SOLVE magazine Issue 03 2021 | Page 29

FUTURE AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES rise with the increase in online purchases , as there is greater anonymity in online shopping .”
For Professor Jack , there are also costs related to the broader impacts of policies that encourage wasteful practices or over-consumption that need to be factored in .
Consumers increasingly see free delivery and returns as part of a business ’ s competitive offering . Some businesses offer a subscription that provides unlimited deliveries and returns . But this encourages the purchase of multiple items with the express intention of making returns . Professor Jack says some items are so cheap they are not worth the cost of handling , and returns are just binned .
Consequently , she sees more packaging and more waste generated from increased online shopping , and an increased carbon footprint and traffic congestion arising from many more small journeys for deliveries to and from customers and stores or warehouses .
Sustainability question She believes many customers also discount the personal cost of being available for deliveries or collecting online orders from a pick-up point , as well as repackaging and delivering returns .
“ For me , the question really is : ‘ How far can online shopping go ?’ At what point will people consider that it is actually a more effective use of their own time and effort to shop instore ? At what point will businesses , or consumers , decide the impacts of current online shopping practices are not sustainable ?”
She says these questions about the sustainability of business practices also extend to supermarket shopping , which is the focus of new research looking at the cost of unsold food .
Current business models require supermarkets to be fully stocked all the time and rely on customers buying more food than they need , which can generate food waste at home . She is investigating the significant costs incurred by stores just in handling and coordinating the disposal of unsold food , whether that is to charities , for stockfeed , or some other process .
Professor David Pickernell , who leads enterprise development research at the University ’ s Faculty of Business and Law , says brands and businesses that address these kinds of sustainability and ethical issues are seeing increased consumer support .
In parallel with the steady increase in online sales over the past 10 to 15 years , there has also been continuous growth in the consumption of ‘ ethical ’ products and services , such as organic or fair trade products and renewable energy .
Ethically branded sales have increased from £ 45 billion in 2010 to £ 98 billion in 2019 , and this has continued to grow during the pandemic .
“ This branding is being used by the most successful retailers to survive or sustain themselves , or in some cases to grow , because they ’ re offering something which is different to the norm and giving you psychological value beyond the value of the product itself ,” Professor Pickernell says .
His colleague Dr Matthew Anderson , who lectures in business ethics , says this movement reflects the momentum of other changes in society . For instance , more consumers are willing to reduce single-use plastic , with approval rates increasing from 33 per cent of people in the UK pre-COVID-19 lockdown , to 52 per cent after lockdown ; and bicycle use has increased from 28 per cent pre-lockdown to 44 per cent of respondents post-lockdown .
For University of Portsmouth marketing researcher Dr Jason Sit , these trends feed into the ‘ rethinking ’ that people are doing about what is important in their lives in terms of material possessions versus experiences .
“ Particularly among older people , they realise more clearly that there may be no ‘ next time ’,” he says . “ They are after authentic experiences that connect with their identity and values . They also want to contribute to social movements that create a ‘ greater good ’ and their legacy for future generations .”
He points out shopping experiences that offer something authentically local and even inspirational have been missing from high streets that are dominated by cloned stores selling mass-produced national brands .
“ They all sell the same thing , so you might as well buy it online .”
While online and mobile platforms are just tools to facilitate trade , what they increasingly offer consumers is a way to connect directly with authentic and unique shopping experiences and niche products or services that reflect their personal identity or values .
Dr Sit says his research has also found that authenticity for online consumers is not necessarily connected to decades of heritage or craftsmanship , which are attributes that many brands lean on . Authenticity is instead about accessibility and the ability of brands to respond quickly to changing consumer needs .
For the moment , he says , brands either online or instore that can tap into the renewed focus on wellness , health and vitality will do well , along with those tapping into broader social good movements that care for communities and care for the planet .
More information :
• The Co-op ’ s Ethical Consumerism Report ( December 2020 ) Ethical Consumerism in the Pandemic www . ethicalconsumer . org / sites / default / files / inline-files / Ethical % 20 Consumer % 20Markets % 20Report % 202020 . pdf

57 % of UK online shoppers agree the rise of online shopping is a problem for the environment

62 % of UK consumers prefer to buy from companies reducing their use of plastics

30 % of consumers are willing to pay extra for items delivered sustainably

Simply bolting a website and online ordering onto an existing business is not as simple as many people think , particularly for larger businesses with multiple stores .
– Professor Lisa Jack
ISSUE 03 / 2021