As sustainability and planet protection grows in interest amongst the general public, and with the airing of eye-opening documentaries on mainstream TV, and most recently the publishing of the IPCC report, there’s no wonder it’s such a prevalent and important topic. But what does sustainability mean within ecommerce and online retail, and what do consumers really want?
Search engine data shows that searches for terms such as ‘sustainable retail’ and ‘vegan’ are up by ~22% and ~46% respectively within the last 2 years, and with more than 4 out of 10 shoppers saying they would pay more for a sustainably sourced product, it’s clear to say that sustainability is at the forefront of consumer’s minds; and therefore, the shift to sustainability and eco commitment within ecommerce is certainly a consumer-led movement.
We’ve taken a look at the eco consumer survey held by Sifted which asked 500 participants how much they care about sustainability when purchasing online, and here’s what we’ve found.
How important is sustainability to consumers?
When it comes to choosing suppliers, brands or businesses to purchase from, how important is sustainability to consumers? Well the answer is, very. Research has shown that two thirds of the 500 consumers asked said that their purchasing decision is influenced by the sustainability and eco-friendly practices of a brand or business. This shows that the majority of consumers are perhaps no longer led by price comparison, or brand name, but rather they are led by the sustainability of a brand and the actions they are taking to be more planet friendly. This is why authenticity is so important when it comes to brands telling their sustainability story, and greenwashing or un-genuine attempts at going green are no longer acceptable.
This is further exemplified by the findings that a mere 21% of those asked said that they never research the sustainability of a company before purchasing from them. That means an outstanding 79% of consumers will do their homework before committing to a purchase. Sustainability has never been so important, and with consumers demanding brands to be better, they have no choice but to step up.
Consumers who purchase online regularly and receive 5 or more packages a month tend to have higher eco expectations of a brand than those who have a lower online order frequency. 72% of regular online shoppers say that a business's eco-friendliness is important, or very important to them, compared to 65% of those who receive just one or two parcels per month. Although the research does not delve into the reasoning behind regular purchasers having high expectations of a brand, it could be suggested that due to the high order frequency, regular shoppers are more aware of the damage that online retail can have on the environment. From the shipping and packaging, down to the way products are manufactured, regular online shoppers may feel a responsibility to the environment to ensure the brands they purchase from are doing their bit.
What do shoppers think of the packaging they receive their goods in?
Packaging goods for despatch and shipping is an integral aspect of any online retail operation, and packaging choices can have a huge impact on consumer perception of brands and their eco values. When asked about the packaging that companies use to ship goods, 81% of consumers believe that companies use excessive packaging, and 66% of consumers believe that the size of the package has a moderate to high impact on sustainability. And they’re not wrong. Oversized packaging that has to be filled with void fill in order to protect a small product in a large box is an example of shipping unnecessary air in despatches. Unfortunately, this is a widespread issue, and with 8.2 million parcels being shipped everyday in the UK, oversized packaging can add up to be a huge problem. Not only does oversized packaging lead to excessive use of void fill and other filler packaging, it also takes up more room than needed on delivery vans; consequently resulting in more vans being used. And we don’t need to tell you that this equals higher carbon emissions and a higher overall carbon footprint for the online retail industry as a whole.
With a whopping 74% of consumers feeling that packaging has a moderate to high impact on sustainability, it’s more important than ever for brands and businesses to make responsible packaging choices. Making small swaps to recyclable or biodegradable alternatives, ensuring cardboard boxes are well sized for the goods they ship, and reducing single use plastics are all ways that brands can improve the sustainability of their operation through packaging. Consumers are very aware of the impact of packaging and therefore, it’s no surprise that shoppers are likely to base their purchasing decision on the efforts that brands are making to improve their sustainability.
Do consumers care about eco-friendly shipping methods?
With lots of online retailers offering next day delivery across their whole product ranges, consumers have become accustomed to speedy delivery processes that means their goods arrive with them almost as quickly as if they’d visited the shop themselves. This is clearly evident in the research with 74% of consumers stating that shipping speed is important or very important when making an online purchasing choice. However, 82% of those asked said that they would wait an extra day if it meant their goods were shipped in a more eco-friendly way, and 17% would wait an additional 3 days. Furthermore, 91% of consumers said that they would like to see an eco-friendly shipping option in the checkout when purchasing goods online. The fact that consumers are willing to compromise on the speed of their delivery in order to reduce the impact that delivery has on the environment shows that consumers truly have a genuine concern for the planet and want retailers to share that concern and act upon it.
How important is price to consumers?
So we’ve established that the majority of consumers are concerned by the sustainability of a supplier, business or brand that they purchase from, but with that in mind, how does eco concern match up against price? Is price still a leading factor in a consumers buying cycle? Or is the cost to the environment more important?
It’s not surprising that 92% of consumers still think that price is a ‘somewhat’ important factor when making purchasing decisions, however, that is rivalled by the 88% of consumers who think eco-friendly practices are also important. It appears that consumers are now at the point where the balance between sustainability importance and price importance are almost level, and that balance may be beginning to tilt even more towards sustainability. 57% of all consumers asked, stated that they would be willing to spend 10% more for eco-friendly packaging and shipping, and 80% are willing to pay at least an additional 5%. Even amongst the most price-conscious consumers, the willingness to spend more on a more sustainable shipping and packaging method is certainly a step in the right direction towards protecting our planet.
It’s evident that consumers want businesses to have sustainability at the forefront in all that they do, from eco practices within the company, to sustainable packaging and shipping methods. The ever-growing concern for the environment has only been escalated by the IPCC Climate Change Report, and it’s clear that consumers are driving the changes by expecting more from their online suppliers. All these small steps towards more sustainable practices are adding up to make a big difference to the future of our planet, and if we all continue to expect high eco standard from businesses, we are building a greener, more eco-friendly future.
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