Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

Making sustainability a reality in your ecommerce strategy

By Jake Athey, VP Marketing, Widen

It feels moot to point out that the past 18 months has had a significant impact on, well, everything. However, in our ecommerce industry, the impact has been positive. According to recent data from Statista, in 2020, ecommerce sales worldwide amounted to US$4.28 trillion.

This boon comes with another notable change. Increasingly, consumers are becoming much more environmentally conscious and aware of the impact their lifestyles are having on the earth. And this is now being reflected in purchasing decisions. In fact, a study by manufacturer Essity, showed British consumers would be willing to pay £3,654 more a year for eco-friendly household goods and services. Savvy consumers however, are not only looking at the brands they purchase from to meet their sustainability goals with best practises in manufacturing, packaging, and corporate ethics, but also in the way in which these brands engage with them.

It started with physical shops doing away with plastic bags and introducing ‘bags for life’, and now highstreets are filled with creative ways to improve sustainability, such as Holland and Barrett’s newly launched eco-shop. But how can the ecommerce world play its role?

Getting in touch with the sustainably-focused consumer

Retailers rely on their marketing teams to engage with existing customers to build brand loyalty and attract new customers. However, as consumers become more actively focused on shopping with brands who are behaving more sustainably, the carbon footprint from the marketing engagements they receive are an important consideration.

While email marketing is still a focus for many organisations, it’s worth noting that according to the UK email and marketing benchmark 2021 from Campaign Monitor, retail has both the lowest unsubscribe rate, and also the lowest open rate at 16.4%, for email marketing of any industry across billions of email interactions.

Data from How bad are bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee, also tells us that a standard email has a carbon footprint of 4g CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). So, while consumers may not be unsubscribing from those marketing emails, they are going to be aware that the more an organisation is sending, the bigger their carbon contribution. And of those marketing emails being received, how many of them make it through the ‘junk’ folder, straight into the inboxes of customers?

Personalisation has always been important to consumers, but as many more share increasing amounts of data with the organisations they engage with, it has become even more crucial. In order to share fewer emails, but secure a higher engagement, personalisation is key. Working with consumer data to share the products they are interested in, all at the right time, can focus results and reduce negative environmental impact.

Bringing sustainability in-house

But it’s not just the way marketers communicate externally that has a carbon footprint. Internally there are hundreds of communications sent every day asking for a file, image, datasheet – not to mention the replies and ‘thank yous’. While a standard email has a footprint of 4g CO2e, an email with an attachment has a footprint closer to 50g CO2e – well over 10 times the amount – according to Berners-Lee.

It’s time businesses got serious about the alternatives available to them. Cloud servers and file management platforms, for example, allow any member of the team to access any digital asset, from any location. Many times though, that’s not quite enough. With hundreds and thousands of assets to manage, and likely multiple versions of files, it’s often painstaking to find exactly what is needed – hence the ‘quick email’ to a colleague to get help locating the right content or images.

To get real impact, organisations should look at building technology like digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) tools into their marketing stack. These solutions can have an immediate, tangible impact on efficiencies. Having a centralised hub of a brand’s approved content, along with all the permissions and product information a marketer needs for their role, not only saves time across the team by reducing search, but also on that overall carbon footprint.

Sustainably marketing for the future

As we look towards a brighter second half of the year for bricks and mortar retailing in 2021, it remains critical for retailers to stay agile and flexible in a digitally transformed market. As retail spending is predicted to increase, consumers will be looking more than ever to support brands who actively deliver in line with their personal and social values – as well as positively impact their sustainable consciousness.


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