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Matt C

How to set yourself apart as a conscious e-commerce brand

Industry Insights, 5th January 2022

The e-commerce space is officially booming. With demand for online retail at an all time high and showing no signs of slowing.


Your brand's positioning helps you differentiate from your close competition – and this has never been more important. This short article will highlight how setting yourself apart as a conscious ecommerce brand, establishing a reputation for sustainability and ethical trade can help your triple bottom line: profit, people and planet.


The rise of conscious e-commerce


One of the many benefits of e-commerce comes from the choice and easy comparison that online shopping affords. While this is good news for our customers, as retailers we need to stay on top of our game – a competitor's more appealing option is just a click away.


While price is always going to be a significant deciding factor, margins are margins, and to a certain extent, your hands may be tied here.


Increasingly however, customers are looking for more than rock bottom prices or the best website designs. They're looking for brands that align with their values.


From the "Attenborough effect" on our desire to reduce plastic usage, through to the new perspectives brought by the global pandemic, many consumers are starting to move towards more conscious consumption patterns. As many as 75% of UK shoppers claim to be consciously modifying their behaviour when it comes to consumer items.

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There's no questioning the global pandemic's ongoing impact on ecommerce. Merchants (and the partners like us that support them) have a responsibility to ensure this impact is positive on our planet.

Tom Locke, Founder — Noughts & Ones

How can your brand acknowledge shifting demand?

Let's be real. Becoming a more ethical and mindful retailer is the right thing to do on any level. But when you're operating a business, any major modifications to your practice need to be affordable, realistic and sustainable.


It's also important not to just pay lip service to a shift towards being a conscious e-commerce brand. Underestimate your customers' ability to spot greenwashing at your cost.


But by taking a few well-considered, meaningful steps in the right direction, you can send a clear signal to your customers that you're genuine about moving towards a greener business. And clearly communicating this through your marketing communications will not harm your chances of being favoured over your close competition. You're also giving customers a great reason to remain loyal.


Let's take a look at three areas where you can start making impactful choices right away.


Sustainable packaging

In the wake of Blue Planet II, plastic became public enemy number one, with 88% of viewers changing their lifestyle as a result. And whilst in some instances, the use of plastic packaging is the greener option (e.g. specialist packing to reduce the risk of breakage and waste of very fragile products), conscious consumers are not going to be pleased with an unboxing experience that involves a mountain of wasteful wrapping.


Again, we need to be realistic. Smaller brands may well baulk at the price of switching to more costly recyclable alternatives. But this is about small, incremental changes. Think laterally and creatively about your buying and shipping practices. Could you encourage some of your larger suppliers to reduce the amount of excess packaging in the shipments you receive from them? Could you repurpose the boxes your deliveries arrive in to send products out to customers?


Look at getting some return on the investment you make into greener packaging. You can do this by making sure you communicate this choice effectively on your packaging – give people a reason to give you more of their business. A prominent sustainability page on your store is also a must.

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Transparency in your supply chain

Consumer confidence in brands is being eroded. As companies' less-than-ideal sourcing and manufacturing strategies come to light, faith takes a hit across the board. And in the future, brands can (rightly) be expected to be held to higher standards.


This is especially true of certain verticals, most notably fast fashion, which has taken a pummelling in the media following a string of high profile scandals.


Being open and honest about your sourcing process and principles is important. This isn't about perfection, but progress. Attitude and aspiration is important here –– be clear about where you're at with your current practices and set out your intentions for any improvements you're moving towards in the future.


Again, communication is key. Do the right thing, because it's the right thing to do – but don't miss the chance to shout about your efforts. Communicating what you're doing also helps to build awareness of how other brands can follow your path.


Your digital footprint

Many assume that because e-commerce brands aren't maintaining large, brightly lit stores, their operational carbon footprint must be low. However, energy-hungry, product-packed websites all run from servers somewhere, and these data centres are seldom powered by green energy sources. When we also factor in the transition networks and end devices, the sharing of data can be a big factor in terms of pollution, contributing to 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions.


Start by acknowledging your digital carbon footprint, and go from there. There are many steps you can take to improve the energy consumption of your e-commerce store, from more efficient SEO to best practise around images, through to server caching and leveraging PWAs.


Progress, not perfection

The e-commerce industry needs to take a long, hard look at itself when it comes to sustainability. There's a lot more we could (and should) be doing, and in years to come, let's hope that positioning yourself as an ethically-minded, greener brand won't be a differentiating factor!


But, while it still is, do the right thing and shout about it. Set aside some time to address the ways in which you could take steps towards becoming a more conscious e-commerce brand, and enjoy the beneficial side effects that come with this stronger market positioning.

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As a sustainable Shopify development agency, we are passionate about educating and informing businesses about the importance of reducing their online carbon footprint. If you found this post insightful, please consider sharing it with your followers to help us spread this knowledge and inspire others to join us in this important mission.