As e-commerce skyrocketed during the pandemic, the environmental toll of home deliveries has not gone unnoticed. While some experts say that home deliveries are more efficient, this is only true if shoppers take fewer trips to stores.
And, consumers are recognizing the increase in plastic and what they consider to be excessive packaging used for shipping products to their doors.
Logistics data-science platform Sifted and experience management platform parcelLab published separate reports that explored the sustainability of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and consumers' views on sustainability in e-commerce.
Sifted surveyed 500 consumers on a variety of sustainability-related e-commerce questions, including topics such as packaging, price, and delivery time.
Key findings include:
67% of respondents considered eco-friendly practices in their purchase decisions.
74% feel packaging materials have a moderate to high impact on sustainability.
81% believe that companies use excessive packaging when shipping products.
91% want an "eco-friendly shipping" option at checkout.
57% are willing to pay an extra 10% or more for eco-friendly shipping and packaging.
84% who placed moderate or high importance on shipping speed said they would wait an extra day to receive their products; 66% said they would wait two extra days; and 18% said they would wait for three.
ParcelLab placed orders with 50 DTC brands and had them all delivered to the same home in Atlanta to compare the experience.
Key findings include:
6% of DTC brands offered a carbon-neutral delivery option.
52% of DTC brands used plastic packaging for the products.
54% of DTC brands promoted paperless returns.
4% of DTC brands offered an option to choose less packaging in order shipments.
"This statistic really threw us when looking at the findings, as consumers so clearly want sustainable options. Only 4% of brands opted to give customers an option for less packaging. ... Brands who have yet to offer an option for less packaging are missing an opportunity to save money by eliminating additional packaging materials and cutting shipping costs," Tobias Buxhoidt, CEO and co-founder of parcelLab, told FreightWaves.
The Sifted survey's finding that respondents overwhelmingly want an eco-friendly shipping option at checkout held true even among consumers who aren't eco-minded.
Of those who said eco-friendly practices were "not important," 73% said they would still like an eco-friendly shipping option when checking out online.
Is ‘Sustainable' Still Synonymous With ‘Costly'?
In short — no, not always. Buxhoidt noted that reducing shipping materials, weight and speed can save companies significant amounts of money. However, if shifting practices proved more costly, Sifted's survey found that 80% of even the most price-conscious respondents would pay at least 5% more for sustainable packaging and shipping. And, 57% of all respondents would pay at least 10% more.
Another way to increase sustainability and reduce costs is to "exclude traditional paper return labels from their packages. Cutting down on nonessential paper within the package and enabling digital communications and tracking for deliveries and returns is a great first step," Buxhoidt said. "By investing in transforming these physical mailing materials into digital versions, they'll reduce materials and streamline communications with their customers."
Making digital return labels available for consumers to print if needed drastically reduces paper waste, which could also save companies money on materials.
"From our research, we saw that most brands aren't considering the impact of their packaging, shipping, and even returns process," Buxhoidt said. He said that improving post-purchase communications is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Plus, it can boost customer satisfaction.
"Avoiding multiple delivery attempts is key to keeping the entire shipment experience at the lowest carbon footprint possible," Buxhoidt said.
Lack Of Carbon-Neutral Delivery Option At Checkout
"The fact that 94% of DTC brands do not offer a carbon-neutral delivery option is disappointing considering many of these brands are also known to have full control of their supply chain and their brand ethos is built around sustainability," Buxhoidt said.
When companies offer carbon-neutral delivery, it usually means they are purchasing carbon credits to offset the emissions from that delivery. There is debate about the effectiveness of carbon offsets and whether they absorb the carbon emissions that companies and organizations claim.
Whether through company practices, shipping or packaging, the studies demonstrate that e-commerce companies have room for sustainability improvement to meet consumer demand.
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