March 10, 2018
The ubiquitous emergence of online shopping as a substitute for so-called brick-and-mortar shops is one of those new phenomena that turns out to be too fragmented and multifaceted to grasp regarding its impact on culture, society and the environment. While running TAUKO, a fashion label that sells a significant amount of products via online platforms, we keep on asking ourselves questions like:
With the almost unconditional 14-day return policy installed via European law, what happens to these returned products?
How do companies handle the ever-growing needs of fast deliveries and smooth return policies?
With these questions in mind, and as a relatively small label, we ask ourselves:
How sustainable and eco-friendly can we conceptualize our own online shopping channels?
From both our personal experience and by looking at various articles on the subject, I listed some of the Pros and Cons of online shopping.
Online shopping made it possible for small brands to create their own sales channels and thus leave out intermediate resellers. At the same time, online platforms that are specialized in e.g. sustainable, vegan or Nordic style brands get established and known as we speak. Instead of spending large upfront costs on a product, and storing that product, we can instead create an entire sales funnel that the original brand ships directly to the final customer.
At the same time online shopping appears to have a positive impact on the environment: Buying online means that the end user does not need to take her car to the shop, thus the related carbon emissions are eliminated. However, it turns out that there are a hidden drawbacks.
As more and more shoppers click to buy, the demands of a seamless online-initiated shopping experience has to be handled by the retailers. Oftentimes, the effort to provide the purchased items to the customer comes at an increased cost to the environment. Instead of a simple (paper) bag, deliveries of goods require robust and waterproof packaging materials, goods need to be transported door to door. The acceptance of our online shopping culture relies on smooth deliveries and, in the common case of dissatisfaction with the actual item, returns. This regularly results in shipping the same product back and forth several times.
The specifics of online shopping logistics created a whole new industry. Looking for an answer to what happens to all the returned items in big online platforms like Zalando or Amazon, I came across information on containers and even landfills filled with customer returns that are too expensive to take care of on an individual level.
This is by far not making the online shopping a sustainable choice.
It turns out that, as with all shopping, the same rules apply also online: It is always best to buy from your local dealer and favor direct trade options. Carefully selecting and planning your purchase can save a lot of time, effort and environmental resources: products sent to you will very often turn out to be what you were hoping for and, although legally legitimate, do not need to be returned. If you are unsure about a product, especially when dealing with a smaller brand, both online and brick-and-mortar stores are more than happy to provide you with that extra bit of information about their products, and will answer your questions. Fast is not usually the best.
Text by Mila Moisio and Till Bovermann