Sustainability is everyone's concern, and everyone seems to be looking for ways to balance environmental protection, social equity and economic viability.
Recent research showed that 62% of Gen Z prefer to buy from sustainable brands and 72% are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes.
Ethical and sustainable consumption is becoming one of the main considerations for many consumers, and so for the ecommerce industry. So what can fashion retailers do to start making their business more sustainable?
1. Implement sustainable shipping and collection.
According to recent research (eMarketer), 75% of UK digital buyers intend to shop more with retailers and brands that are making their delivery and returns processes more sustainable. In parallel, the demand for fast shipping in ecommerce has never been higher. Finding the right balance isn't easy.
Consumers want retailers and brands to act transparently, responsibly and provide practical solutions—whether that means maintaining affordable prices, offering new delivery options, supporting local stores, or making their own operations more eco-friendly.
The option to pick up conveniently is one of the things retailers can do to encourage shopping according to many respondents of recent research conducted by Paypal and BigCommerce.
Another way to make your shipping practices more sustainable is to cut down on returned merchandise, as being shipped both ways obviously doubles the impact. Provide clear product descriptions and sizing information (if relevant) to make sure customers know exactly what they’re getting. You can also adapt your return policy to discourage customers from, say, buying multiple sizes of an item to see what fits best.
2. Reduce packaging.
Making concrete efforts to reduce ecommerce packaging waste can have a significant impact on your business’s footprint. This can involve buying boxes in more sizes to better fit smaller items. Boxes that are too large not only waste space, but also require more packing material to protect items.
Saloni Doshi, CEO of compostable and biodegradable packaging seller EcoEnclose, explains why offering appropriately-sized packaging is an important part of their business:
“We wanted to have an offering that allowed people to have 100% recycled boxes, but also boxes that were custom cut for their needs (and ensure they did not have to ship any excess air), and also printable. We invested in the ability to custom print at fairly low volumes as well.”
3. Create recycling policies.
In addition to sizing boxes and accompanying packaging to the size of the item being shipped, companies can also reduce waste by choosing sustainable packaging and packaging materials.
Using cardboard boxes and mailers that are recyclable and making the process of recycling easier for customers, businesses can dramatically reduce the amount of waste they produce.
4Ocean is an online retailer whose whole business model is focused on sustainability. They sell bracelets and apparel but are also dedicated to returning their profits to helping clean up the Earth’s oceans of plastics. Naturally, they’re committed to sustainably in all aspects of their business from the products to the packaging.
4. Reduce energy waste.
It’s a little outside of ecommerce itself but as borders between offline and online shopping are blurring, your overall business practices including how your stores and warehouses are run also need to be part of a sustainable strategy. Making simple changes such as turning off equipment when not in use, investing in low energy lighting and reducing the temperature in your offices and stores can significantly lower energy bills.
The first step in reducing energy waste in your business infrastructure is to do an energy audit to determine where cuts can be made. You can then start making changes based on what will be the easiest lift with the highest overall impact.
5. Add products that encourage sustainability.
One way to make sustainability a key part of your business is to include sustainability-focused products in your offerings, especially as a growing market of customers are interested in buying such products.
This could mean providing more eco-friendly alternatives to existing products or that solve problems that allow people to live more sustainably. For example, the UK-based underwear retailer Heist Studios has created The Eco Lace Collection composed of 100% recycled and recyclable fabrics, in accordance with their commitment to their client comfort and towards the planet.
By including products in your line that help people live more sustainably, you are opening up your business to a large customer base eager for such products.
6. Create an offset service charge at checkout.
One effective way to balance some of the associated environmental downsides accumulated from the creation and purchase of your product is to purchase carbon offsets. Essentially offsets are measures designed to balance the amount of carbon dioxide produced by investing an equal amount in projects related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In early 2019, craft marketplace Etsy announced that they would be the first global ecommerce company to completely offset the greenhouse gas emissions produced by their sellers’ shipping products.
Your business can make investments in offsets a part of your budget. However, you can also allow customers to help by providing online shoppers with an optional offset charge. Be sure to choose a reputable carbon offset project to disperse the funds raised. There are integrations like Cloverly that can make offering carbon offsets at checkout simple.
7. Use an ecommerce marketplace to resell your used merchandise.
One final step in line with some fashion industry consumption trends is to help your customers give your products a second life. Typically, products move from being created to being used and finally being disposed of in a linear way. Efforts are being made to change this into what is known as the circular economy.
The circular economy involves giving products a second life by encouraging them to be passed on to a second or third owner after the first has gotten tired of them.
Resale marketplaces and peer-to-peer networks such as Vinted that allow consumers to buy used clothes and accessories are growing in popularity, especially among Gen Z shoppers. You can encourage your customers to be part of the circular economy by providing opportunities for them to resell products or purchase recycled products. For example, outdoor apparel seller Patagonia offers a spot on their website called Worn Wear where users can buy clothes made from other clothes.
8. Update your brand ethos.
Once you've put the above actions into practice, make sure to update your brand ethos and storytelling. Your brand ethos tells your customers who you are as a brand and what you value. It can be an important part of carving out your brand story and how your customers see you. A sustainable brand is one that has taken a clear stance on sustainability and has undertaken the environmental or social practices to support that.
As an ecommerce company, your brand ethos should be reflected across your site and channels. It can be consistently conveyed through a strong statement on your website, your blog posts, your social media and all of your content and copy.
Olive, a UK-based contemporary clothing brand, is an example of this. They include a statement about their focus on ethical and sustainable practices both in their “About Us” page and in a longer stand-alone “Corporate Conscience” page:
“We're conscious that we are a part of a chain that begins with farming and yarn production, and ends with style; we take our own responsibilities within that chain seriously, and are forging forward sensitive to the ethical considerations that preoccupy us and many of our customers alike.”
Ready to be part of the movement?
The increasing need for a more sustainable fashion industry is not brand new, but it is an ever-growing concern for merchants and consumers alike.
A mindful brand ethos and sustainable products are almost no longer an option for retailers as new eco-conscious generations grow their buying power. Fortunately, higher costs associated with environmentally-led products aren’t as much of a concern for Gen Z — 73% are willing to pay more for sustainable products — which means it’s easier than ever for retailers to make their businesses more sustainable.
Whether you’re just taking the first steps or already quite engaged in sustainability practices, BigCommerce and its many partners may be just the allies you need; visit bigcommerce.co.uk