It sounds like retail death by suicide. Sustainable retail platform Toward is putting a cap on how many times consumers can order products per year. The site is limiting the number of orders customers can place each year to 12. Toward’s Gen Z founder and CEO, Ana Kannan, believes it’s not enough to simply buy green and that retailers need to start making actionable changes in combatting the climate crisis.
Encouraging consumers to limit their purchase of products flies in the face of conventional retail tenets. Yet, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, president and CEO, Americas of ESW, formerly eShop World, said the concept of limiting consumption is resonating among Gen Z and Millennials, two cohorts, that according to new research from ESW, don’t return unwanted products at a rate of 60%.
“I can only hope that we inspire other retailers to enact policies that will combat over-consumption in some way,” Kannan told me. But where do you draw the line? For one person it may be buying one Chanel suit per year and for another it could be buying a new outfit at H&M every week, she said.
“We define overconsumption as buying in excess of what you need to a point where it’s over an acceptable limit,” Kannan added. “According to a McKinsey & Partners study, the average American purchases a piece of clothing every five days, and for every five pieces of clothing bought, three are sent to landfills.
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“We believe that’s clearly overconsumption,” Kannan said. “No one needs a new clothing item every five days. I don’t think we need a new one every week, but there’s not a specific number. Everyone obviously has different clothing needs but I think it’s [defined] as above and beyond what is needed and above and beyond even buying small things for yourself. Going above that need and want is what we see as overconsumption.”
Kannan is realistic about changing enrgained consumer behavior. Shopping has been in our DNA and it has even been called “an American passtime.”
“There’s something to be said for being conscious about purchasing,” Kannan said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much they’re buying or how many times in a week they make a purchase, whether they go to a local shop and find a pair of shoes or order online every couple of days. They don’t consciously think about how much they’re purchasing, how much they’re affecting the environment.”
Fast fashion has managed to quell skepticism through greenwashing, Kannan said, with consumers buying more than ever before. The proliferation of fast fashion and overconsumption is having lasting effects on the planet with over 11 million tons of clothing ending up in landfills each year, she said.
“What we’re trying to do is make people conscious of how much they’re buying, so they can themselves reflect and say, ‘Okay, I’m purchasing more than I should be and this is really bad for the planet,’ or, ‘This is not great. I’m contributing to overconsumption.’ It’s that awareness.”
Launched on January 10, the program is in full swing. “We have consumers who signed up for the program and are shopping with the order limit in place,” Kannan said. “We haven’t heard any negative feedback. Everyone is excited to try it out. We haven’t reached the full year so we don’t know yet how many consumers will sign up. So far, we’ve had about 10% sign up in the first few days, so that’s good news. I’m hopeful that we get more and more people signing up over time.”
Toward vets brands before it offers them for sale on the platform. “We basically have brands fill out a 100-question questionnaire, and we take a weighted average based on each of the pillars of responsibility, such as transparency, emissions, etc. If they score above a certain threshold, we believe they’re responsible enough to be on our web site and we consider them a responsible brand.”
Kannan admitted that capping certain types of products wouldn’t work well for limits. “For necessities like toilet paper, that mindset probably becomes more of an issue,” she said. “The price point goes up as products become items for pleasure, like a nice pair of shoes or a item of nice clothing. The hoarding mentality isn’t that strong for every day products.
“For the cap, we received feedback from women who are really interested in reducing their environmental footprint,” Kannan added. “People who want to be more conscious about helping the planet. It’s not necessarily people who are on a budget. It’s really those who want to make a positive impact in a way that’s doable for them.”
The program dovetails nicely with current supply chain woes, which are inflicting pain on many categories, from apparel to home improvement staples such as wood, so it may be easier for consumers to abstain if the products they want aren’t in stock and on the shelves.
“We’ve been seeing some good feedback from Gen Z customers,” Kannan said. “We’re really seeing customers who are interested in purchasing better. Those consumers make up our core demographic – Millennial women in their early- to mid-Thirties, who are our main customers at this point.”
Kannan said the program is something of a benchmark for responsible purchasing. “Even when consumers go to another web site, it will be top of mind for them. It will encourage consumers to think even outside of our web site about how much they’re buying and help them make more environmentally-responsible purchasing decisions.”
Toward has been growing over the last few months. In October and November, the site’s revenue increased five-fold, and shot up even more during the holidays, Kannan said, adding, “I’m hoping to see our growth double in the next couple months. We’re definitely on a positive trajectory. We’re planning to raise money in the fall of this year.
“I really hope for is we make a positive impact and help combat over-consumption with our policy,” Kannan said. “The power really lies with the consumer. If they react very positively and there’s a big movement around purchasing less, it will have an impact and other retailers will get involved.”