e-Commerce has been on the rise for years now. Last year alone, online orders generated global sales worth over US$ 800 billion. This inevitably raises questions as to the environmental friendliness of this sector. Current studies identify the environmental contribution of packaging and shipping in e-Commerce.
Online shopping: More eco-friendly than many might think
The study “Climate-friendly Shopping” carried out by the German CleanTech-Institut (DCTI) juxtaposes carbon-dioxide emissions caused by bricks-and-mortar shopping with those in e-Commerce and arrives at the verdict: e-Commerce is good for the environment.
The study commissioned by the Otto Group looked at the frequency of shopping, the distances covered and the transport mode selected. 1,000 polled customers were broken down into five groups of shoppers: Modern, Conservative, Economical, Consumption-Oriented and Demand-Driven Shoppers. At the end of the day, e-Commerce won the race despite packaging materials, logistics, transport and returns. In particular, numerous single-person car trips, in rural areas also over extended distances, produced a greater overall CO2 footprint than orders placed online. Add to this the CO2 emissions caused by retail store operations with buildings, staff and customers, which are higher than the operations of the packaging industry. In addition to its handy and ready-to-ship products e-Commerce also particularly scores points with pooled delivery in special forwarding vehicles.
Return costs up to Euro 10
Although they are no longer required to do so by law, roughly three quarters of online retailers bear the transport costs for returns, according to a study carried out by the Cologne-based EHI Retail Institute on the topic of retail logistics. Adding this to the costs incurred for processing, checking and preparation for re-sale this can add up to as much as EUR 10 per returned item for a retailer.
Therefore, since 2014 Amazon has applied the rule that shoppers pay shipping costs for returns on goods with a value of under EURO 40 – unless the merchandise is defective or the shopper is signed up to Amazon Prime. Internet giant Zalando handles matters differently, still granting its customers a 100-day deadline to return the purchased items free of charge – and without stating any reasons. A move towards the customer, which this company pays for with a 50% rate of returns.
Online retailers are therefore particularly interested in bringing down their returns rate in e-Commerce. In the survey a majority of retailers stated that they wanted to reach this aim by more detailed product information on the website. Roughly half of them considered sufficient contact points with personal customer support important while 44% regarded quick delivery as the decisive argument and 38% safe packaging. After all, protective packaging can avoid transport damage and, hence, contribute to cutting returns. Approximately 25% of the companies polled would welcome suppliers to provide them with ready-to-ship merchandise.