Environmentally friendly products are traditionally more expensive than their less sustainable counterparts. That said, some consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products, with our recent research revealing almost two-thirds (64%) of shoppers look for ethical or sustainable features when making a purchase. Despite this, price remains the most important factor for many. To this end, fashion brands need to prioritise sustainability while maintaining competitive prices, but there also needs to be a heavy focus on making it accessible.
So, what can eCommerce retailers do throughout their online stores to appeal to today’s conscious consumers?
Information at your fingertips
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. Optimising 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.
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, colour 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.
Ratings and reviews
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 organisation Good On You. And, if the rating isn’t great, more of an incentive to improve their sustainability initiatives.
Supply chain transparency
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.
Putting ethics front and centre
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 personalised 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 centre, not hidden away below the fold. Likewise, personalisation 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 second-hand.
Utilising the checkout
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.
Get ahead now
The UK government recently unveiled plans to support sustainable fashion in a bid to tackle waste in the fast fashion industry and hold manufacturers to account. Such developments may ultimately see more brands and retailers work to deliver a greener future. Fashion and sustainability can work cohesively together, but it will require a fundamental shift in the way brands and retailers, along with their customers, view stock. More and more consumers are wanting to understand the provenance of their products, and retailers who seize the opportunity to be transparent will set themselves up to nurture loyalty.
Contributed by: Benoit Soucaret, Group Creative Director, LiveArea