Major Shifts in Sustainable Consumer Behavior in Romania and Retailers’ Priorities in Agilely Adapting to It
- The major shifts in sustainable consumer behavior (increased consumer willingness to move towards sustainable products as well as to change their shopping habits in order to reduce their impact on the environment; enhanced consumer awareness about the key role consumers play in influencing sustainable production and consumption by adopting greener purchasing behaviors and attitudes; the reduction in the discrepancy between consumers’ attitudes and their behavior concerning their sustainable shopping decisions on the one hand and their intentions regarding the purchase of sustainable products on the other; increasing consumers’ awareness of the concepts of UN SDGs, Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0) on the Romanian retail market within the context of digital transformation and of Green European Deal, and
- Retailers’ priorities in agilely adapting to these significant evolutions, by identifying risk areas (associated with: the disruptive technologies, consumers’ perceptions with regard to the outcome of investments made by the supermarket chain in sustainability, consumers’ uncertainty and anxiety, consumers’ resistance to change caused by convenience and especially price) and opportunities (the translation of the consumers’ uncertainty into trust; increased focus on responding to sustainability as an increasingly personal value of consumers; partnerships with suppliers that develop sustainable products; leveraging the e-commerce channel to provide new opportunities for circular consumption; targeting consumers with agile messages and tailored issues, responding to their needs for better information and education, and aiding them to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and to make informed choices in the omnichannel world).
2. Literature Review
2.1. The Relationship between the Concepts of Circular Economy, Sustainability, and Sustainable Development
2.2. Digitalization and Its Influence on the Retail Industry
2.2.1. Consumers’ Relationship and Engagement within Digital Transformation
2.2.2. Retailers’ Phygital Strategies and the Sustainable Smart Store of the Future
2.3. The Discrepancy between Consumers’ Attitudes towards Sustainable Consumption and Their Behavior in Purchasing Sustainable Products. The Need for Understanding Retailers’ Sustainability Journeys
2.3.1. Resolving the Challenging Green Shopper Dilemma
2.3.2. Consumers’ Decision-Making Impacted by Their Perspective towards Sustainability. Helping Shoppers Make Sustainable Choices
2.3.3. Prioritizing Sustainability in the Consumer Sector: Purposeful Retail and Shopping
2.3.4. Meeting and Exceeding Consumers’ Expectations by Providing Improved Experience Using the Lens of Sustainability
2.4. Consumers’ Perspective in the World’s Largest Market towards Sustainable Consumption
2.4.1. Global Consumers’ Perception of the Sustainability Imperative
2.4.2. Continuous Acceleration and Expansion of the Chinese Consumers’ Trends Existing Earlier in Time, Based on Improving Consumer Experience
2.4.3. China’s Sustainable Future Is Significantly Challenging the Other Main Global Actors, and Not Only Them
2.5. The Romanian Retail Sector’s Key Role in Sustainable Production and Consumption, and the Increasing Role of Sustainable Consumer Behavior in Romania
2.5.1. The Romanian Retail Market, an Important Market for Supermarket Chains
2.5.2. Romanian Green Consumers and Implementation of Sustainable Development Policies on the Romanian Retail Market
3. Hypothesis Development
- Considering existing evidence: the practitioner experience mentioned earlier, the literature review (including gaps identified by us and presented in each area of the literature), as well as our own prior work. With regard to our prior recent work, it is worth remembering the aforementioned research on Romanian consumers’ perceptions of Artificial Intelligence  and on retailers’ need to become and remain consumers’ trusted advisors and agile to consumers’ changing behaviors in the current VUCA time more than ever . It is also important to consider how necessary it is to take into account how and when to assess consumers’ satisfaction on the basis of comparisons between actual purchases and preset standards and expectations, considering the effect–effort relationship or the purchases’ performance . And that within the context in which: a Big Data analysis of consumer satisfaction following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the customer end of retail supply chains in a main investing EU country in Romania revealed a general and significant decline in consumer satisfaction ; the relationship between satisfaction and loyalty can occur through more or less important mediators, such as perceived switching costs or perceived lack of attractiveness of alternative offerings ; the choices of today’s consumers, expanded by the mix of traditional and digital marketing, are putting pressures on both retailers and their suppliers to better drive consumers’ loyalty by building better brand partnerships in order to cross-share more effectively consumers’ information within their recently disrupted supply chains, increase consumers’ engagement and connection, and improve their experience based on a deeper understanding of consumer behavior through richer data clarifying consumers’ value . It is interesting to note that the above-mentioned second annual IBM, Armonk, NY, USA and US National Retail Federation, Washington, DC, global consumer retail study published in January 2022 confirmed what we revealed in our aforementioned research  with regard to the role of AI in the way retailers can significantly drive value.
- Using reasoning to deduce what will happen in our specific context of interest: by identifying our problem of interest with regard to shifts in sustainable consumer behavior and retailers’ need for deep consumer insights in their agile adaptation, while enabling sustainable business models; determining the significance of this problem (the extent to which consumers will benefit from our findings; the extent to which the findings will be applicable to retail business practice and consumer education, etc.); determining the feasibility of studying the significant problem of interest.
- Depends on “Retailers’ sustainability agenda, including by fulfilling consumers’ sustainability demands with new products and processes” (“S”, an endogenous variable allowing the statements of the hypotheses H2 and H3 below), the “S” construct appearing as a moderating factor with regard to the “R” and “D” constructs;
- Impacts “Retailers’ digital transformation to aid consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and to make informed choices in the omnichannel world” (“D”), being a mediating factor between the “W” and “D” constructs.
4. Research Methods
5. Results and Discussions
The Latent Variables
- As an EU member country, Romania has a strategic location at the crossroads of three great markets (the EU, the CIS, and the Middle East), is a leading destination in CEE for foreign direct investment, and is recognized for the similarities of its distribution and sales channels, the range of its retail outlets, and the local retail market dominance in the Big Box segment by reputed major retailers;
- Romania’s e-commerce market is continuing to undergo a spectacular evolution, including from the point of view of the long-standing and memorable traditional relationship between Romania and China, which was confirmed also more recently by Romanian consumers, who prefer to buy online from stores in China rather than from stores in EU member states and the USA, while in the top foreign platforms preferred by Romanians AliExpress/Alibaba Group ranks second, in front of the e-commerce giant Amazon.
- Consumers perceive how retailers are becoming step by step more aware of the need to manage and reduce consumers’ resistance to change through the range of products offered, the merchandising techniques used, and the assistance offered in the phygital space, confirming in this way the continuous integration of sustainability into their operational and strategic activities.
- Consumers perceive how retailers are paying more attention to sustainability as a personal value of consumers.
- Consumers perceive that retailers already have a significant sustainability agenda.
- Consumers perceive an increased concentration of retailers on digitizing processes (by creating a digital representation of physical objects or attributes), including the mode of retailer–consumer communication (social media, text messages, phone, etc.), and the enablement of new business models with the help of new disruptive technologies (valorizing the digitized data and improving consumer experience).
- Consumers feel the need for consumers’ uncertainty and anxiety to be better addressed by retailers within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, by reducing the associated risks, and for retailers to confirm their honesty and transparency by asking for and acting on consumers’ feedback and translating consumers’ uncertainty into the trust that consumers expect.
- The research developed a clear understanding of:
- Consumers’ increasing awareness of their important role in impacting sustainable production and consumption by adopting greener behavior and attitudes, mainly the digital natives who are more proficient in the use of new technologies, and thereby enabling the smoothing of sustainable consumption;
- Retailers’ challenge of targeting consumers with agilely adapted messages and issues (based on the new technologies disrupting retailers’ traditional strategy of using distribution channels to deliver the products within the digital ecosystems) strengthening brand perception on sustainability and answering to consumers’ needs for better information and education so as to reduce the difference between the reality of their behavior and attitudes on the one hand, and their reported purchasing intentions of sustainable products (which purchases were performed better online versus in-store) on the other.
- Similar to other recent studies based on objective questionnaires that are answered after a face-to-face interview, the answers came rather from young people. Thus, over half of the respondents (more precisely 52.9%) were people up to 35 years old, and over 82% were up to 45 years old—in other words: Xennials + Millennials + Gen Z. Only 10.3% of respondents were between 46–55 years old and just over 6% were between 46–65 years, the weakest-represented segment being ‘over 66 years old’, in which we find less than 1 percent of the total number of respondents. We made these clarifications out of a desire to explain the degree of representativeness in our study. The explanations have several hypotheses, the most important being related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the way in which the elderly choose to protect themselves by limiting their exposure time in public spaces.
- Although we considered the feedback obtained after the ‘face validity technique’, as well as the pilot test, we consider that some questions may require a certain degree of knowledge of the concerns related to circular economy, sustainability, and sustainable development. For this reason, those questions have been adjusted and additional explanations have been added of some specialized terms or of some legislative initiatives. The questionnaire was addressed to Romanian clients, and by translating it into English some terms may seem less intelligible.
- Another weakness is the size of the focus groups and the pilot test group, for which larger sizes would have been preferred. At the same time, following the adjustments, the W, R, and S constructs were left with only 7, 6 and 6 items, respectively. These are relatively small numbers, which can also affect Cronbach’s alpha values. However, the whole process of building items is a strong point, with many of the items being built based on interviews specially designed for this study. The dimensions identified in this study represent novelty elements in specialized research.
- Another strong point that we would like to mention is the above-mentioned conducting of in-person interviews, a superior procedure to online interviews, where there is no adequate control over the seriousness of the respondents. This strength, at the same time, is a limitation, if we think of those people who, being fearful, interacted less or even avoided shopping in stores, as previously stated.
6.4. Further Research
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Romania||Younger Than 18||18–25 Years Old||26–35 Years Old||36–45 Years Old||46–55 Years Old||56–65 Years Old||66 Years or Older||Total|
|Consumers’ Willingness to Change Their Shopping Habits to Reduce Environmental Impact (W)||W1||When choosing a brand, are you looking for specific attributes which are important to you?|
|W2||Would you rather select brands based on how well they align with your personal values, such as sustainability, changing your behavior accordingly (purpose-driven consumers) or based on price and convenience (value-driven consumers)?|
|W3||Are you shopping in the so-called (by Google and Forrester, 2015) micro-moments (shopping while doing something else, turning to a device like a smartphone, making decisions and shaping preferences)?|
|W4||Are you willing to change your shopping habits to reduce environmental impact?|
|W5||Do you think that sustainability is important for consumers in Romania, and that there are lifestyle changes to address this challenge?|
|W6||Do you think there has been a change in your attitude as a consumer in direct and sustainable response to a newly appreciated risk?|
|W7||Do you think that there is a gap between your purchasing attitude (encouraged by the above-mentioned awareness) and your current buying behavior as a responsible consumer (considering the different individual, social and situational factors influencing your decision process)?|
|Retailers’ Increased Concentration on Responsibly Answering to Sustainability as a Personal Value of Consumers Changing Their Behavior (R)||R1||Do you agree with the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP, adopted by the European Commission in March 2020, as one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth), which ensures the adoption of the new sustainable model by businesses, consumers, entrepreneurs, and public authorities?|
|R2||Do you agree with the European Green Deal (EGD) for the European Union (EU) proposed for the EU and its citizens by the European Commission (Communication and Roadmap on the European Green Deal, committing to climate neutrality by 2050) in December 2019 (before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic) and aimed at increasing the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean and circular economy, stopping climate change, and reducing pollution?|
|R3||Do you agree with the opinion of the European Commission that the European Green Deal is also seen as a lifeline from the COVID-19 pandemic?|
|R4||Do you agree that the European Green Deal should also take into account the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals/SDGs) adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 as a global plan for sustainability, so as to meet the needs of current generations without compromising those of future generations?|
|R5||Do you agree with Japan’s initiative known as “Society 5.0” in which smart technologies are to support sustainable development? “Society 5.0” (next level after the current Information Society, a policy for a data-driven society promoted by the digital revolution) has been officially defined as “A human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace (AI, Big Data) and physical space”?|
|R6||Did you know that consumer products are the largest source of environmental impact in the modern world, contributing to climate change, destroying widespread natural resources and ecosystems, exposing people to hazardous chemicals, and filling the ocean and landfills around the globe?|
|Retailers’ Sustainability Agenda, Including by Fulfilling Consumers’ Sustainability Demands with New Products and Processes (S)||S1||Are you as a shopper expecting brands to offer products and services both with eco-friendliness in mind and for the right price?|
|S2||Did you notice any preoccupations of the supermarket chain (or of some supermarket chains) which can be considered related to the European Green Deal?|
|S3||Do you think that there is a need for improved promotion with regard to the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental)?|
|S4||If you will choose a brand with sustainability in mind, will you do research before purchasing it, wanting assurances?|
|S5||Do you think that the supermarket chain generates your awareness of consequences of sustainable shopping through better communication about sustainability (such as rational advertising with regard to its sustainability efforts or the use of emotions in motivating consumers’ shift towards sustainable behavior and reward programs mixed with communication in social media to increase green sales) and its practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (thanks to an assortment of sustainable products with a socially and environmentally compatible supply chain)?|
|S6||Do you think that the supermarket chain is increasing transparency in its supply chain by integrating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) requirements into procurement policies?|
|Retailers’ Digital Transformation to Aid Consumers to Adopt More Sustainable Lifestyles and to Make Informed Choices in the Omnichannel World (D)||D1||Was the source of information for what you noticed more from social networks and less from classic advertising spots?|
|D2||Was access to the source of information (for those 816 respondents, from 1015, who noticed preoccupations of the supermarket chain related to the European Green Deal) provided by marketing messages influencing the purchase received on mobile devices?|
|D3||Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed fundamentally the supermarket chain’s way of engaging consumers by offering so-called “phygital” experiences?|
|D4||Do you think that the supermarket chain takes into account consumers’ evolving perceptions of sustainable-product efficacy (in accordance with their environmental values) and is struggling to stimulate their perceptions of the company as investing in sustainability, including in partnerships with suppliers developing sustainable products (by making technology investments)?|
|D5||Do you think that the supermarket chain is improving its approach with regard to e-commerce platforms, home delivery services, and take-back systems (as key value factors), in terms of the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of supply chain management, distribution systems, and the use and disposal of packaging?|
|D6||Do you think that, as an expression of its responsibility for the environmental and health impact of their products and operations, the supermarket chain can help shoppers make sustainable choices by using their online marketplace to provide more in-depth education with regard to the everyday products’ impact on the environment and shoppers’ health?|
|D7||Do you think that the supermarket chain could use an e-commerce platform to attract and engage the conscious consumer who wants to know more about the impact of a product on the environment and health (in addition to the recourse by the supermarket chain to the use of e-mail, social networks, online promotions, etc.)?|
|D8||Do you think that the supermarket chain could use the e-commerce channel to provide new opportunities for circular consumption (for new business models which extend the product life cycle, such as renting, repurchasing, and reselling)?|
|D9||Do you think that the supermarket chain has improved the customer-oriented systems (such as websites or applications) so that its customers are stimulated to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and make informed choices?|
|D10||Coming back to the channel of e-commerce used by the supermarket chain, do you think that e-commerce can play a role in driving the green economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while addressing climate change?|
|Retailers’ Need to Translate Consumers’ Uncertainty Into Trust, Identifying Risks Associated with Disruptive Technologies and Making Them Less Severe (T)||T1||As a consumer, could you say that you perceive a certain inability to predict to what extent the supermarket chain can help shoppers make sustainable choices or strengthen their sustainable consumption routines?|
|T2||As a consumer, would you say that, perceiving the above-mentioned inability, you take the risk of not accurately predicting the outcome of investments made by the supermarket chain in sustainability, including in partnerships with suppliers who develop sustainable products (by investing in technology)?|
|T3||Do you think that the supermarket chain could take a strategic decision to synchronize their innovation activity (through investments in sustainability, new technologies, digital transformation, etc.) in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic so that, within the competitive battle on the relevant market with other supermarket chains (which reduce investments of this kind), it can obtain the first-mover advantage?|
|T4||Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the supermarket chain faces continual change in the direction needed to deal with the complex situation. Do you think that in its management of uncertainty the supermarket chain you frequent has the capability to act for improvements in the necessary directions (costs improvement, performance, confidence in achieving goals)?|
|T5||As a consumer, would you say that you are averse to uncertainty with regard to the result of investments in sustainability made by the supermarket chain (prior experiences or beliefs influencing your interpretation of forecasts and predictions)?|
|T6||Assuming that you are averse to uncertainty with regard to the result of investments in sustainability made by the supermarket chain, would you also say that, in the case of such uncertainty, you feel anxious?|
|T7||In order to maintain relevance and stay competitive, the supermarket chain, like any business today, needs to consider the digital readiness of its workforce to transition into digitized workflows that are enabled by software and technology. In your opinion, is the supermarket chain facing this challenge?|
|T8||It was demonstrated that, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, digitization is crucial to a company’s survival. Do you think that the supermarket chain has identified ways that digital transformation can aid its customers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and to make informed choices?|
|T9||Recent research highlights companies’ need to translate uncertainty into confidence, ensuring differentiation on this basis, identifying risks and making them less severe or painful (including those associated with emerging technologies, and taking advantage of these technologies to optimize their risk function), and turning digital risks into competitive advantage to activate digital trust. Do you think that the supermarket chain is building a digital framework which can deliver sustainable value from risk and transform consumers into digitally trusted partners?|
|Scale||α Cronbach||Number of Items|
|W. Consumers’ willingness to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact||1–5||0.682||7|
|R. Retailers’ increased concentration on responsibly answering to sustainability as a personal value of consumers changing their behavior||1–5||0.785||6|
|S. Retailers’ sustainability agenda, including by fulfilling consumers’ sustainability demands with new products and processes||1–5||0.763||6|
|D. Retailers’ digital transformation to aid consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and to make informed choices in the omnichannel world||1–5||0.824||10|
|T. Retailers’ need to translate consumers’ uncertainty into trust, identifying risks associated with disruptive technologies and making them less severe||1–5||0.904||9|
|H5||T←D||0.332||0.163||Risk of 16%|
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Purcărea, T.; Ioan-Franc, V.; Ionescu, Ş.-A.; Purcărea, I.M.; Purcărea, V.L.; Purcărea, I.; Mateescu-Soare, M.C.; Platon, O.-E.; Orzan, A.-O. Major Shifts in Sustainable Consumer Behavior in Romania and Retailers’ Priorities in Agilely Adapting to It. Sustainability 2022, 14, 1627. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14031627
Purcărea T, Ioan-Franc V, Ionescu Ş-A, Purcărea IM, Purcărea VL, Purcărea I, Mateescu-Soare MC, Platon O-E, Orzan A-O. Major Shifts in Sustainable Consumer Behavior in Romania and Retailers’ Priorities in Agilely Adapting to It. Sustainability. 2022; 14(3):1627. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14031627Chicago/Turabian Style
Purcărea, Theodor, Valeriu Ioan-Franc, Ştefan-Alexandru Ionescu, Ioan Matei Purcărea, Victor Lorin Purcărea, Irina Purcărea, Maria Cristina Mateescu-Soare, Otilia-Elena Platon, and Anca-Olguța Orzan. 2022. "Major Shifts in Sustainable Consumer Behavior in Romania and Retailers’ Priorities in Agilely Adapting to It" Sustainability 14, no. 3: 1627. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14031627