Added expense holding retailers back from being sustainable

Retailers who do not support sustainability risk falling foul of today’s conscious consumer as 48% of consumers claim they are now more conscious of how their online shopping behaviour impacts the environment than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite a growing awareness of consumer desire to shop more sustainably since the pandemic, the added expense is currently holding retailers back from offering sustainable delivery and packaging options, new research from premier fulfilment provider, PFS, has found. According to the research, over half (59%) of retailers agreed that the added expense of multiple delivery and packaging options is the main reason they don’t offer more sustainable alternatives. But, with 54% of consumers in the UK and US claiming they would support and shop with brands committed to carbon-reducing delivery options, even if the delivery timescale was longer, retailers could be jeopardising customer loyalty if they do not offer these options.

The survey, commissioned by PFS and conducted by Arlington Research, compared and contrasted the expectations of 200 senior decision-makers from the retail industry and 4,000 adult consumers, when it comes to sustainable practices. The results form part of PFS’ new report ‘Expectation vs. reality: is sustainability sustainable?’. When questioned on these topics, over two-thirds of consumers (67%) agree that they expect all online retailers and brands to use recyclable and recycled packaging, rising to 76% in the UK compared to 74% in 2020. Over 6 in 10 consumers (63%) also agree that they would like to be able to choose a sustainable packaging option when purchasing an item.

However, despite strong sustainability ideals, consumers are also battling with balancing cost versus conscience. In fact, over half of consumers (55%) agreed they base their purchasing decisions on convenience and cost over sustainability and concern for their impact on the environment. The top reason holding them back from making more eco-friendly purchases is the higher cost of sustainable products (35%). Retailers also agreed with this as the top reason (47%).

Patrick Lowe, AVP Business Management at PFS said: “Retailers understand that consumers have heightened awareness levels when it comes to the impact of how they shop but also that their ideals don’t always match the realities. It’s a balancing act to appeal to cost-conscious consumers with cost-effective and sustainable solutions from retailers. Consumers know what they want to do but aren’t actively doing it yet. Perhaps they need to see more tangible evidence or be given more lucrative options that meet their needs of speed and environmental consciousness?”

“It is important that the retail industry – along with other supply chain influencers– take steps to drive and support behaviours that consumers want to demonstrate. Retailers need to work with consumers to make sustainability sustainable and incentivise them to want and choose more sustainable options. Changes don’t need to be widespread or wholescale, but by offering different choices, retailers can start to support shoppers and build loyalty,” Lowe adds.

To remove the complexity and cost for retailers, working with a third-party logistics provider can take the strain out of sustainability and lead to improved ROI and enhanced reputation, so retailers can stand ahead of the pack.


For more research findings and to gain further insights and recommendations for retailers, download the full report here.