Optimizing Your Website For Sustainability: 8 Tips for Online Retailers
How can eCommerce embrace sustainability, and what changes can retailers make to their online stores to appeal to today’s ethical consumer?
Author: Benoit Soucaret
April 22, 2021
Whilst our recent research shows that 64% of shoppers look for ethical or sustainable features when making a purchase, clearly price is still an important decision-driver for many consumers, and rightly so, particularly now. While some consumers may be willing to pay more for fashion garments that are environmentally friendly, fashion brands should prioritize making sustainability price-friendly and, as importantly, accessible to their consumers.
Whilst there’s an onus on governments and regulatory bodies to introduce legislations to incentivize businesses to improve their sustainability practices and help find uniformity across industries, there’s also more brands can do to make sustainable products central to their digital strategies. We shouldn’t just rely on consumer demands to impose these changes.
Here are eight things eCommerce retailers can implement throughout their eCommerce stores to appeal to today’s conscious consumer.
As mentioned, almost two-thirds of consumers look for ethical or sustainability information during their buying journey, so it’s important this information is available. Optimizing category and product pages to ensure supply chain traceability and sustainability information is available and transparent is important, while threading additional content through blogs, social media, influencer campaigns and even charity initiatives can give comprehensive coverage. This is also vital for visibility, as many consumers start their research on Google, so ranking as a ‘sustainable brand’ within your sector could be the difference between a new customer landing on your site or a competitor’s.
Taking Patagonia as the flag-bearer in sustainable fashion, the brand ‘impact’ information is available throughout its product pages, placed next to many of the page CTAs, including the add to cart button. The section includes comprehensive information about how each product is made, the materials used, and where it is made, with extra information available about issues such as Fairtrade and the brand’s carbon footprint pledge. In fact, Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability is everywhere on its site, including easy navigation to “used gear,” stories of environmental activism, and opportunities to tap into Patagonia-funded grants.
Search & filters
One reason the online shopping experience is so convenient is the ability for shoppers to easily find what they want and browse quickly through vast categories of products. Most leading eCommerce websites have excellent search and filter functionalities. Smart AI-driven on-site search features continually learn and evolve, serving up hyper-relevant products and content to match the user’s search query. Filters on eCommerce pages allow users to narrow down masses of products by criteria such as product type, size, brand, color and price range.
These features can also be leveraged to streamline the online browsing experience to help users find, for example, sustainable, locally sourced or vegan products. ASOS recently introduced its ‘responsible’ filter, allowing users to filter garments that are made from recycled or sustainable materials.
Something we’re now accustomed to seeing on eCommerce sites to build trust and authenticity is ratings and reviews. Initially used by the likes of Amazon to boost conversion, we now expect star ratings and consumer-generated reviews across all categories we research online, from TripAdvisor for travel and restaurants, to Trustpilot for technology and appliances. And, in the same way that technology retailers – AO for instance – include a Trustpilot rating on its website, fashion brands could include a ‘sustainability’ rating either from consumers, or from ethical brand ratings organization Good On You. And, if the rating isn’t great, more of an incentive to improve their sustainability initiatives.
Consumers are increasingly expecting companies to be fully transparent about their supply chain, according to McKinsey. There are now many questions around how the industry values those who grow the cotton, stitch the products, the environment and equitable profit for those in the supply chain. Many believe positive change starts with transparency and traceability.
Marks & Spencer published an interactive supply chain map on its website featuring the locations of all active clothing, food, homeware and beauty product manufacturers. This way, consumers can easily research how products were made, where they come from, and what materials are used.
Picture the typical digital retailer’s homepage. There are merchandising tactics brands use to entice customers to purchase seasonal collections, hot trends, influencer-inspired ranges, and gifting occasions such as Christmas or Valentine’s day. Retailers also use personalized recommendation and bundles are useful tactics retailers use to increase AOV, push new products and clear excess stock, while consumers enjoy these recommendations that help them ‘complete the look’, or cook a recipe, for example.
In many ways, you can’t blame consumers for taking advantage of the kinds of offers we see, particularly during online discount period. For example, the likes of Pretty Little Thing offered deals of up to 99% off during its Black Friday 2020 sale. Some responsibility does lie with brands to do more with their merchandising on digital platforms.
What we don’t see so much on the homepage is brands pushing their latest organic, vegan, recycled, or second-hand collection. If brands are truly committed to delivering for their ethical customers, these collections should be front and center, not hidden away below the fold. Likewise, personalization efforts should be tailored to these shopping habits, whereby customers with sustainability preferences can view recommended products, bundles and promotions that match their ethics.
One way to show a true commitment to sustainability is promoting second-life items over new sales. The likes of IKEA and Patagonia are leading the way with second-life initiatives. IKEA’s first second-hand physical store opened recently in Sweden, where all products sold are reused or recycled. Old furniture is given a second chance, at the same time as IKEA can test and develop a circular business model. The retailer is also launching a scheme whereby it buys back unwanted furniture from customers to resell as secondhand.
In a similar way, Patagonia’s Worn Wear marketplace website allows consumers to trade, sell, and buy second-hand Patagonia goods, reflecting the brand’s admirable commitment to the planet. The company’s famous ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign drew attention to the issue of overconsumption, encouraging people to buy only what they need.
Another key part of the buying journey that can be leveraged to enhance sustainability is the cart, or checkout stage. The key here is to not force the issue, as it might seem pushy, or an attempt at ‘greenwashing.’ It’s all about control and offering customers options at checkout that suit their ethics. It could be displaying the eco impact of different delivery options such as click-and-collect versus home delivery.
If selling from different suppliers on a marketplace, the platform might offer a consolidated shipping option to reduce the carbon impact of delivery emissions and packaging. Retailers are increasingly offering the option of paperless returns, or options around minimal packaging. Charitable checkout initiatives give buyers the option to ‘round up’ their order and donate a small amount to charity, or a nominal amount to ‘plant a tree’.
Supporting the conscious consumer doesn’t end at checkout. One of the major issues with over-consumption is a lack of education around how to prolong the life of products, re-use or recycle them, and recycle or dispose of packaging responsibly. This information can be included at checkout, in product inserts, or post-sales communication emails. It might also be worthwhile making this available and clear on-site, as a differentiator for brands.
Benoit Soucaret is Group Creative Director, LiveArea EMEA