Sustainability and E-Commerce: A Growing Consumer Concern

Sustainability and E-Commerce: A Growing Consumer Concern

According to numerous studies into consumer behaviour, including a notable one by McKinsey and NielsenIQ, consumers are increasingly concerned with sustainability, especially in relation to e-commerce and consumer electronics. There are two main reasons that people are more focused on how sustainable their purchases are these days.

One comes down to the environmental impact their lives have on their carbon footprint and how their choices can add or take away from the burden of daily lives on climate change. The other area tends to concern the materials that are used in the products through e-commerce outlets. Where sellers can demonstrate wooden products, for example, come from sustainable forestry sources, they are more likely to appeal to consumers. The same goes for some of the rare metal components in consumer electronics. In short, people are increasingly aware of their impact on the planet. How has the e-commerce sector responded to this phenomenon?

The Rise of Sustainability in E-Commerce

Some estimates suggest that the rise in e-commerce purchases could double between 2020 and 2025. Historically, sustainability purchasing has been something that the bricks-and-mortar retail sector has driven with fair trade policies, ‘no more plastic’ schemes, reduced packaging and a reduction in the use of carrier bags to place purchases in. In e-commerce, many online retailers have sought to catch up with shops and offer similar products and packaging solutions. Given that there is considerable competition in the e-commerce sector, some sellers see marking themselves out as a sustainable supplier as a strong marketing opportunity they can use to differentiate themselves. That makes sense given that about half of all UK and US consumers want online sellers to reduce their packaging and some say they’d pay a premium for so doing.

One key area of sustainability in the e-commerce sector is ITAD, otherwise known as information technology asset disposition. Companies specialising in ITAD help sustainable e-commerce practices by refurbishing used IT equipment, such as phones and laptops, for example, so that they can be repurposed. Some consumers who are focused on e-commerce and sustainability will actively seek out used electronic equipment but will only tend to pay for it when they know that all the previous user’s data has been professionally removed. Given this is specialist work, an ITAD company can be invaluable to online sellers who wish to provide their customers with quality refurbished electronics that meet the expected standards. In recent years, sustainable e-commerce practices with smart devices have often gone hand-in-hand with an increasing awareness of personal data security.

Understanding Consumer Expectations

Data security is just one of the expectations that consumers who are interested in e-commerce and sustainability have nowadays. When purchasing products that don’t have their original packaging, for example, they will often demand their goods arrive fully protected but with packaging materials that can be recycled. Avoiding plastics is therefore key to any e-commerce business shipping used electronics. Using shredded paper and cardboard is now one of the most established sustainable e-commerce trends.

Many buyers will also want to see certification that helps to verify sustainable practices. Membership in sustainable business groups can help consumers feel more confident in the sustainability of the products they’re buying. Among consumer electronics, consumers still expect warranties for second-hand items and a transparent process that allows them to trace the origin of their purchases.

Benefits of Sustainability for E-Commerce Businesses

When e-commerce businesses get sustainability issues right, it makes clear commercial sense. This is something that more and more consumers are concerned with. Consequently, with the right practices in place, sustainable businesses can get an edge over their competitors. More widely, firms that use sustainable packaging and employ electronic-powered delivery systems will often lower their overheads while helping to reduce their carbon footprints.

Challenges and Obstacles

Adopting the latest sustainable e-commerce trends isn’t without its challenges. Although long-term cost reductions can be a benefit, they often require significant change in processes and investment. Some consumers aren’t as bothered by sustainability and may see such practices as a gimmick. There again, some consumers may consider refurbished electronics to be inferior even though purchasing second-hand could mean being able to obtain a superior model for the same level of expenditure. E-commerce businesses should educate their customers on the benefits of buying items like refurbished smart devices and how they’ve been professionally set up for resale by a reputable ITAD company, for example.

Changing consumer demands in the face of a cost-of-living crisis may cause some people to look for cheaper alternatives. However, this is likely to be a temporary blip given the more widespread trend towards sustainability. In any case, e-sellers can always encourage trade-in deals when their customers wish to buy new items, thereby helping to stimulate the circular economy.

Implementing Sustainability in E-Commerce

Begin by assessing your current practices and how sustainable they may already be. Focus on easy wins at first, such as switching to recyclable packaging materials and supplying second-hand as well as brand-new goods. Not all small enterprises need a thorough sustainability policy to make a big difference but copying the idea of larger retailers, such as M&S’s Plan A, is a good way to start.

Case Studies and Success Stories

There are plenty of success stories in the e-commerce sector to inspire smaller online retailers who want to compete with household names. For example, Shades of Green has made a big name for itself by showcasing non-toxic products for the home, many of which are made from recycled materials. Another great e-commerce brand to use as a case study is EarthHero, an online marketplace for sustainable consumer purchases and corporate gifting of all kinds. Both use extensive digital marketing to promote themselves to eco-savvy consumers.

Future Trends and Predictions

As mentioned, the e-commerce sector is growing fast. Demands for greater sustainability in the sector are only more likely to grow as extreme weather events and global displacement issues continue to make headlines. Hydrogen-powered delivery vehicles may be some way off but expect more and more electrically powered vehicles to be delivering consumer goods at the crucial last-mile part of the supply chain. Try to keep one step ahead of competitors by reviewing your sustainability practice at least once a year and making a song and dance in your marketing about all of your sustainable business processes.


In the end, we all have some responsibilities with respect to global sustainability. Adopting less impactful practices isn’t just something that consumers want but employees, too. If you want to grow with a committed team, then know that being more sustainable in any e-commerce business also helps to attract the most talented people.