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Climate concerns impacting consumer shopping habits, retail reports find

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People out shopping on Oxford Street walk past large scale January sale signs in red and white for major high street clothing retail shops on 7th January 2019 in London, United Kingdom. Its time for the Winter sales, and most shops are advertising big reductions in prices. Bargains are available and the shopping streets are busy. Oxford Street is a major road in the West End of London. It is Europe's busiest shopping street, with around half a million daily visitors, and has approximately 300 shops. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)
Thrifty shoppers are looking to bag a bargain, according to two retail reports. (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Environmental concerns such as the desire to use less plastic are driving consumers towards being more selective in their shopping habits, according to two retail sector reports for January.

Research from Barclaycard surveying over 2,000 consumers found that over half (56%) said they had become more aware of their personal impact on the environment and therefore plan to change their shopping habits.

A third (33%) of shoppers said they plan to cut down on buying plastic goods.

A separate report from the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor found that the total retail sales rose by 0.4% annually in January, compared with a 2.2% uplift in January 2019.

On a like-for-like basis, sales were flat with 0% change year-on-year.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “As sustainability continues to rise up the agenda, many customers are switching to more environmentally friendly products or simply choosing to buy less.

“These effects are not just limited to the high street as growth in online purchases also slowed.”

Read more: High street losing £18bn a year to online shopping

Shoppers are also intent on bagging a bargain, according to the retail reports.

Consumers are concerned with maximising value, Barclaycard said, with spending at discount stores up 9.5% annually in January.

“Recent political uncertainty and a decade of austerity appear to have ingrained a more thrifty approach to shopping among consumers,” Dickinson said.

However, consumer confidence is returning with more than two-fifths (42%) of people now optimistic about the UK’s economic prospects, the most positive figure Barclaycard has seen since September 2016, according to the research.

Three quarters (74%) also feel confident about their personal household finances, the highest level seen since February 2019.

Paul Martin, partner, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “January is usually a quieter month for retail, and although static sales might not appear triumphant, at least it is no further deterioration.

Read more: Alcohol-free beer sales soar in 'month of moderation'

“Consumer confidence has started to return post-general election, but we have not experienced any major leaps for the sector yet.

“We have to remember, this semi-positive performance will also be the result of aggressive discounts and consumers’ preoccupation with bagging a bargain. That’s not always good news when looking at bottom-lines.”

Martin said shoppers were spending more on health focused products as people aimed to step into the new year with good intentions.

Barclaycard echoed this, finding that pharmacy, health, and beauty stores saw annual spending growth of 5.9% as consumers sought healthier lifestyles at the start of the year.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Julian Kirby said: “Environmental concerns are rightly high on the public agenda, so it’s really encouraging to see shoppers choosing more sustainable options.

“Companies must respond by putting the environment at the core of their businesses, such as cutting down on climate-wrecking emissions, doing away with unnecessary packaging and ensuring products are built to last and can be reused, rather than clogging up our creaking waste and recycling system.

Read more: UK retailers have 'cut 10,000 jobs already this year'

“Ministers must act too, by setting a target to radically reduce plastic pollution and waste in landmark legislation now passing through parliament.”

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