Sustainability in e-commerce: environmentally concerned consumers switch brand more often, packaging is seen as the biggest issue

In (e)commerce, the ‘green trend’ is growing. Consumers are increasingly aware of environmental issues and the role of consumption and e-commerce within that space. And in a bid to successfully address increasing demands for sustainability from their consumers, online retailers have been pondering for some time now corporate social responsibility and eco-friendly approaches. But how environmentally minded are consumers really? And of shipping and packaging, two aspects that are known to have a direct impact on the environment, which do they find most important? Do consumers easily switch a brand or channel if there is a more sustainable option at hand?

In this week’s blog we take a closer look at consumers’ sustainability needs, how this need transfers to online shopping and what impact it has on brand- and channel choice. Keep reading!

Only 10-20% of consumers always take environmental considerations into account

Overall, we see that only 10-20% of consumers have a ‘high climate consideration’. This is defined as ‘always/very often taking environment or climate considerations into account when buying a product or service’. But there are some significant country differences. In Germany, 19% of consumers have a high climate consideration, compared to 12% of Dutch consumers and 9% of Norwegians.

The ‘high climate consideration’ group is similarly composed in all three countries: younger and to a large extent in the pre-family/family life stage with a higher than average education and income. They are more loyal to online shopping, as they spend a larger share of their spend than in brick-and-mortar stores. And they conduct more purchases online than average – this group is overrepresented in the segment Heavy Online Shoppers.

Consumers see packaging and shipping as similarly concerning but environmentally concerned consumers are more concerned about packaging

Overall, we see that consumers are split evenly over concerns about packagaing and shipping – two key themes in ‘green e-commerce’: 50% of consumers state that packaging of the products is the most concerning aspect from an environment or climate perspective, and the other 50% said that the shipping of the products is what concerns them the most. Although this split view is clearly visible for the Netherlands and Germany, it is not that apparent for Norway, where 60% of consumers state shipping is their largest concern compared to 40% who state packaging.

But more interesting is that, among consumers who never consider the environment when shopping (in general, not only online), 56% say shipping concerns them the most when shopping online. And among consumers who always consider the environment, 42% state that shipping is their biggest concern when shopping online.
When we look at concerns about packaging, we see the opposite correlation: the more environmentally concerned you are as a consumer, the more you see packaging as the largest issue with online shopping. Among consumers who never consider the environment, only 28% say that packaging is their biggest concern. And among those that always consider the environment, 54% of consumers say this is the largest issue.

Environmentally concerned consumers switch brand more often than switching channel

Broadening the view and looking at consumer trade-offs in the top-funnel purchase process, we see that 11% of consumers ‘very often/always consider buying one brand instead of another due to environmental or climate considerations’. In contrast, 17% of consumers ‘very often/always consider buying products in physical stores instead of online due to environmental or climate considerations’.

Additionally, we see that the more environmentally concerned you are as a consumer, the more likely you will switch brand than channel when the environment is at stake. As environmentally concerned consumers have a larger share of spend online and a stronger loyalty to online channels, they prefer to stick to online as their channel of choice. As a result, they have a higher propensity to switch brands instead.

What does this mean for merchants?

For merchants it is essential to identify key points in the customer journey where sustainability is a concern for consumers, and consequently offer (environmentally concerned) consumers the correct type of information or service options. Think of additional information on the impact of different delivery options on the environment or offering consumers an eco-friendly packaging option. As we have seen in our blog about the future of e-commerce, it is exactly these aspects that consumers see most benefit in.

What is next?

Coming up next is the August outlook for e-commerce in the Netherlands, Germany and Norway.