Almost all of us would agree that the things we say are important. In our daily lives, in the news, on the TV, we see and experience the impact language can have. So the way words are used to sell products comes with enormous responsibility. And yet it seems to be an issue that is largely overlooked in the ethical/sustainability community.
As retailers, the way we use language creates a mood and set a brand tone of voice. Big businesses spend thousands on having a unique voice that affects the feelings customers may have when landing on a certain website or entering a store. But almost all retailers default to the same linguistic techniques when it comes to selling. Shop language is often, at best, instructional (Buy Now! Don’t Wait! Grab A Bargain!) or worse, manipulative, in the way it plays on human psychology (Was £150, now £100! Offer Closing Soon!) As humans, we are hardwired to respond to certain messages and the urgency of language used by many retailers is as counter-productive to operating sustainably as the actual emissions their products may produce. So it seems strange to us how many shops claiming to be selling thoughtful or sustainable products engage in this type of language. Is it just another type of greenwashing?
Here at Aerende, we know that words are powerful and we use them mindfully. It’s important for us, as a business committed to operating in harmony with people and planet, that our language doesn’t lead people to do the opposite (buying things they don’t need, or overlooking the human experience of creating the product).
We try to be as careful with words as we are about the materials we use or the way we create our goods. This starts with our use (in most cases and sometimes with reservation) of the person-first language model when talking about our makers. Person-first language puts the emphasis on the person rather than the barrier to employment or perceived reason for it (ie, a person with mental health illness rather than rather than a mentally ill person; a person with learning disabilities rather than a learning disabled person). Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all option and we don’t have a rulebook or style guide – instead choosing the language that makers and maker groups identify with themselves. This allows flexibility to adapt and evolve our language accordingly and you may see what you think of as inconsistencies as a result of one maker preferring identity first language over person-first language. Some brilliant (and more erudite) insights on this topic are provided by disability campaigner Mik Scarlet and sociologist Tom Shakespeare as well as on this Twitter thread. It should be noted that all of these relate to disabled people specifically and not the diverse range of makers and life experiences of those we work with who, for reasons that should be covered on another blog post, seem not to have such autonomous voices in the media.
On other topics, we are always striving to express ourselves in ways that aligns with our values. And much of this relates to the things we don’t say. Aerende may be a trading business, with selling as its main mode of income. But we want to sell slowly. Thoughtfully. Not with one eye on a trend or a bargain. With that in mind, as well as what we do say, here are some of the sayings and terms we try to avoid and why.
We try not to say*
Why we avoid it
Because the idea of something 'trending' suggests that its desirability is right now but may not be right at some point in the future – our products are designed to be loved and used for a lifetime.
For this season
Ditto above. We don't operate according to seasons and all of our products are sold year-round and on an ongoing basis.
Because what does that really mean? If something has a cheap price tag, customers may get a bargain but who is really paying the price?
Global shipping or free shipping
Global shipping as part of a business model is not a sustainable practice. And it’s unnecessary when a version of most items can be found locally in many parts of the world. Although we do have the odd customers from overseas, we don't market or advertise outside the UK and don't offer returns for international customers. Free shipping suggests that postage does not have any kind of impact either financially or environmentally, when of course, it has both (read more about this here).
We think shopping should be a considered, joyful experience in which we think carefully about how we are going to enjoy items for months, years and decades to come. The buy now mentality encourages a instant gratification mentality that focuses us on the new rather than the purpose or satisfaction.
Reduced /On Offer / BOGOF
The cost of the materials stays the same. The amount of work is the same. The use is the same. The business costs are the same. So to regularly offer reductions or offers devalues our items at the same time as encouraging over-purchasing. As a non-profit organisation, our aims are to generate income for the business and its maker stakeholders. Too many reductions negatively impact that aim. Very occasionally we may reward customer loyalty or the launch of a new products with a discount – as we value repeat customers and want to get the word out about new items. We constantly asses how often and the ways in which we do this.
Ethical or sustainable without qualification
Using the words ethical or sustainable doesn’t necessarily mean the item actually is either. We try not to use them unless the follow or preceed an explanation about why we are using them.
It’s worth nothing that although we try to avoid these terms, we are subject to the same social pressures and unconscious usage of potentially damaging terms as everyone else. This blog post is not had and fast guarantee we’ve never said or will say these things – just an acknowledgement of our intention to be mindful about our language. Being a conscious retailer is not just about what we sell, it’s about the way we sell it and we want to always initiate conversations so that we cam learn about the best way to do that.
* If you notice things we’ve said that may be harmful please let us know. And we would love to hear your thoughts on other terms, sayings and marketing spiel that may be counter to responsible retailing.
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