No.4 Attribute Substitution & Shopping Sustainably

No.4 Attribute Substitution & Shopping Sustainably

When we don't consider the wider picture while we make a purchase we are implementing attribute substitution.

Attribute substitution, also known as substitution bias, is a psychological process that is behind several cognitive biases. It occurs when a shopper must make a purchase decision that is mentally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated attribute.

In other words, if a shopper is intending to make some form of complicated purchase, they will often ignore the technical and mentally challenging details (think sustainability credentials) and instead make the decision based on a much simpler aspect, such as “I like the colour”. Although many will not admit this in focus groups and other market research.

How can I get customers to engage with my sustainability messaging? 

Shoppers need simplicity in-store and whatever sustainability communications are the easiest to mentally process, will be the most appealing. So, if you want shoppers to attend to your sustainability communications in-store, there are several aspects you should consider.

Keep it simple

Shoppers aren’t experts, so don’t let environmental jargon creep into your shopper facing communications. For example, most shoppers are more interested in how effectively a more sustainable detergent washes clothes than in the fact that the packaging has 20% less plastic in it.

Meet basic needs

If your brand is part of a complicated category, make sure to provide shoppers with simple reasons to select your marque: For example, 100% recyclable packaging.

Introduce incomparability

If you can promote a really simple reason for shoppers to buy your more sustainable brand and if it is something they can’t compare with other brands then you have an instance USP (Unique Selling Point). To give an example, ‘Kinder to the planet’.

In summary, attribute substitution gives you a great way of making your sustainability activities, ergo your brand, easier to think about and buy. But equally, focussing on the features and aspects of sustainability can seriously damage brand performance. So, make sure to give shoppers a real ‘no brainer’ reason to sustainably select your brand.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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