For eCommerce brands, the concept of sustainability encompasses everything from business models to packaging materials. The digital-first economy has, of course, huge impacts on our environment, whether it’s the method of shipping or products sold and there is definitely a question of how sustainable eCommerce stores truly are. This is becoming much more of a concern for consumers who, according to the Nielsen study, state that they would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.
Understanding your customers’ wants and needs is integral to the success of a brand and its marketing strategies (find out why), meaning that if brands want to retain and increase their customers, it is crucial for them to adapt to the ever-changing consumer attitudes and shift towards a more eco-conscious outlook and sustainable approach. As consumers become more educated and therefore aware of environmental impacts, ensuring that you use sustainable practices is paramount for the success of your business and the fate of our planet.
Stay authentic and transparent:
Brands are attempting to capitalise on the demand for more green initiatives and are updating their business plans to make their brand more sustainable. This transition is not an easy one and can be complex particularly for large brands that have a reputation of being ‘fast’ and therefore have a long way to go when mitigating their huge environmental impact. The complexity grows when the idea of becoming more sustainable goes against the brands’ business model. For instance, Amazon plans to offset their greenhouse gas emissions and aim to be carbon neutral by 2040. Although the premise seems commendable, it does not address the overall unsustainability of their business model, which encourages one-click consumerism and lightning-fast shipping. Additionally, Zara has pledged to create all of its products from only organic, sustainable or recycled materials by 2025 and plan to transition to 0 landfill waste and use renewable energy. Again, Zara is a fast-fashion brand that has succeeded from quick production and cheap costs with products that have a short lifespan, a business model at odds with a sustainable solution.
It seems that smaller and mid-level brands that are less developed are in a better position to make sustainability a central part of their business model, which can help them distinguish themselves from fast fashion stores and eCommerce giants. If they make sustainability a central part of their identity from the offset, they will find it much easier to pivot towards what their customers want and demand.
So, how can eCommerce brands become more sustainable and profitable?
Brands need to be careful not to greenwash e.g. ‘spread misinformation to present themselves as environmentally responsible to the public.’ There should be transparency and they should avoid making false promises and misleading the public. It is not just a matter of brands marketing themselves as sustainable but they need to make this a reality by minimising their environmental impact.
Shipping, especially when the process is ultra-quick is terrible for the environment. Freight vehicles particularly medium and heavy-duty vans are responsible for nearly ‘one-quarter of the carbon footprint in the transportation category, which is the top producer of US carbon dioxide emissions.’ Fast shipping typically incentivises more purchases and so an increase in purchases translates into more fuel being expensed to power more vehicles and therefore an increase in carbon emissions.
Improving the method of shipping
Brands should look to make their shipping process more efficient as a way of reducing their carbon footprint.
Changes to this process could include:
- Use a shipping company that offers a carbon-neutral option
- Shipping in bulk
- Incentivise customers to return the packaging back to you or encourage them to re-use the packaging
- Use recycled, sustainable packaging materials
- Send receipts via e-mail and use paperless invoicing to reduce the amount of paper used.
It’s suggested that 30-40% of clothes bought online are returned to the retailer (Eco-Age, 2021). With more consumers purchasing online than ever, a habit only increased by the pandemic, the rate of returns is reaching unsustainable levels. The environmental impact of this is huge, not only is there the carbon footprint of additional transport but there is also the impact of returned items that cannot be resold, which usually ends up going to landfill. Returns can also be damaging for the brand and can take a toll on revenue, so limiting returns has its benefits for all parties. Removing returns may not be the solution to the problem but improving the model is. Brands and consumers should work together and avoid returns as much as possible. Brands also have the responsibility to educate consumers about the environmental impact of returns.
Here are some simple things that brands can do to limit returns:
- Provide crystal clear information on products so that consumers know the specifics of the item including style, colour, fit, size and specifications. Descriptive but easy to understand terminology will not only help consumers understand the product but also has SEO benefits since search engine algorithms have more information to work with, so the results lists of customers queries are more varied.
- Localise content so that information is easily accessed, e.g. the size guide should be easy to find so conversions of international sizes are possible.
- Enable virtual try on’s and give the consumer the ability to see what they will look like in the product, or what the product looks like etc
- Use AR technology that enabled consumers to see the products virtually, e.g. IKEA allows you to see what a sofa looks like in your lounge.
- Provide genuine reviews on products with the ability to upload images of the products, this is particularly useful for fashion brands and gives the consumer a good idea about how the clothes genuinely ‘fit’. Here’s a good example:
Becoming carbon-neutral tomorrow may sound ideal but it’s not always realistic. Instead, your brand should look to taking small steps to become greener and these should be incorporated into a business model for a sustainable future. Every little helps. We know a trend when we see one and through our ‘think, do, review’ framework, we help you stay one step ahead of the competition to ensure digital domination. If you’d like to hear more about the way we use customer insight or if you’d like to stay ahead of the curve on all things eCommerce, get in touch.