Transparent supply chains, reusability of returns and environmentally friendly packaging: Sustainability in e-commerce is certainly a trending topic. Not only are politicians calling on companies to be even more environmentally aware, but purchasing decisions are also increasingly dependent on sustainability aspects. So what does this mean precisely, and what challenges does it entail for companies? We provide the answers
Social responsibility of brands relevant for every age group
The fact that sustainability is playing an increasingly important role for companies and consumers in online shopping is confirmed by numerous studies – one of them having been conducted by the parcel delivery platform Packlink. The survey contextualizes the shopping habits of European online consumers. According to the study, 80 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom said they value corporate social responsibility when shopping digitally. Although the young age group leads this trend, growing environmental awareness cuts across generations: for example, this factor is also relevant to 72 percent of 30- to 40-year-olds and 56 percent of Europeans aged 55.
Europeans are willing to pay for sustainable delivery
The study “Different countries, Different shipping preferences” conducted by Seven Senders in collaboration with the market research institute YouGov shows: 57 percent of the 8,602 online shoppers surveyed from nine European countries are willing to pay extra for a more environmentally conscious delivery. However, a European comparison reveals differences: Austrians (67 percent) and the Swiss (66 percent) are the most likely to be willing to spend more for sustainable delivery. The British and Belgians, on the other hand, are more skeptical: there, only half of e-shoppers would consider paying a surcharge.
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4 tips for more sustainability in e-commerce
For European customers, the topic of sustainability is increasingly becoming a purchasing criteria and a distinguishing feature for brand selection. Here’s how retailers can operate more sustainably and claim competitive advantages:
Preserving resources – optimizing packaging materials
Whether 100 percent biodegradable or recyclable material: more and more consumers prefer products with less packaging and try to avoid plastic. According to the study “Shipping and Returns Management in E-Commerce 2021” conducted by the EHI Retail Institute, almost a quarter of the online retailers surveyed from Germany, Austria and Switzerland confirmed that the issue of sustainability in packaging, in terms of optimization measures, is the most pressing.
Internationally operating online retailers are therefore well advised to pay attention to an optimal size ratio of the packaging. Alas, quite often small items are shipped in large packages and the hollow space is filled with plastic air cushions. In addition to unnecessary packaging waste, this also leads to increased space requirements in delivery vehicles. If wrapping material is nonetheless required, it is advisable to use environmentally friendly materials. Package inserts such as flyers or brochures should also be minimized.
Saving CO2 – minimizing delivery attempts
With the help of a track-and-trace service, companies can avoid repeated delivery attempts: The customer can track the shipping status of the package and specify a suitable drop-off location if necessary. This increases the likelihood that delivery will take place on the first attempt and that the environment will not be unnecessarily burdened with a repeat trip.
In addition to the shipping method, such as express delivery, the quantity of deliveries is also crucial for the carbon footprint. Therefore, you are well advised to educate your customers and inform them about the sustainability benefits of bundled delivery.
Offer CO2 compensation
During the check-out process, you can offer your customers the opportunity to make a financial contribution to compensate for the CO2 emissions caused. This compensation can take the form of a donation to a climate protection project, for example. Those online shoppers who choose to do so can be rewarded with discounts or loyalty programs.
Consumers who order from the German marketplace OTTO are already having their parcels and freight shipments delivered in a CO2-neutral manner. Further, the company pays the extra costs for compensation – a competitive advantage to be exploited.
Returns continue to be a major cost and CO2 driver, as returned goods have to be viewed, checked and prepared for sale. Therefore, you should pay extra attention to optimizing your product descriptions – the more detailed the better. After all, incorrect or inaccurate item descriptions lead to higher returns. Make use of detailed product images and videos to present your items as accurately as possible. The introduction of new technologies such as augmented reality can also significantly improve the user experience in this area – and significantly reduce the returns rate.
Today, the previously enclosed returns label is quite often being replaced by the option of paperless returns. More and more parcel drop-off points now only require a barcode and no longer a printed label to accept a return – another step toward greater sustainability in e-commerce.
Sustainability in e-commerce
It’s a fact that online retailers who act sustainably score points with European consumers. In addition to transport and returns, consumers are focusing on the packaging of mail-order products. Companies are therefore well advised to take a critical look at their shipping materials and optimize them if necessary.
To succeed in European e-commerce, internationally operating companies have to adapt to the changing expectations of customers. And this also includes the sustainable and responsible use of resources.