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4 surprising findings on sustainability of UK DTC brands


Published on: Feb 19, 2022

Online shopping

Many DTC brands in the UK and elsewhere have recognized the value that sustainability and other eco-friendly measures carry with the modern consumer and have been quick to try to capitalize on it. Brands like Parade, for instance, offer eco-friendly packaging and underwear made from recycled plastic. But do these brands really live up to their promises? We recently put 50 popular UK DTC brands to the test to discover just how green they really are. And what we found might surprise you.

Only 4% of brands offer carbon-neutral delivery.

The retail industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. McKinsey found in 2018 that retail’s fashion sector alone was responsible for 4% of worldwide emissions. This means that brands looking to truly make a difference should be focusing on carbon neutrality from product conception to delivery. And while the carbon-neutral solutions for much of the supply chain are still in infancy, carbon-neutral delivery programs have become fairly well-developed. So it is a surprise that only 4% of UK DTC brands are offering carbon-neutral delivery as an option at checkout.

This is something brands should seek to alter as quickly as possible. With so few brands offering this option, having carbon-neutral delivery will be an easy differentiator.

UK brands are making good headway on using sustainable packaging.

In the UK, a full 82% of brands are using cardboard packaging for their items. Only 30% still include some type of plastic packaging somewhere in the parcel. 52% do still include a branded insert. Since around 80% of the plastic waste in the oceans began as product packaging, this reduction is extremely meaningful.

UK brands who have not yet moved away completely from plastic should do so immediately. Their plastic usage now puts them at a disadvantage behind other competitors. It’s best to do away with branded inserts, as well, given that they are quickly thrown out. Rather, work these inserts in digitally, to post-purchase communications, or by printing a QR code on the packaging (in sustainable, recyclable ink).

UK brands are not effectively messaging their sustainability efforts.

Exactly 0% of DTC brands are including any messaging about their sustainability in delivery communications. Only 32% put information on their packaging.

This lack of messaging means that brands aren’t capitalizing on the marketing value of their efforts. And even more importantly – by not providing information or instructions, brands aren’t ensuring that consumers actually do recycle or compost their packaging, rendering the good they’re doing useless.

Product packaging and shipping communications via email and SMS are highly valuable moments to drive customer loyalty. By communicating brand values and product education in these touchpoints, you can drive purchase satisfaction up front, followed by a second purchase in the coming weeks or months.

Finally, while updating messaging on packaging may take some time, you can update your email and SMS shipping communications today. You don’t have to overhaul the entire email, either. You can start by adding a sentence.

Paperless returns are underutilized in the UK.

Only 45% of UK brands are promoting paperless returns (compared to the 54% of American DTC brands). Paperless returns are easier for the consumer, but they also provide the brand with a chance to turn a return into an exchange. Additionally, paperless returns require the consumer to fill out a form online in which the brand could gather key information on why the return is happening. That data can then be used to offer the consumer a better product. So, brands should be implementing paperless returns as quickly as possible given the fact that they are better for the environment and for the bottom line.

Sustainability must be a priority

In summary, sustainability is crucial for the survival of our species, but it’s also become a huge selling point for the younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z want to purchase from brands that both sell sustainable products and utilize sustainable business practices.

Brands must use their Operations Experience not only to improve their post-purchase sustainability practices but to message them to consumers. Great communication about sustainability will drive customer loyalty and ensure that consumers are disposing of waste thoughtfully.

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