Customer experience overlooked in circular business models – report



Businesses looking to adopt circular economy business models are failing to focus on customers, a new report finds.

The report, An Exploration of Customers and the Circular Economy, has found that circular business models can only succeed with better support and communication with customers.

Researchers from the Exeter Centre for Circular Economy and consultancy Clarasys carried out a year-long investigation focusing on providers of food, drink, retail and household appliances, which involved a literature review as well as roundtables and interviews with partner organisations including Waitrose, John Lewis, Electrolux Group and Pernod Ricard.

According to the report, they found that businesses were approaching the Circular Economy from the “inside out” by focusing on technical solutions without exploring how these solutions affected customers.

The report states that organisations are “narrowly focused on communicating the importance of sustainability to their customers and not considering the other behavioural levers they can pull to drive circular product adoption”.

Our throwaway society just can’t continue if we want a liveable planet.

Sustainability on its own is not enough to shift customer behaviours without considering factors such as convenience and cost, the report found. It also identifies that firms innovating in circular economy practices are failing to track their success in a way that would help them attract investment to scale.

The report also states that customers are “custodians and maintainers of the value of products and materials” in a circular economy. An example of this it cites is an appliance manufacturer trialling a product as a service model whereby customers become temporary “stewards” of the product rather than permanent owners.

Stewardship would involve maintaining the product to ensure it lasts and helping to return it at the right time. The research also resulted in a toolkit that aims to show companies how to design for and best-consider customer experience in a circular economy.

We need a fundamental change to the way we live.

Co-author Sam Maguire, Sustainability Lead at Clarasys, commented: “We need a fundamental change to the way we live. Our throwaway society just can’t continue if we want a liveable planet.

“We see a circular transition as a great way to reduce waste, minimise emissions and create opportunities for innovation. If we want to be more circular though, we need users to play their role in the circular economy which is why this research is so vital.”

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