about the causes that matter to you and your brand, the more likely you are to confirm a sense of shared values and pique their interest.

The importance of inclusivity
According to a 2021 study by McKinsey, two-thirds of Americans say that their social values now shape their shopping choices. Specifically, 45% of American consumers, representing over 100 million shoppers, believe that retailers should actively support Black-owned businesses. McKinsey calls this category of shoppers “inclusive consumers.”

“People expect brands to do more than just make a profit,” reads one recent report from Deloitte. “Today, 78% of consumers want brands to step up to support marginalized communities, and 60% believe brands that are not inclusive will become irrelevant.”

The report also points out that inclusive entrepreneurship offers a way to address the unmet needs of diverse communities of creators, noting that inclusive retailers can realize benefits such as broader brand awareness and building long-lasting relationships with customers.

Sustainability as a motivator
Naturally, environmental and sustainability concerns are primary motivators for many ethical shoppers, with 66% preferring to buy sustainable products, according to the IBM survey. This demand appears to pay off: Kantar recently found that brands with a perceived positive sustainability impact have grown in brand value faster over the past 12 years than those with a low perceived impact—and that trend will continue to grow.

According to a different study from Deloitte, the five most important environmentally sustainable or ethical practices among consumers are sustainable packaging and products, reducing waste in the manufacturing process, committing to ethical working practices, reducing carbon footprint, and respect for human rights.

And although consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainability, nearly two-thirds of them say they’d like companies to make it more affordable to choose sustainable alternatives.

Remember: The values spectrum is wide. You can always choose to highlight a specific set of products that are sustainably produced, or how you’ve built a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The key is to be clear about the causes and organizations that your brand partners with or supports loudly and proudly.

Transparency is key
Lack of transparency can be a deal-breaker for ethical shoppers. They want clear, trustworthy, authentic information about a brand, particularly when it comes to societal issues or environmental impact. They’re wary of unsupported virtue signaling and jargon-laden language, often referred to as “greenwashing,” when a brand or product claims to be environmentally friendly without providing any details about their sustainability practices or carbon footprint.

“If you’re selling products that have any kind of climate, sustainability, or environmental certification to them, be sure that you’re very explicit about how that certification was assigned and accredited, and why it’s important to your brand,” Reece advises.

Whether you support Fairtrade working conditions or are big on DEI initiatives, authenticity, credibility, and transparency are paramount for connecting with ethical shoppers.

Putting in the work to optimize your shopper experience for ethical shoppers can be an investment with long-term rewards.

If your business has a cause at its core, get your story and values in front of more ethical shoppers. Buy with Prime can help you attract and convert more shoppers with the trust of Prime. By offering fast, free delivery, transparent delivery times, and a seamless checkout experience, you can lessen that intention gap, helping ethical shoppers get the convenience they desire without having to sacrifice their values.

Learn more about Buy with Prime.

Kelby Johnson