About 30% of consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly shipping and packaging and 9% of shoppers have selected longer shipping to support sustainable practice, survey data finds. Here’s how retailers work to incorporate more sustainable shipping practices into their fulfillment operations.

While online retailers have long strived to cater to consumers’ fulfillment preferences by offering fast and free shipping, some retailers prioritize other fulfillment considerations, such as sustainability, as a way to provide a superior shipping experience.

Retailers can also offer shoppers fulfillment that takes into consideration the environmental impact in several ways:

  • Using the appropriate sized box for a package
  • Offering packaging with recycled materials
  • Consolidating packages so an entire order is shipped in one box instead of multiple boxes

These practices appeal to shoppers who care about how their consumption impacts the planet, and, from a business perspective, the smaller and more lightweight a retailer can make a box, the cheaper it is to ship, says Frank Poore, CEO of ecommerce software provider CommerceHub.

48% of consumers said their expectations were met or exceeded for their packaging to be appropriate for the size of the product, according to a Bizrate Insights and Digital Commerce 360 survey of 989 consumers in March 2020.

However, if a retailer did ship a small product in a big box, would a shopper be so mad that she would stop buying from that retailer? Maybe, but maybe not, Poore says. It’s hard to quantify how much that part of the fulfillment experience matters to each shopper and how it will impact her future purchases. Even harder to know is if a shopper will only shop with a retailer if she knows the packaging is environmentally friendly.

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One way to determine this is to see if a shopper will actually pay more for environmentally friendly shipping and packaging. An August Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights consumer survey of 1,141 found that 37% are not willing to pay more for environmentally sound practices, while 30% are.

For brand manufacturer Burton Snowboards, environmentally conscious fulfillment operations are not about attracting new customers, but ensuring that its packaging matches its brand values, says Brian McAllister, global direct-to-consumer operations manager. And one of those brand values is sustainability.

“It comes down to our core values of doing what’s right,” McAllister says. “[We’ve taken] a deep look at our company and the ways we’ve impacted the environment and identified packaging as an opportunity to improve. Again, we’re not looking for a return [on investment] here. It’s about taking care of the planet.”

Brian McAllister, Burton Snowboards

Brian McAllister, Burton Snowboards

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Burton Snowboards (No. 784 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) is in the process of replacing the plastic polyethylene bags in its boxes with eco packs, which are made from 100% recyclable materials, he says. Eco packs have a paper-based interior packaging so shoppers don’t have to make a special trip to recycle it, he says.

Another environmentally friendly practice retailers can offer is allowing shoppers to opt for slower shipping so the retailer can opt for a more environmentally conscious way to get the product to the shopper, such as waiting until an entire truck is full instead of sending out an order immediately. The March consumer survey also found that between October 2019 and March 2020, 9% of shoppers had selected longer shipping to support sustainable practices.

Besides supporting the environment, retailers offering slower shipping also benefit from easing the stress on their labor and product supply capacity. This practice was especially popular with retailers during the 2019 holiday season when online order volume surged during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Some retailers even enticed shoppers to choose the slow shipping option.

For years, Gap Inc. (N0. 23) has run a gift card sweepstakes during the Thanksgiving weekend where shoppers can choose slower shipping for a chance to win a $200 gift card. Gap selects multiple gift card winners per hour.

“The sweepstakes is for customers who may order during our peak week but don’t need their gifts right away,” a Gap spokeswoman says. “Our customers love it, and it allows us to spread out the demand on our distribution centers during one of our busiest weeks.”

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During the pandemic, Digital Commerce 360’s research team tested fulfillment options with several retailers. They found that Banana Republic allowed shoppers to select a later delivery window during the height of the pandemic when its online sales were surging.

Banana Republic gave shoppers an option to have their package shipping slowly when their operations were stretched during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Banana Republic gave shoppers an option to have their package ship slowly when its operations were stretched during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even more retailers will likely consider offering a perk for slower shipping during the 2020 holiday season, Poore says, as retailers’ fulfillment operations are already backlogged from surging online orders related to the coronavirus pandemic.

This article is based on Digital Commerce 360’s Click, Ship & Return Report. It can be downloaded now as a PDF for $399. Digital Commerce 360 Gold and Platinum Members receive a complimentary copy of this report as a part of their membership. View the table of contents here.

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