UK online retail giants still minnows in green deliveries


As the world marks six months from the COP26 conference in which the renewed UN Fashion Charter was signed by some of UK’s largest brands, new findings show that major UK retailers are failing when it comes to offering basic sustainable options for customers in the delivery process.
The findings from parcelLab, the leading Operations Experience Management platform, showed that 96% of major online retailers do not offer the option of carbon neutral delivery. A further 98% fail to provide the option of reduced or non-branded packaging at the checkout.

The OXM report series, which looks at different aspects of the customer journey when ordering from the UK’s top 200 online brands, reveals that despite recent research showing that strong sustainability commitments would lead over a quarter of Brits (26%) to opt for one brand over another, brands were still failing to live up to the environmental commitments they themselves have set. As it stands, four out of five retailers failed to provide any sustainability information in their communication with customers.  
The report also highlights that there has been limited progress in making the returns process more environmentally friendly. Three quarters of the retailers’ studied (76%) continue to offer free returns and with good reason. parcelLab research recently showed 58% of UK consumers were likely to opt for one brand over another if they offered free shipping and returns.  
Whilst the offer of returning products purchased online is key for many retailers, little action has been taken to reform the process to make it more sustainable. Nearly nine in ten retailers (87%) failed to promote the option of paperless returns, a significant fall from the 46% found to provide this option in the study last year. What’s more, many those that did provide paperless returns failed to promote this on their website.  
Tobias Buxhoidt, Founder and CEO of parcelLab, commented: “The renewed UN Fashion Charter and the targets brands themselves have set are far from unachievable. All it will take is a concerted effort to fight the narrative of misalignment between business and sustainability. Our data clearly shows that consumers do care about sustainability, and this does have a significant baring in their choice of retailer. Brands that ignore this are missing a trick in not doing the basics: offering carbon neutral delivery, paperless returns and sufficient information which will empower the consumer to make environmentally friendly choices throughout the delivery and order process. Investing in the technology that can enable a more sustainable retail experience is the key first step to take. 
Delivery and returns do not have to be the environmentally damaging parts of the shopping experience. All it will take is for retailers to be brave enough to offer customers the choice of carbon offsetting or other green solutions. Those that do will not just reap the rewards of a cleaner planet, but also a happier and more loyal customer base.” 
Finally, it is not just potentially complex returns processes which the data showed sustainable reforms are required from retailers. The report also found that a third of brands were still using plastic to package their products. Whilst often recyclable, 38% of retailers failed to provide this information on or in the package leaving the consumers in the dark about how to make environmentally conscious choices.  

Research methodology

parcelLab placed test orders with the UK’s top 200 e-commerce brands throughout December 2021 and January 2022, with returns taking place in the same timeframe. This list was determined by Internet Retailing’s RXUK 500 2021 rankings. Data was collected across checkout, shipping, delivery and returns.

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