eCommerce Sustainability Contradiction- Future Shopping 2019

Price vs Sustainability: the eCommerce Sustainability Contradiction. Sustainability is a concern for consumers, but is it influencing purchasing decisions?

Global eCommerce consultancy, Wunderman Thompson Commerce has just released their “Future Shopping Report 2019”, surveying over 15,000 online customers across USA, UK, Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Czechia.

The report aims to highlight new trends, insights and success strategies for a rapidly changing digital world. It also reveals the main inspirations for the online shopper, highlighting the big eCommerce sustainability contradiction.

eCommerce Sustainability Contradiction

The customer wants it all. Many consumers talk to both the interest and influence that sustainability plays in purchase decisions. In the end, however, other factors are more important, presenting the eCommerce sustainability contradiction. This is a big problem for the eCommerce sustainability movement.

The Future Shopping Report 2019 highlights the following factors in the purchase decision for online shoppers:

  1. 96% say the price is the most important factor in purchasing decision
  2. 84% are motivated by faster delivery
  3. 90% are motivated by free delivery

The same online shoppers also say:

  1. 55% say brand ethics are important in purchase decisions
  2. 45% chose environmentally responsible brands
Sustainability Contradiction- Price vs The Environment
eCommerce Sustainability Contradiction- Price vs Sustainability. Source: Future Shopping Report 2019

Sustainability is not cheap

These two sets of criteria cannot live side by side. Whilst not impossible, sustainable products will always be more expensive.

Solely looking at the product itself, the use of sustainable raw materials are more expensive and complex. Adopting an ethical manufacturing practice is more expensive and complex. Then factor is how you package, transport, and trade this product. Sustainability is not cheap.

In a consumer world driven by price, how can sustainable products sit side by side with traditional products and still compete? The reality is that these products will be much more expensive, and in current market conditions won’t survive outside of niche eco-friendly communities.

The Amazon Effect

Further key learning from the Future Shopping Report 2019 would be the effect that Amazon is having on the Commerce market. Both shopping preference and consumer behaviour have been influenced by the Amazon product.

What are the key selling points offered by Amazon:

  1. Cheapest prices
  2. Fast and free shipping
Sustainability Contradiction The Amazon Effect
Sustainability Contradiction The Amazon Effect. Source: Future Shopping Report 2019

In a race to keep up, and in many cases fight back, online retailers are doing their best to compete with this Amazon model by matching their offer. These have gone from being unique selling points to standard consumer expectations. We’ve taught the consumer to buy cheap products and have them shipped across the world.

Is price transparency the answer?

Many would argue that the issue lies with consumer education. Sustainability is seen as an important issue by many, however in a world where the impact of climate change is not really a “today” issue, its very easy to bury our heads in the sand.

What if when buying a product, the factors controlling the price were clearly and concisely shown. Perhaps the $5 dollar t-shirt made by underpaid workers, which used up litres of fresh water, and then flown half way round the world, might not seem like such a great deal.

The same could be said for many eCommerce processes. Maybe if the environmental impact of different shipping methods were shown on all websites we might think differently about the buy and return culture. Maybe the product from the local retailer being shipped using an electric vehicles might seem more attractive than the one flown from the other side of the world.

The excellent Wunderman Thompson Commerce report, looking at wide-ranging consumer insights can be downloaded here.

Further reading; Everlane use pricing transparency to further highlight sustainability drive. Price transparency in retail. Is this the key to sustainability?

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