Loud and proud

Loud & Proud: How to Promote Sustainable Consumption as an Ecommerce Brand

By Cat • 9 June 2021

As an ethically-minded ecommerce retailer, you might find yourself at a bit of a moral crossroads. On one hand, let's go get some sales! On the other... are we encouraging mindless overconsumption of unnecessary purchases?

Our planet is at breaking point when it comes to resources, and the strain is starting to show. Patterns of consumption are in constant flux, and while we typically still use, take and buy more than we need, our habits are starting to show a little improvement when it comes to shopping sustainability. The U.S. sustainability market alone is predicted to reach $150 billion in sales by 2021, according to Nielsen.

As an ecommerce brand or retailer, what can you be doing to help encourage better, more mindful behaviours of consumption within your target audience? Read on to find out...

What Do We Mean By Sustainable Consumption?

When we talk about sustainable consumption within the context of ecommerce, we're looking at shopping on a basis of need. As a retail medium, ecommerce has typically relied on the opposite kind of purchase behaviours – impulsive, quick buys of items that catch our eye and appeal on an instant but fairly superficial visual level. There's a reason why fast fashion and flash sales do so well within an online environment.

Sustainable consumption is growing in popularity and acceptance. It's becoming less socially acceptable to brag about wearing outfits once, or replacing sneakers the moment a small imperfection is caused by their wear. The "pile it high, sell it cheap" attitude of many retailers is falling out of fashion. The new mantra is "quality over quantity" – and it's really starting to catch on.

Sustainable Consumption: What's In It For Your Brand?

Encouraging your customers to buy less is a hard sell, we totally understand. Trying to reduce our impact on the planet might be the "right" thing to do on paper, but what could possibly be in it for your business, by way of benefit?

We're happy to report that for the brands taking this approach, there's plenty of scope for reward. More and more, consumers are looking to support brands who reflect their own values. A huge 88% of customers would like the brands that they spend with to help them live a more sustainable lifestyle.

People are starting to look to the brands that they spend with to lead the way when it comes to having a positive impact on the planet. By taking clear, transparent action (and especially because you're encouraging behaviour that asks people to spend less not more!) a mission-led approach here will be rewarded with heightened brand loyalty.

What could adopting this type of strategy do to your bottom line? Chances are, you'll actually be in a favourable position. By encouraging people to buy less, there's an implication that your products are of a higher, more long-lasting quality – things to be treasured, not trashed.

As a result, although you're encouraging a reduced purchase frequency, you might well be able to enjoy setting slightly higher price points - a benefit many brands championing sustainable consumption enjoy.

Let's explore three ways in which your brand could start promoting a more sustainable approach to consumption...

  1. Help Customers Understand The Part They Play In Reducing Carbon-Heavy Returns

Mindful consumption isn't just about fewer things – it's about buying the right things. Not only will these items stay in our lives longer, it also helps sidestep the carbon cost of returning items to the seller.

Returns are more than just an added cost for retailers, they're also having a huge impact on the environment. Delivery emissions multiply, and there's a heightened peak of activity within the "last mile" delivery zone, as vans run more trips around residential and built-up areas. This means more congestion and urban pollution. Another hidden cost of returns: many products are wasted when they're returned and unable to be resold.

When it comes to practising good purchase behaviours, your customers might not be considering the full implications of their choices. For example, it's fairly common practice for shoppers to buy apparel in multiple sizes, with the intention of keeping only the item which fits best Free returns encourage this kind of behaviour, so consider adding a financial disincentive to put customers off.

How Can You Help Promote More Sustainable Consumption?

  • Improve elements of the buying journey and customer experience to ensure better purchase choices and reduce returns. Integrate reviews by leveraging technology such as Okendo so that your customers get better insight into the sizing that may be right for them, based on the feedback of their peers etc.

  • Consider integrating AI-powered sizing assistance or explore the ways in which AR could improve your customers' chances of picking the perfect product the first time around. These solutions come with a cost, but investment in these solutions will be offset by a reduction in your return expenses!

  • Explore ways in which messaging on your site could educate customers about the impact of returns. If shoppers add multiple variants of the same product to their baskets, alert them to the environmental costs of returning multiple items.

  • Include a prominent section on your returns policy (people are likely to read this!) explaining what you're doing to reduce the impact of your returns. Consider implementing a scheme to help offset returns (either paid for by your business or via a customer levy.)

2. Consider The Messaging Underpinning Any Product Based Campaigns

The way that you position new products sets the tone for sustainable consumption. You're wide open to hypocrisy (and accusations of greenwashing) if you simultaneously hype new lines as essential, whilst also suggesting people reign in their spending.

The best strategy here is full transparency and a healthy dose of radical candour. Yes - you hope people will recognise a genuine need for your products - but it should be exactly that - genuine. As you build up a campaign, focus on promoting the idea of buying items with the intention of them being put to a defined use, looked after and kept for as long as possible.

This isn't as simple as it sounds. For years, marketing has relied upon whipping up excitement and urgency to make an impulsive purchase decision. However, this is exactly what can help you stand out from the crowd - do something different and you'll get people talking.

Patagonia are often cited for doing great work here – with their "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaign an excellent example. OrganicBasics are another brand doing this well. Their campaign surrounding their new circular denim line is accompanied by the compelling tagline "the world doesn't need another denim collection."

How Can You Help Promote More Sustainable Consumption?

  • Stop relying on "hype based" marketing campaigns that exploit time constraints or scarcity value.

  • Reposition your products as items to be looked after and kept for a long time - move towards the concept of quality and need-based purchasing.

  • Don't contradict yourselves - if you're encouraging more a more mindful approach to consumption in your marketing campaigns, keep this consistent.

3. Make Some Noise About The Environmental Impact Of Delivery Speeds

When it comes to making better choices for our planet, often people are well-meaning, but poorly informed. Delivery is a great example of an area of ecommerce where a little education could go a long way in terms of improving outcomes.

We've rather come to expect next day delivery. Rather than being "something special" for occasional selection, many companies offer this as default, often absorbing some of the cost to make it an appealing differentiator.

As a result, if next day delivery is on offer, and reasonably priced (or even free) as a consumer, we're likely to select it, even if we don't really need our items that urgently.

However, these expedited deliveries have a much higher carbon cost than the slower, better consolidated alternatives. By adding just a little information around the impact of these choices into the checkout experience, awareness of the environmental cost of these choices could be greatly enhanced.

How Can You Help Promote More Sustainable Consumption?

  • Do you need to offer next day delivery? Would removing it - and sharing your reasons for doing so - give you an interesting marketing campaign angle?

  • If you're worried about the impact of removing next day delivery entirely, could you store highlight its carbon impact at check out? Would offering a "green delivery" option (or rebranding your slower service in this manner) be an option?

  • Could you give your customer the opportunity to round up their total cost, to help offset the additional impact of a next day delivery service, if they select this method?

Get Your Brand On The Right Side Of History: Promote Sustainable Consumption

Sustainable consumption is the future, so start making changes in anticipation of a movement that is only set to gather momentum in the coming years. Brands have a huge role to play in the education of their audiences. People want to make the right choice, it's up to you to leverage every tool in your box (from social media through to content marketing) in order to help them learn about what these decisions look like.

Say goodbye to flash sales and hyped new product drops. They have no place in the mindful future we're moving towards, and the sooner your hone your brand positioning and promotional messaging to reflect this, the better your results and the bigger your impact.

Need help finding the technology partners that can help you achieve your sustainable consumption goals? The MindfulCommerce Directory is here to help connect you to the best in the business.

If you're looking for more ideas on ways to promote more mindful, sustainable consumption as a brand, or if you'd simply like the support of like-minded ecommerce brands and experts, join the free MindfulCommerce Community today.