13 April 2021

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Guide To Sustainable Practices in Retail

Sustainability in eCommerce

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of sustainable practices in retail. 

Retailers are having to rapidly rethink and adapt business models to and processes to introduce sustainable practices in retail and align with this changing consumer behaviour.  

This guide will outline some core areas that retailers should be addressing, as well as discussing examples of some sustainable brands.

What Is Sustainability?

Firstly let’s discuss what environmental sustainability is exactly.

Sustainability is defined as the process of avoiding depletion of natural resources and meeting the societal needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.

What Is Sustainability

Climate change is a challenge faced by humankind and must be tackled from a global perspective via the promotion of sustainable development.

Three of the main sustainability issues which are at the top of the agenda and attracting particular expectations of consumers:

  1. Climate change
  2. Waste
  3. Supply chain

Importance Of Sustainability In Retail

Digital transformation over recent years has seen the number of eCommerce users skyrocket, and this has only been accelerated further with the effects of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

With this rise, comes increased concern for the environment. A growing number of people are not only backing the environmental movement, but applying this to different areas of their everyday life including online shopping.

Eco-friendly eCommerce is becoming a growing consumer trend, and is one which looks to be here to stay.

Online shopping is quick, simple and easy. Huge volumes of products are being sold via e-commerce platforms every day, with millions of people spending part of their day shopping online for everyday needs. Online shoppers are more aware of not only how much they’re ordering, but also the impact of their purchasing actions on the environment.

Not only are shopper’s aware of how much they’re ordering, but also the impact of their purchasing actions on the environment. The concept of sustainability stretches way past the product and delivery packaging, it often requires the full business operation to shift and align.

Although sustainable purchasing is not a brand new concept, it is certainly one that is becoming more mainstream across the world.

Sustainable Practices In Retail

Did you know that?

  • Only one in five believe that there is no point changing what they buy as it won’t really make much difference to the environment (Ipsos)
  • 50% of digital consumers have stated that environment concerns impact their purchasing decisions. (GlobalWebIndex, 2018)

Ultimately, sustainability measures have a positive impact on the environment and, by retailers actively promoting their efforts, they have an opportunity to attract new customers and gain competitive advantage.

By nailing sustainable eCommerce, retailers can expect to see happier customers, an increase in customer lifetime value and the creation of a more positive brand image among consumers.

From production techniques and partnerships, to product packaging and returns processes, businesses must utilise strategies that are efficient, cost effective and environmentally conscious.

Examples of Sustainable Practices In Retail

Keeping up to speed with changing consumer expectations and meeting sustainable requirements can be a tough challenge. There are a huge number of factors to think about which can take time to get right.

We have therefore compiled some examples of sustainable practices in retail which retailers can use as a starting point when addressing the issue of sustainability.

Young People Are Driving Change

Broadly speaking, it is the younger generations driving the sustainability trend upon the eCommerce industry. 

By young people, this is referring to millennial and Generation Z shoppers in their teens, twenties and early thirties. Generation Z for example, have not known a world without the internet, or even a world without Amazon.

They are a highly connected and online generation and along with millennials, tend to ask more questions about the brands they buy from and base purchase decisions on brand’s values. This ties into the general movement being seen across the eCommerce landscape, and that’s one of higher expectations and increased demand from consumers. 

For retailers looking to attract and sustain younger shoppers, it should therefore be seen as imperative to evaluate the company’s sustainable efforts.

Despite sustainability being a key decision-making factor for young shoppers, there are a lot of brands that have not made efforts to promote sustainability across their business.

The Need For Transparency

If there’s one thing that brands should focus on when addressing sustainability, it’s transparency. Afterall, if a retailer is making a sustainable effort then they need to shout about it!

Consumers obtain a desire for full transparency and are hungry for information on sustainability. Retailers need to keep their customers informed through their marketing strategy and their eCommerce onsite customer journey. Shoppers want, and increasingly expect, brand’s to make it easier to locate and understand specific products and general company environmental efforts online.

Importance Of Sustainability In Retail

Retailers should provide an eCommerce website that is convenient, easy-to-use and reflects brand values from start to finish. Disclosing sustainable efforts throughout the customer journey can help persuade consumers to purchase as they feel like they can feel assured that they are making a difference.

From the main homepage and site footers, through to every product display page and the check-out, retailers must recognise the importance of high quality communication, transparency and clarity throughout every touch point of a user’s online purchase journey.

To put it simply, if a message is not clear enough, online shoppers will not bother to learn more and share your brand’s product.

For retailer’s to ensure their communication and level of transparency is as good as it can be, they must take a strong focus on user experience (UX). Optimising the user experience through educating customers at every touch point in the purchase journey can contribute to increased purchase volume.

Retailers can play a potentially powerful role in getting the message across to consumers.

A large number of brands are already leading the way, producing and selling sustainable goods or putting place eco-friendly initiatives.

Below are three examples of retailers leveraging the opportunity to respond to the increased pressure from consumers and keeping transparency at the forefront are:

Wolf & Badger
Wolf & Badger are an independent and ethical online fashion marketplace. The brand has strong environmental views and as stated on their site, are “increasingly aware of the need for sustainable and ethical retail practice”. Wolf & Badger is a sustainable fashion brand keeping communication clear and consistent across their website, informing the consumer of the values they stand by and the sustainable materials and processes in place in the manufacturing of their products.

Wearth London
Wearth London is an eco-conscious online marketplace selling a range of sustainable products from beauty items to jewellery collections. Wearth London demonstrates a very positive attitude towards sustainability across their entire site.

Selfridges is an example of a large retailer with initiatives in place to make a positive difference to the environment. “Project Earth” is a program which they run and promote across their site which supports tree planting and encourages shoppers to donate on their site.

Read our conscious commerce whitepaper for a full analysis of 100’s UK-based retailers’ approach to sustainability.

Choice Of Packaging

Packaging, recycling and environmental impact is at the forefront of the conscious consumer mind. A large proportion or retailers are still choosing to send out their products in plastic packaging which can not be recycled.

Retailers should be focussing on transitioning to recyclable or compostable packaging where possible in order to achieve eco-friendly packaging for their customers.

Waste is at the top of the conscious consumer’s agenda making excessive packaging something retailers need to address. Whilst merchants are keen to ensure their goods arrived un-damaged, this can result in excessive use of single-use materials. Extra and unnecessary packaging leads of increased waste.

To meet the widespread call for reduction in packaging volume, retailers should look to finding a balance between packaging that is protective enough for the product, durable, as well as eco-friendly.

A positive and memorable unboxing experience can encourage customers to form positive associations with a brand, leading to increased customer loyalty and repeat purchases.

For a full analysis of 100 UK-based retailers’ approaches to packaging, check out 5874 Commerce’s FREE sustainability whitepaper here.

Offer Greener Shipping

Choosing a shipping partner can play an important role in a retailer’s efforts towards sustainability, with couriers taking varying approaches to the issue.

DPD is an example of a courier who has made a conscious effort to shift to a more sustainable way of functioning. Investing in electric vehicles to ship parcels is just one way in which DPD have proven their efforts to reduce their CO2 emissions.

The courier was awarded the Green Apple Award in 2019 for becoming the most eco-friendly city-centre delivery company and for being leader of electric vehicles in the UK.

Post-Purchase Experience

When looking at these ways to introduce communication on brand values into the customer journey, the value of a post-purchase experience is often underestimated by retailers or in some cases, totally forgotten.

There is great opportunity in the post-purchase experience and a chance for retailers to win the business of sustainability-minded shoppers.

A prime example is eCommerce returns. There are many factors of a retailer’s returns process which can factor in the environment. A few examples are:

  • Reducing use of return paperwork within orders, instead using an online portal.
  • Using QR code rather than printed labels.
  • Using packaging which can easily be re-used when customers return orders – Eg. resealable envelope.

For a full look into the value of returns within the eCommerce customer journey, check out our Returns In Retail whitepaper today.


One thing is clear, all retailers need to be aware of the consumer awakening to sustainability issues.

Consumers are rethinking purchase decisions based on businesses environmental efforts and practices. The entire eCommerce industry is therefore facing a growing responsibility to ensure that it remains sustainable.

There are already retailers taking significant action towards reducing environmental impact, setting real targets and goals. However there are still a huge number of retailers who are still yet to take the lead on tackling the issue.

Building a sustainable competitive advantage in retail can be worth it in the long run with more customers seeking out eco-friendly retailers.

Retailers should always remain mindful of how initiatives and certain communications on the subject could be interpreted, both positively and negatively.

5874 Commerce undertook a survey of 100 UK-operating online retailers, taking a deep dive into their sustainable practices; from the merchants’ business models through to their choices of delivery packaging. Check out our findings here. 

If you need help with your eCommerce strategy, get in touch with our team of experts today!




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