For a long time, e-commerce and environmental sustainability seemed mutually exclusive. One is driven by the “bottom line”, making the most revenue, while prioritizing customers’ needs. The other is concerned with prioritizing environmental factors while building the “conscious consumer.” However, the two concepts of e-commerce and sustainability can be mutually reinforcing. At the end of the day, a priority for both is about driving efficiencies. Bringing digital expertise and sustainable practices together should be at the forefront of strategic thinking.
Is e-commerce sustainable?
Though there has been big movements toward green commerce and for brands investing in becoming more sustainable in e-commerce practices, in general e-commerce is not a very environmentally friendly business. It’s frequently the opposite. We now live in a world where the average customer on an e-commerce platform needs instant fulfillment of their needs. They will choose the quickest and cheapest delivery method even if that means a delivery driver travels an hour each way for a $5 item in a single use plastic. Customers love the convenience of e-commerce, but as brands start cultivating the conscious consumer, increasingly customers will also value brand purpose and trust.
A global study reveals that consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase, protect, and champion purpose-driven companies:
This is especially true when we look at the younger generational cohorts. Research shows that younger shoppers want to buy from brands and companies that are transparent and committed to making a positive impact. Commitment in this area will build brand loyalty, yielding stronger reputation, brand affinity, and bottom-line results.
Elder Man Giving Blue Earth In The Child Hands.
Incentivize Your Consumers to be more conscious!
Retailers, like Patagonia, attract the conscious and value driven consumer and impact sustainability in a direct way. It offers a clear example of building a brand of purpose. One of Patagonia’s key value statements is to “cause no unnecessary harm.” Since 1985, 1% of all Patagonia’s sales go toward preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Consumers understand directly how their purchases from Patagonia make an impact. This is the perfect brand for a conscious consumer.
However, for the “not so conscious consumer” (or business), there is an opportunity for brands to change mindsets, drive revenue, and cultivate sustainable practices indirectly. For example, Amazon, which is credited for generating millions of pounds of plastic waste a year, has now given consumers the option to pick “No-rush shipping” or your “Amazon day delivery” which will delay delivery times, but also consolidate and minimize the number of packages at a customer’s door. So, if someone were to order five different items that could be delivered on five different days, with the option of “No-rush shipping” or “Amazon day delivery”, many items could ship together in one package. So now the consumer has a choice: Do I want this item now or later?
From a business perspective, delaying delivery helps take pressure off the supply chain. From a sustainability perspective it helps decrease carbon emissions and limit waste in packaging. Yet, most consumers don’t want to add additional wait time to their deliveries. But this is where brands have an opportunity to incentivize. Amazon offers $1 digital credit if a customer delays shipment. Though they are initially motivated by the incentive, this often becomes a habit for consumers that they understand the value of delaying shipment, and are no longer waiting or in need of an incentive to make sustainable purchasing decisions.
Investing in sustainable practices while still driving revenue for your brand starts with creating clear business goals. Invest in initiatives that accelerate the development of safer and more sustainable products and services, and find the right partners and suppliers to work with. Measure your progress and share the results publicly to educate your customer base and motivate them to make more purpose-driven, sustainable choices in their e-commerce interactions.
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