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How to deliver a more sustainable holiday season


Published on: Dec 11, 2021

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Talk to customers, retailers and shipping companies, and you’ll hear the same word everywhere: sustainability. At the same time, we’re expecting a huge increase in online sales and deliveries in the 2021 Golden Quarter. Every order means more products, packaging, and fuel used for deliveries. So, can e-commerce really deliver a sustainable holiday season? In this post, we’ll look at exactly what consumers mean by “sustainability” – and how some retailers are responding.

Customers want sustainable retail

A few years ago, sustainable e-commerce was a new and niche concept. Shoppers liked the idea of sustainability, but it didn’t have any impact on their decisions. There was very little pressure on retailers to go green.

The latest research suggests that this has changed. In a survey that covered 29 countries, over 50% of consumers said they were ready to change their shopping habits to help the planet. Over 70% said they’d pay more for transparent, traceable retail practices. And during the pandemic, people have become even more aware of environmental issues.

The question is: can e-commerce retailers deliver on those demands? And will their commitment to sustainability survive the busy holiday season?

What does sustainability mean during the holiday season?

Sustainability can mean very different things to different people. As we’ve seen, many consumers think of sustainability as less packaging, or more recyclable packaging.

But sustainable retail can also look like…

    • More delivery options. Some shipping companies now use electric vehicles, or offer bike-powered deliveries. Our research shows that customers like it when you offer a range of delivery options.
    • Slower delivery times. In a survey of German consumers, over 50% said they would be prepared to receive slower deliveries to help reduce carbon emissions. And while demand for next-day delivery used to peak in the holiday season, this year we’ve seen people start their Christmas shopping earlier than ever before. Could consumers be making space for sustainability?
    • Better data. Understanding your customers, and acting on that information, can improve sustainability at every stage. From predicting stock demand to reducing returns, better data can help you reduce waste and operate more efficiently.
    • Click and collect. A lot of delivery costs (both financial and environmental) are due to the “last mile” of home deliveries. Collecting online orders from your local store instead can make a big difference. Click and collect is also popular with older shoppers, so including it in your delivery options is good for inclusivity too.
    • Smarter packaging. As well as recycling packaging and using refills where possible, retailers can reduce their footprint by simply using less packaging. Clever design and unusual materials, such as wool insulation instead of polystyrene, can save a lot of space.
    • Social sustainability. That means good wages and working conditions for everyone from warehouse packers to delivery drivers. With a global shortage of fuel and truck drivers, industry experts are calling for more sustainable practices.

Sustainable deliveries are no longer a quirky option, restricted to small or specialist companies. Everyone’s getting in on the act, from Amazon switching to electric vehicles to Shopify paying to carbon-offset all their Black Friday deliveries.

Delivering a sustainable holiday season

Right now, e-commerce retailers are trying to juggle a surge in demand with supply chain and logistics challenges. Do they have time for sustainability? We say yes. All the evidence shows that sustainability is a key part of how shoppers will make holiday shopping decisions this year. Retailers just can’t afford to ignore it.
How can Operations Experience Management support brands in delivering their most successful holiday season yet? Read our full report to find out.

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