Beyond Online Checkout: Examining the Environmental Costs and Solutions of Parcel Delivery

12 Apr 2019 HubBox Ecommerce

With everything at our fingertips, what are the consequences of online shopping?

It’s no secret that shopping has never been easier. Nowadays, we can browse, select, purchase, and ship an item online at the touch of a button and the sound of a click. Ecommerce giants such as Amazon have indisputably revolutionized the consumer market, at times to the detriment of brick-and-mortar retail through what is referred to as the “Amazon Effect.” Just last summer, Amazon customers purchased over 100 million products on Prime Day, a special event offering discounted prices and limited sales engagements. In addition to a satisfying bargain, one of the most significant reasons for Amazon’s popularity is speed. Yet, behind the online perks, instant delivery poses numerous environmental concerns that bring attention to the dramatic impact of our new shopping and shipping habits.

In 2017, a study conducted by the United Parcel Service (UPS) found that nearly all of the surveyed customers had placed an order from a recognizable ecommerce brand name like Amazon or Target. Over half of these customers cited the reduced-time shipping option that followed each purchase as the persuasive factor that informed their decision. Needless to say, affordable and immediate shipping is extremely valued by the vast majority of consumers. Given this information, it is probably safe to assume that online shopping is not going anywhere. After all, it is extremely convenient to order an item one day and hold it on the next, but the damaging environmental costs can be easily overlooked. Still, there are several ways to manage this global issue and, here, we will explain what changes can be made to preserve the planet for all of us.

A New ‘Green’ Option

In an effort to become environmentally conscious, several retailers are reframing their brand image to reflect their customer’s interest in social awareness and responsibility. One of the key areas for this initiative to flourish involves a modified delivery option that scales back on the immediate accessibility that is now available for customers to select. For every next-day shipment, the trucks that carry out each single delivery maximizes the spread of air pollutants and fuel emissions. With the extra cushion that more time provides, however, a greater number of packages can be consolidated in each shipment distribution. The implementation of this ‘green’ option could see many positive results when it comes to managing this ecological crisis. While consumers prefer the instant gratification of a speedy product arrival, waiting a few more days for non-urgent items can make a substantial difference to meet this end.

Regulated Returns

Another important opportunity to diminish the carbon footprint is a regulated return policy that could incentivize customers with a rewards program that includes discounts or online sales. In this strategy, retailers would offer a fair exchange to reduce the need for multiple journeys from truck drivers. For example, it is common for many online shoppers to purchase two pieces of the same clothing article in different sizes for fitting as if they were in a store. After a verdict has been reached, the other piece must be sent back in another fuel-filled excursion. This plan would eliminate the second trip altogether in a preventative measure to lessen the environmental effects associated with an additional pick-up. In return, customers would receive increased benefits and likely continue to shop on their website, thus, generating higher profits for retailers.

However, several brands have also begun to use alternative technology software that decodes personal style, fit, and size for every customer on data-driven platforms like TrueFit. This systematic approach can provide a more personalized experience that aims to solve this frequent problem. Taking this a step further, fashion retailer ASOS has recently implemented a policy that strictly monitors return rates after unusual activity was discovered. This decision was made to prevent ‘serial returners’ from returning worn clothing or purchasing items in excess only to be returned soon after. Regardless of the motivation behind this new protocol, the company’s sustainability efforts are supported in-tandem to this policy as a result.

From the Courier’s Perspective…

From the courier’s perspective, consequential changes can also be made to limit their contribution to the continuing acceleration of this harmful situation. Delivery companies like FedEx, UPS, and DHL Express are taking initial steps to preserve the safety and security of the planet for the years to come. FedEx currently runs 118 all-electric trucks and 364 commercial hybrid trucks with plans to add an energy-efficient air fleet in the next five years. UPS has just announced that they are teaming up with Matternet to deliver medical supplies by an FAA-sanctioned drone service. This new advancement will see a number of environmental benefits to improve supply-chain management and efficiency. And, DHL Express has expanded their courier model to include water travel in such cities as Amsterdam and Venice. With these new developments in progress, FedEx, UPS, and DHL Express are committed to taking action for the greater good of natural conservation. While these plans show promise, there is still room for improvement on behalf of the courier and commercial industries.

Click & Collect

To address the mounting pressure that this situation presents, numerous other proposals have moved forward in the right direction that elicits the joint participation of retailers, couriers, and customers. One of these proposals has become an effective solution by way of Click & Collect delivery. This strategy ensures the efficient process to order and deliver items through an advanced software-led system. Not only does this method improve the rate of accessibility, Click & Collect is able to offset the ecological consequences that usual shipping practices generate by reducing the number of re-delivery trips for couriers. Instead, these re-deliveries are consolidated into one shipment to be sent to a select drop-off point. Moreover, the policies that companies like FedEx, UPS, and DHL Express are enforcing could be made more widely available with this type of service included. Then, this would allow retailers to offer the same benefits across all of their territories, working in conjunction to this plan.

While there is no easy-fix to this problem, these are only some of the ways that we can apply new technologies and solutions to manage and mitigate the impact of our online shopping habits.

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