8 ways to embrace sustainability when selling online

According to recent research from customer experience and commerce agency LiveArea, 64 per cent of shoppers look for ethical or sustainable features when purchasing a product. However, price is still an important decision-driver for today’s shoppers as we emerge from the pandemic.

While some shoppers may be willing to pay more for fashion garments that are environmentally friendly, retailers should prioritise making sustainability price-friendly and accessible to accommodate this changing consumer demand.

Here’s how to appeal to today’s conscious consumers when selling online…

1. Comprehensive content

Almost two thirds of consumers look for ethical or sustainability credentials during their buying journey, so it’s important this information is readily available on your website. “Optimising category and product pages to ensure supply chain traceability and sustainability information is available and transparent is important, while threading additional content through blogs, social media, influencer campaigns and even charity initiatives can give comprehensive coverage,” says LiveArea’s group creative director Benoit Soucaret (uk.liveareacx.com). “This is also vital for visibility, as many consumers start their research on Google. So, ranking as a ‘sustainable retailer’ could be the difference between a new customer landing on your site instead of going to a competitor.” Taking Patagonia as the flag-bearer in sustainable fashion, its ‘impact’ information is available throughout its product pages and includes comprehensive information about how each product is made, the materials used and where it’s made, with extra information about issues such as Fairtrade and its carbon footprint pledge.

2. Search and filters

One reason the online shopping experience is so convenient is because consumers can browse quickly through vast categories of products. “Most leading e-commerce sites have excellent search and filter functionalities and it’s essential that you think about adding these to your site too,” says Soucaret. “Filters on e-commerce pages allow users to narrow down masses of products by criteria such as product type, size, brand, colour and price range. These can also be leveraged to streamline the online browsing experience to help users find sustainable, locally sourced or vegan products.” Online fashion giant ASOS recently introduced a ‘responsible’ filter, allowing users to filter garments that are made from recycled or sustainable materials.

3. Traceability

According to McKinsey, consumers are increasingly expecting companies to be fully transparent about their supply chain. “There are now many questions around how the industry values those who grow the cotton and stitch the products as well as the environment and equitable profit for those in the supply chain,” says Soucaret. “Many believe positive change starts with transparency and traceability. Marks and Spencer is leading the way on the high street with its online interactive supply chain map featuring the locations of all active clothing, food, homeware and beauty product manufacturers. This way, consumers can easily research how products were made, where they come from and what materials are used.”

4. Ethical merchandising

If retailers are truly committed to delivering ethical alternatives, their eco ranges should be front and centre of their website. “There are merchandising tactics brands use to entice customers to purchase seasonal collections, hot trends, influencer-inspired ranges and gifting occasions from their homepage,” says Soucaret. “Retailers also use personalised recommendation and bundles, which are useful tactics to increase AOV, push new products and clear excess stock. But we don’t often see brands pushing their latest organic, vegan or recycled collections. Likewise, personalisation efforts should be tailored to these shopping habits, whereby customers with sustainability preferences can view recommended products that match their ethics.”

5. Conscious packaging

Research shows that around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year, harming sea life and damaging habitats. So, if you’re currently using plastic to send out your e-commerce orders, there are eco alternatives to improve your sustainability. “The re-introduction of a bill that pledges to push for the ban of single-use items has been implemented to tackle the issues surrounding single-use plastic – and this is where retailers can come in,” says Laurane Saad, international marketing coordinator for reusable packaging innovator Loadhog (loadhog.com). “Relying on paper packaging as oppose to plastic is a great way to become more sustainable without forfeiting quality or appearance. Since paper is recyclable, renewable, and biodegradable, there are many reasons why paper is a great alternative. As for other environmentally friendly alternatives, you could ditch plastic tape for a self-adhesive paper version and even switch protective materials such as bubble wrap with a paper alternative.”

6. Transport choices

Figures from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy show that transport remains the largest source of pollution in the UK. With this in mind, action is being taken on the sale of fuels and responsible courier services are trying to find ways to reduce their pollution figures by turning to emission-free methods as opposed to relying on petrol and diesel. “So, before you base your courier decision on the most affordable or reliable service, consider one that has introduced green schemes too – ones you can benefit from now and in the future,” says Saad. “It’s worth pointing out that the vehicle used is not the only attribute to consider, either. To help limit travel time, couriers can use a returnable transit packaging product like a plastic pallet. This increases vehicle fill by up to 40 per cent, making your business more efficient with deliveries and better for the environment.”

7. Giving something back

Retailers can also give the environment a helping hand by offsetting your emissions – and planting trees is one way of achieving this. “After you reach a certain number of items sold, you could pledge to plant one tree,” suggests Saad. “This initiative will not only help you become more sustainable, but it shows customers that you value the planet by offsetting the emissions you’ve produced. There are charities that plant trees in towns and cities across the county. Show your support to local and national causes by teaming up with a charity in an official partnership. It will also help encourage brand loyalty to your customers too.”  Furthermore, you can also help your customers offset their own carbon emissions: “One way to do this is to introduce reusability into the products you sell, for example, reusable cups and tote bags,” she adds. “Or you could state that your packaging is recyclable and encourage them to recycle it after use.”

 8. After-sales tips

According to Soucaret, supporting the conscious consumer shouldn’t end at checkout. “One of the major issues with over-consumption is a lack of education around how to prolong the life of products, re-use or recycle them and recycle or dispose of packaging responsibly,” he says. “This information can be included at checkout, in product inserts, or post-sales communication emails. It might also be worthwhile making this available and clear on-site as a differentiator for brands.”