Thankfully, brands like Non Plastic Beach are on hand to help us out. We caught up with co-founder Gareth Dean to find out what true sustainability really means, and how online reviews are helping to drive positive change.
Keen divers that have explored natural reefs all over the world, Gareth and his wife Nicola have experienced the very unnatural presence of plastic pollution first hand. But in an effort to reduce their own impact, they found the problem wasn’t such an easy fix.
Poor quality products, plastic packaging on otherwise plastic free items, and less than transparent claims on sustainability prompted them to tackle the issue from a different angle. So in 2018 they launched Non Plastic Beach from their kitchen table, giving consumers access to quality, sustainable household essentials like cleaning products and toiletries. They now sell to 92 countries, and have worked with everyone from small owner/manager businesses to big name brands like Urban Outfitters.
Despite their growth, the ethos remains the same - it’s all about providing effective, affordable products that truly are sustainable in every sense of the term. And owing to the pandemic driven boom in eCommerce, they’re now reaching more customers than ever before.
Non Plastic Beach sells through both wholesale and retail. Pre-pandemic, their focus had been on the wholesale side, but with their eCommerce arm already in place, they were able to react quickly when online purchases became a necessity. After a temporary lull, sales soon picked up when the world realised life goes on even in lockdown, and retail became the more profitable stream.
In refocusing their efforts in line with this cultural shift, Non Plastic Beach have proven that flexibility is key to managing difficult times, and that you need to react quickly or risk falling behind, something Gareth has also seen in the merchants they sell through:
“We’ve seen that some of our retailers have been really successful in flipping to having an online presence. Those that adapted quickly, and did it well by collecting reviews, have obviously done better during the pandemic than some that were reluctant, or haven’t done it.”
Far from being the end of the high street, what Gareth predicts now is a hybrid model, where bricks and mortar stores retain a complimentary presence online. But how does this work from an eCommerce perspective? How do brands that traditionally sell online bridge the gap and connect with their market on a personal level?
We recently looked at how to succeed with running a pop-up shop, particularly as an eCommerce brand. For us, it’s all about using these temporary locations to educate and build trust. Online reviews play a huge role in this, but every now and again it’s crucial to meet your market face-to-face, creating that physical connection between brand and consumer.
We were keen to hear Gareth’s take on pop-ups and what they bring to brands like Non Plastic Beach. In his experience, they’ve proven key opportunities to source direct feedback from potential customers. When you’re a brand looking to change established buying behaviours, that understanding of how your products are received is invaluable:
“It was really interesting to actually see people picking up products and reacting to them, saying what they thought - sometimes very honestly.”
It’s this kind of insight that makes pop-ups so valuable to online retailers - they’re essentially a chance to engage with the consumer - to find out what works for them, what doesn’t, and what messages need to be communicated to help them make informed decisions. Which leads us nicely onto...
Online reviews are important for any brand, but when it comes to those trying to change purchase behaviours, they’re an absolute must. One of the major challenges faced by sustainable brands is convincing potential buyers that their products are just as good, if not better, than the ones they’re aiming to replace - so having customer feedback is essential. And it’s a huge part of how Non Plastic Beach gets the message across:
“We knew we needed reviews, and we wanted to get the right solution that worked with our site. It’s something we know is a strong part of convincing people - when they can’t touch or feel a product themselves, or haven’t had a friend recommend it - it gives people reassurance.”
They’ve also seen the benefit of influencer endorsement, with reviews of their shampoos from TV presenter Julia Bradbury. It’s all part of an effective strategy that’s helping Non Plastic Beach spread the word on sustainability - a strategy they’re looking to expand by using our new customisable product review widget.
With this, they can ask and display additional questions that give reviews more context - for example - how a certain shampoo bar works on a specific hair type. The kind of detail offered by product and reviewer attributes will help consumers match products to their needs, and boost confidence in efficacy. And with a better all round shopping experience comes an increase in conversion.
But it’s not just product efficacy and quality they’re keen to share. There’s another important message behind the Non Plastic Beach ethos - that true sustainability means looking at the entire lifecycle of every single product.
One of Gareth’s top priorities is to ensure that with every new product introduced, they are not solving one problem to replace it with another - and to avoid making any unsubstantiated or misleading claims on sustainability:
“Sustainability in the home is an area that sees a lot of Greenwashing, where people make claims about a product, stretching things, or maybe true but also not the right thing to do.”
As an example, Gareth cites cleaning product refills that come in thin plastic pouches - the plastic may be reduced, but it’s actually harder to recycle than a solid plastic bottle. They also work hard to ensure none of the materials they source contribute to other issues, like deforestation for example, and that they use the cleanest possible methods of transportation for material imports.
Ultimately, the Non Plastic Beach way is the right way - full accountability at every step of the process. That makes it a lot easier for us as consumers to make the right choices, and know those choices really will have a positive impact.
What Non Plastic Beach has achieved is the creation of a credible brand with an authentic purpose. They’ve developed products that really do work as well as their non-sustainable counterparts, a fact that sings true in the reviews they’ve collected, with next to no negative feedback received. They’ve taken every precaution to ensure their mission to eliminate plastic pollution does not cause any other adverse effects, and they’ve set a shining example for other brands to follow.