Ethical eCommerce – how brands are leaning in on social responsibility

Sezzle’s mission is to ‘financially empower the next generation’, and to go beyond finance by supporting empowerment across many facets of users’ lives, creating a better world for the next generation through ethical initiatives. New generations are set to inherit the environmental and social crises unfolding today. Sezzle and its community of ‘partners with purpose’ prove that all industries can do their part to provide solutions and make positive social, economic, and sustainable impacts today and into the future.

Sezzle proposed a full slate of 2021 B Corp initiatives on both a local and global scale, seen in the following five commitments

  1. Planting a tree for every new, active user in partnership with Trees for the Future.
  2. The commitment to be carbon neutral with certification from Climate Neutral, reducing the company’s carbon footprint. That also works with brands like REI, Ministry of Supply, and Allbirds. 
  3. Giving a full annual scholarship to the University of Minnesota to a disadvantaged student and launching a new national scholarship.
  4. Providing free financial literacy and needed tools via Sezzle U.
  5. Creating a non-profit fund to support causes as they arise that are in line with the company’s social mission.

These initiatives coincide with the company’s value-based marketing strategy and dedication to its partners with purpose program-collaborating with brands, partners, and retailers that are aligned in pursuing social good. Sezzle’s key differentiator among competition is our purpose-driven approach to business. With this designation, Sezzle strengthens this advancement through the collective power of the B Corp community.

New generations are putting a major focus on how the brands they love choose to make an impact, actionable responsibility has become a major touchpoint for all companies. Sezzle got together with some of our community of partners – brands, agencies, and tech companies – with purpose to share how – and why – brands are leaning in on ethical and social responsibility.

BVA Commerce – Creating Inclusive eCommerce Design and UX

In a world where it is becoming increasingly more important to talk about issues of ethics in business, fostering an inclusive customer experience is just one piece of the puzzle that can be challenging. Creating beautiful user experience and visual design for an eCommerce store is often a top priority for many online brands. However, when it comes to ensuring that a website is inclusive to diverse groups, many merchants miss the mark.

Direct-to-consumer brands need to consider how their online store can become more inclusive to diverse audiences not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it will help your business grow. At BVA, we work with our clients to ensure the creative process, from research to production, takes the opportunity to address diverse groups. Here are some of the steps that our team takes to achieve this:

1. Don’t Over-Assume When it Comes to Audience Personas

It is important to recognize that audience personas often reinforce stereotypes and, as decision makers, we have the power to change how we research target audiences. For example, there is a stereotype that high income earners are not minorities and that can skew the audience personas towards certain groups.
As a way to avoid this, it’s important for creative designers to bring in “living experts”, or rather, real people who have life experience relating to a particular topic. As a foundational step in creating inclusive UX, BVA’s creative team strives to conduct research that is inclusive of living experts before making assumptions about our client’s target audiences

2. Use More Diversity in Product Photography

Lifestyle photography is one of the many ways brands create visually beautiful websites. This form of imagery is another way that brands have power over social change, because they can use it as an opportunity to promote inclusivity. When brands go through model castings for their website photography, it’s an opportunity to make choices that are thoughtful and diverse. 

3. Allocate Relevant Resources

Living experts should not only be used when performing external research, but also within your own team or agency consultants. When assigning resources to produce new designs or new creative assets, it’s important to consider the source. Choose to leverage living experts within your own org, or through your agency partners, whenever possible. This practice ensures that important perspectives are not missed.

BVA is a commerce agency that incubates and grows the direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands that people love. Click here to learn more.

Backbone – Streamlining Processes to Increase Efficiency and Decrease Waste

At Backbone, we’re inspired by all of our brand partners in one way or another, for one reason or another — but especially so by the ones disrupting the notion of what it means to operate ethically as an ecommerce business. A brand like Parker Clay, for instance, who specializes in ethical manufacturing of bags in Ethiopia. Kotn, who is committed to fair labor practices and social impact. Or allbirds,  or Girlfriend Collective, or époque évolution — all brands focused on using recycled and eco-friendly materials.

Incorporating ethical values in core business propositions in this way seems to be the way of the future. Studies show that more and more consumers are shopping brands that align with their personal values — and protecting the planet (and the people on it) is topping that list of values. And brands are taking note: “What we are seeing now is a much more intentional approach, one with sustainability at the forefront,” says Backbone co-founder Andrew Klein of the industry-wide design trend skewing towards ethical ecommerce. “Less season-specific colors, more multi-season materials. More ‘wear now’ pieces. And an overall ‘buy less, but buy right’ methodology.”

Backbone’s part in all of this? Helping brands streamline processes in a way that increases efficiency — and decreases waste. “Ultimately, we’ll see companies less inundated with overstock as they begin to produce right-sized assortments, and getting the right products to their customers at the right time and at the right price,” says Klein.

Backbone is a digital workspace that helps businesses of all sizes create, collaborate and scale. Click here to learn more.

Ministry of Supply – Using Science as a Force for Good

At Ministry of Supply, it is our ambition to create the most comfortable clothes on and for the planet, all backed by science. We not only engineer our products for motion, comfort, and easy care but also for the greater good. Here are some examples:

Adaptiveº: Developed with US Paralympians and the Stavros Center for Independent Living – our line of products for wheelchair riders.

Science for Better – Vaccine Education: In collaboration with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we’re supporting and promoting COVID19 Vaccine Education.

Zeroº: Our scientific approach to measuring, reducing and offsetting our carbon footprint, certified by Climate Neutral.

MºLabs: Our STEM education kit to support Boston Public Schools students with at-home experiments to combat racial inequities in education, particularly during the pandemic. 

Maskº: Our rapid development, design, testing and donation of over 70,000 masks to healthcare professions in the early weeks of the pandemic. 

Based out of Boston and born in the labs of MIT, we engineer for motion, comfort, easy care, and the planet. Think products that are breathable, stretchy, sweatproof, and easy to care for. Winner of NASA’s Innovation Excellence Award for bringing spaceflight-grade materials down to earth and two Guinness World Records for fastest half-marathons in suits (men & women), our gear performs. Click here to learn more.

New Engen – How Brands Can Own their Social Responsibility 

How do brands own their social responsibility? What is social responsibility in 2021? Also known as corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship, it is about conducting business in ways that positively contribute to society; actions and initiatives that better the brand, business and consumer.

At a time when public health, the environment, social & racial unrest and financial uncertainty are at the forefront of people’s minds, CSR is morphing into a new and improved definition that prioritizes actions over statements. While the definition is growing, ethical commerce is expanding as well to promote accountability, diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI), fair trade, fair labor, sustainability and more.

So how are successful brands owning their CSR? At New Engen, we use market research & industry insights to help our clients understand their customers and ad creative to communicate their stance on social responsibility. A few steps brands should take to begin owning their CSR include:

  • Identify the interests, needs and concerns of target audiences. This means asking the tough questions of your brand and consumers and outlining your brand’s role in addressing those issues. According to Morning Consult, younger Americans (18-29) are more likely than other adults to prioritize ethical matters when considering which brands to trust. This group of older Gen Zs and younger Millennials are interested in how brands are showing up for the issues and events that are important to them.
  • Initiate creative campaigns, partnerships and engagements that turn words into action, then show the work by communicating the results and intended next steps. Also consider small scale social media partnerships (i.e. micro-influencers) to reach niche audiences, collaborate with experts and cover critical causes. Less than 2 months before the 2020 election, American clothing company and environmental advocate Patagonia, printed its unofficial political tagline right on their product tags – the Regenerative Organic Stand-Up Shorts to be specific. The brand’s CEO Yvon Chouinard has been using the phrase “Vote the Assholes Out” for years to refer to “politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis and ignore science.” The quiet campaign quickly gained buzz in favor and against; but more importantly, it made clear the brand’s position on the climate crisis and encouraged people to learn more and make a plan to vote via Patagonia’s partnership with BallotReady.
  • Impact audiences by following through on the previous steps. In June 2020, modern women’s wellness brand Cora, took a step back to identify the company’s gaps in diversity and initiate change. In October 2020, Cora reached out to its customer base with impactful updates which included adding more BIPOC voices to editorial, partnering with organizations that support underserved communities, and creating a “Race & Intersectionality” vertical within their business.

Authenticity is key. This approach of Identify, Initiate and Impact outlines how successful brands own their social responsibility; however, success leans on authenticity. If done the wrong way, brands can and will be called out for inauthenticity and capitalizing on the current environment for their own gain. So talk to your customers and construct an experience that is transparent, real and true to the brand.

New Engen is a modern, integrated marketing agency that helps brands at all maturity levels, from Heritage to Disruptor, to learn, evolve, and thrive. Click here to learn more.

Octane AI – Building Better Customer Relationships with Sustainability

Sustainability is no longer a “nice-to-have,” it’s essential for brands if they want to build long-lasting relationships with customers. 

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important part of purchasing decisions. In fact, over 47% of consumers would pay more for a sustainable product (CGS). 

However, while many brands do offer sustainable products, shipping and packaging, the challenge many brands face today is how to communicate those details to their customers in an impactful way. 

How do you make site visitors aware that your products are sustainable? How do you build an association with sustainability or eco-conscious values? Storytelling throughout the customer journey is the key.

How to tell meaningful stories throughout the buyer’s journey

Communicating your brand’s ethics or sustainable values can be done throughout the customer journey. As a customer searches for products, adds-to-cart or opts in to marketing, there’s an opportunity to share more about your brand and what it stands for.

For a new site visitor, the homepage provides valuable real estate to share your brand’s story. For example, The Earthling Co. shares their mission statement directly on the homepage, allowing new visitors to read the brand’s story and begin associating The Earthling Co. with sustainability. For consumers who believe sustainability is important to them, this will impact the rest of their purchasing journey and improve their connection with The Earthling Co. 

Another great example is Attitude Living, which features product collections on their homepage and leads with collection descriptions centered around sustainability. Being eco-friendly is a product differentiator and, for most consumers, will be a strong selling point. Leading with sustainability can draw a link between the consumer’s values and your brand’s, flourishing the start of a brand-to-consumer relationship the customer is proud to support.

Make your mission and values engaging throughout the customer’s purchase experience

Beyond website copy sharing the brand’s sustainable mission, every ecommerce website has other valuable places to showcase brand ethics. One example is Attitude Living presents a “Buy a Product, Plant a Tree” expanding pop-up while on product detail pages. That way, when a customer is learning more about products, there’s an opportunity for them to connect with the brand’s cause. 

To increase email marketing opt-ins, The Earthling Co. provides free downloadable stickers with zero-waste reminders when someone opts-in to email. For customers who are looking to reduce waste, this type of messaging will resonate and help convert them to a marketing subscriber. 

Having consistent messaging across the website and all of your marketing channels is important — brands should be consistently telling their story on social media, email, SMS, Facebook Messenger or any other channels used to interact with customers.

When a customer opts-in to your marketing channels, it’s an opportunity for you to send them a welcome flow focused around the brand’s story, mission or goals. The more impactful story you have to share, the more likely the customer is to engage with you and remember that story when thinking about purchasing again. 

If the customer believes in your mission, they will share it with their like-minded peers as well, turning those customers into loyal brand advocates that provide you with referrals and user-generated content because they believe in what you do and want to continue supporting you. 

Increasing lifetime value starts with a strong customer connection

Consumers are increasingly on the hunt for products and brands who align with their own values. Eco-conscious consumers will spend about $128.5 billion on sustainable consumer goods (Nielson), an increase of over 20 percent since 2014. 

Not only that, but nearly 6 in 10 people are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact (IBM). When a customer sees your brand is aligned with their own causes, not only will they be willing to pay a higher average price but your brand will increase its customer retention rate with those customers returning to purchase from you again and again. 

As more customers are seeking out sustainable alternatives, ensuring your ethics are communicated throughout the website and customer journey becomes critical to the customer relationship. 

Octane AI is an all-in-one platform for engaging quizzes, data collection, and personalized Facebook Messenger & SMS automation for Shopify and Shopify Plus. Click here to learn more.

Prima – The Patagonia of CBD

Now more than ever, businesses have a responsibility to do better, and Prima is leading the way by creating a new set of ethical standards for the CBD industry to follow. By incorporating the business as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), a requirement for all Certified B Corps, Prima was able to achieve B Corp status in the first year of business, which means Prima has met the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability from the brands’ inception. 

Prima is also committed to creating the cleanest products possible, and as the first CBD brand to be verified by the Environmental Working Group, Prima’s 100% Clean, 0% Questionable product philosophy is industry-defining, setting the stage for the CBD industry at-large. 

About Prima: We are wellness advocates, science enthusiasts and changemakers with a deep respect for nature — and a firm belief in its ability to bring us back to balance. We founded Prima to provide the products, tools and education that will help us get there. Because when we as individuals are able to find that balance, it has a profound and lasting impact on the people and world around us. Click here to learn more.

Irish Titan – Beating the Big Players (especially Amazon) with Ethical Ecommerce

The big ecommerce players, especially Amazon, have had a stronghold on the industry for years. They have a profound influence on the look and feel, the operations, and the expectations set for businesses selling online. Until recently, they’ve been all but unstoppable. But signs show that consumer interest in Amazon may be waning. Even during huge upticks during COVID-19, unhappiness within Amazon customers is common. The pandemic may be a shift to more local, more ethical, and more sustainable buying habits. The key: providing customers with the flexibility and convenience that Amazon is so known for.

Beating the Big Players

Now beating the big guys at their own game is difficult. You may not be able to offer the shipping deals or the prices that Amazon can. But that’s not necessarily why people order from Amazon. We think that consumers are willing to buy from other retailers that offer the customer-centric buying experience that they are accustomed to. Simple, easy checkouts. Over-communication on shipping dates and rates. Treating loyalty as a central business practice. Especially if they can get that experience without giving Jeff Bezos more money. 

We know that customers will spend extra money on sustainably sourced, small-scale manufactured products that have real meaning. It’s the entire business model of Toms, Patagonia, Etsy, and so many more. The issues arise when customers aren’t the central core of that business. When customers lack clarity on how much shipping will cost them, when the product arrives, or they feel that they’re being left out of the business despite being a loyal customer for years. Ethical ecommerce is the future, tied hand in hand with a consumer-centric buying experience.


Last year, we had the privilege of talking to Mohamed Malim at Ecomm Forum. Mohamed is the founder of Epimonía, an inspiring company that creates new lives for refugees by upcycling life jackets worn by refugees on the Mediterranean sea and discarded upon arrival in Greece. Malim is an inspirational Somali-American entrepreneur who founded Epimonía out of the University of St. Thomas 20 years after fleeing civil war in Somali. He’s donated $45,000 and supports refugees with employment, housing, scholarships, and more.  All their products are handmade by refugees in Minneapolis.

He also understands the importance of ecommerce in his business’ story. His Shopify site makes it insanely easy to buy bracelets, hats, shirts with pieces of life jackets. Shopify’s simple back-end, easy controls, and seamless customer experience make controlling an ecommerce website easier than ever. Check out his store at Epimonia.com.

Irish Titan builds and grows ecommerce channels, using only Titans (no contractors, freelancers, or offshore resources) to deliver “Business First. Online Second.”℠ ecommerce strategies and solutions. Click here to learn more.

Hawke Media – The New Consumer

According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, a yearly study with over 30,000 participants, “business” has crossed the threshold into being the only entity that is both competent and ethical.  

Source: Edelman

This undoubtedly comes as consumers become more discerning about the brands they purchase from and increasingly place a higher value on transparency. 86% of Americans believe transparency is more important than in the past, according to a report from Sprout Social.

Failing to build trust through transparency would be a misstep for brands trying to increase awareness, build loyalty, and most importantly, grow revenue. Over the course of the pandemic, consumers have become historically more open to switching brands “with 36 percent of consumers trying a new product brand and 25 percent incorporating a new private-label brand” into their shopping behaviors. 

There’s an opportunity for brands to set themselves apart by stepping up to address the needs of new buyer personas that are evolving from the pandemic, specifically, the “socially conscious shopper.”

Source: Deloitte

Hawke Media is a full-service Outsourced CMO based in Los Angeles, CA, providing the guidance, planning, and execution to grow brands of all sizes, industries and business models. Hawke’s collaborative process, à la carte offering, and month-to-month fee structure give clients the flexibility they need to boost digital revenues and marketing ROI. Click here to learn more.

Frank And Oak – The Fabric of Change

They say you can’t see into the future, but the clothes you wear prove otherwise. Frank and Oak knows this better than anyone, as it continues to lead the way in terms of fabric innovation. It’s no news that we’ve entered a critical phase in our fight against climate change, and it will take a lot more than organic T-shirts to pull us back from the abyss of ecological debt. That’s why Frank And Oak is determined to scale its research into groundbreaking fibres and set new standards for the garment industry at-large. Since acquiring its B corp certification in 2019, the Montreal-based company has continued to exceed environmental performance and innovation in a bid to preserve the planet for future generations. Technologies such as Hydroless denim, Seacell™ yarn made from algae, SeaWool made from oysters shells, and more recently Kapok, the most sustainable alternative to cotton, have been at the forefront of every trans-seasonal collection. In redefining what it means to actually be ‘fashion-forward’, Frank And Oak innovates to help weave a better future for us all.

At Frank And Oak we design clothing for men and women that are made to last with the highest standards to keep up with our demanding lifestyles, while ensuring minimal impact on the planet we love. Click here to learn more.

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