Patagonia encourages less buying, customers buy more

Patagonia's 2012 sales increased by almost one-third, even as the company says "don't buy this jacket."

Since 2011, Patagonia has been making a strange pitch to customers for a large retailer: buy less .

The outdoor clothing retailer, recognized as a leader in sustainability, partnered with eBay two years ago to encourage more people to buy used clothing from the company. As part of the initiative, an ad campaign told customers "Don't buy this jacket" and asked them to take a pledge "to buy only what I need (and will last), repair what breaks, reuse (share) what I no longer need and recycle everything else." So how have Patagonia customers responded? They bought more. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Not surprisingly, the corporate plea didn’t work, which is to say it worked perfectly for a burgeoning company in the business of selling $700 parkas. In 2012—which included about nine months of the “buy less” marketing—Patagonia sales increased almost one-third, to $543 million, as the company opened 14 more stores. Last year, revenue ticked up another 6 percent, to $575 million. In short, the pitch helped crank out $158 million worth of new apparel.

So what accounts for this paradox? For one, as Reena Jana points out , the company is outgrowing its target customer base. And, as Bloomberg says, bigger profits for the company can be seen one of two ways. The positive view: more money is being spent at a company that supports sustainability and gives a percentage of sales to environmental causes. And the skeptical view: putting up your old clothes on eBay is a great excuse to buy a new $700 parka.

Either way, other retailers are taking note, including the world's second-largest clothing retailer, H&M, and finding their own ways to get customers to recycle (upgrade?) their wardrobe.

Read more: Bloomberg Businessweek

Photo: Flickr/Dave Dugdale

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