Emerging from the coronavirus lockdown, brands and retailers are expected to shift towards sustainability as 37 percent of UK and Irish consumers became more conscious of their online shopping habits and the impact it has on the environment.

The research conducted by PFS and LiveArea has found a growing environmental awareness in consumers, with over 70 percent looking for recyclable or minimised use of packaging when buying from brands.

The temporary closure of brick-and-mortar stores resulted in many consumers reevaluating their shopping habits and how it impacts the environment. The report ‘Selling Sustainability: Adapting to the New Conscious Consumer’ reveals more and more consumers turning to more sustainable ways of buying, a result of the change in shopping habits.

During the worldwide lockdown, many consumers had in mind the process retailers go through prior to each successful delivery, which caused only 37 percent of them to be satisfied with the communication from online retailers or brands on the environmental impact.

Inquiries such as where and how a product is sourced are also becoming more important in the purchasing process, leading to 35 percent of consumers now only make a purchase if a product is naturally and locally sourced or sustainable. Fifty-six percent of respondents prefer to buy products produced in their own country.

Just below half (43 percent) of the surveyed consumers prefer to purchase in-store or to buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS), believing that these preferences have a lower environmental impact compared to online-only shopping.

Over-purchasing is another of consumer habits that has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with over a third (37 percent) of all shoppers having stopped over-purchasing in aim to reduce pollution caused by delivery vehicles. Item returns have fallen as 30 percent of respondents are returning fewer items than before the shift towards sustainability. This change in habits could greatly impact on how online retailers and brands approach promotions in the future.

There is still a considerable lack of information provided by online retailers and brands on how they are handling returned items. Only 26 percent of consumers say that they are aware of what happens to products when they return them to online retailers and brands.

According to the figures from Optoro, a technology company that works with retailers and manufacturers to manage and then resell their returned and excess merchandise, 5 billion pounds of waste is generated every year through such waste. Fifteen million metric tons of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere during the handling of returned items.

Contrary to this, the research found that 42 percent of consumers believe the returned products are reused or recycled, while only 22 percent is aware that the goods are often thrown away. Indicating a need for change, more than 70 percent of consumers would change their online shopping habits if they were aware of the amount of returns that go to landfill.

On a positive note, consumers are actively seeking online retailers and brands who stand by their sustainable credentials. The findings reveal that over half of French consumers are diligent in checking an item’s credentials, while there are only 38 percent of those in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Christophe Pecoraro, Managing Director of PFS Europe, commented: “For retailers, a change in behaviour and beliefs means they must work even harder to gain and maintain loyalty from consumers by positioning themselves as a brand that understands the needs and desires of its customers throughout the entire buying journey. Getting the balance right is important, but so too is authenticity. Consumers can see through empty gestures – substance is essential. Consumers are now more carefully considering what, where and how they buy items. The brands that meet these needs will be best positioned to thrive in the future.”

Benoit Soucaret, Creative Director at LiveArea EMEA, said: “Our research clearly highlights the immediate need for brands to be more environmentally responsible. The COVID-19 pandemic has made consumers reassess what’s important to them and their own personal impact on the planet. Now more than ever these conscious consumers expect brands to deliver on sustainability and are looking for them to communicate how they are doing this.”

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