The popularity of online shopping continues to increase year after year. In a recent article we explained that online shopping can – under certain circumstances – have a negative impact on our beloved planet.
With the younger generations striking for their future on a nearly weekly basis, it’s clear that sustainability is no longer just a ‘hot topic’. Instead, it has taken its place in our society and is changing the current mindset and expectations of consumers. Not only governments, but also businesses are expected to take responsibility. This trend is confirmed in the Belgian Online Shopper report of 2019 conducted by SafeShops.be. Insights exclusively available to the House of Marketing as an official research partner show that 56%, or more than 1 out of 2 Belgians, claims to be aware that online shopping can have a negative impact. The study also confirms that the younger generation, shoppers between 25-30, are more aware (66%) than those between 45-50 (50%).
Many businesses have understood this and are starting to shift to eco-friendly alternatives. As we are in the early stages of this shift, it is worth mentioning that, for now, being profitable might be the biggest challenge for these businesses. Another great reason to put the spotlight on these Belgian best-in-class examples that are leading their way by focusing on one or more aspects of sustainable e-commerce. Get ready to be inspired!
#1. Byoo Store - nudging with green filters
Byoo store, a Belgian webshop offering eco-responsible clothing and accessories has added specific ‘green’ labels/filters to their webshop, such as eco-responsible, fair, local production, organic and vegan. In doing so, the company is highlighting sustainable choices by using the concept of nudging.
The fact is that asymmetric information and a lack of knowledge remain significant barriers to sustainable alternatives. That is why, with more than 1 in 2 Belgians being aware that online shopping can have a negative impact, it is important to inform buyers about the consequences of their online shopping decisions by applying the socio-economic behavioral theory of nudging. A nudge is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.
When buying online, other examples of ‘digital nudges’ related to a sustainable e-commerce are:
- setting default choices to the sustainable choices (e.g. a slower delivery time)
- motivational messages and rewards for sustainable decisions. The Italian watch company WeWOOD plants a tree for each product sold. To date, they have already planted more than 600 000 trees!
- Adding social norms such as ‘60% also prefers the sustainable option’
- Visualization of the consequences of a decision before the decision is made. Think about visuals of how many trees are saved.
#2. Kami Basics - reusing boxes
Another important aspect related to sustainability is the material of the packaging. Kami Basics, a Belgian zero waste shop, collects cartons from neighboring companies to package their parcels. What’s more, 20% of the products they sell are manufactured in Belgium, made from durable materials and delivered by bike using crowd shipping methods. Fun fact: the name Kami Basics comes from a small Japanese village, Kamikatsu, that has promulgated a zero waste policy since 2003 and achieved a recycling rate of 81% of all its waste in 2016.
#3. Slimbox - compact packaging
When it comes to the package, it is not only the material but also the size that matters. The Belgian Online Shopper Survey shows that 17% of Belgians rates having delivery boxes that are as compact as possible among the top 2 building blocks for their ideal web shop. Slimbox has clearly cottoned onto this and developed a packaging machine that is controlled by an app that makes it possible to cut boxes to measure to fit the goods it is packaging. Goodbye massive packages filled with air and filler material and hello optimization of the loading space of delivery vans.
#4. Lili Bulk - reusable packaging
Still not inspired? Belgian zero waste bio-supermarket Lili Bulk sells its products in glass jars for which customers pay a deposit of €1 to €2. Once the product is consumed, customers can return the jars and will be paid back their deposit. The jars are washed and used again to sell products.
#5. Hytchers - crowd shipping
Once your locally produced product is wrapped in a perfectly fitting box made out of 100% recyclable material, how can you transport it to your customer in a fast yet sustainable way? Meet Hytchers! The Belgian delivery and returns start-up allows packages to be delivered and returned using the concept of sustainable crowd shipping. Webshops can use this innovative app to get packages delivered via individuals travelling from one Hytchers-point to the other. Those individuals are rewarded with ‘vouchers’ to be used at multiple partners such as Total, Europcar, etc.
#6. Parcify by Bpost - crowd shipping
A similar Belgian company owned by Bpost is Parcify. Starting from purchases of €6, the application connects private senders and companies with drivers that are going in the same direction as the package.
#7. Cargo velo - bike delivery
Cargo Velo call itself ‘the allround bike delivery service in an urban context’. The Belgian company picks up orders from a warehouse on the outskirts of Antwerp and Ghent and delivers them by bike in the city centers.
#8. Colibus by Bpost - last mile delivery
Bpost’ Colibus, a 100% electric van, is designed for inner-city last mile delivery. By 2030, the company intends for half of its fleet to be electric.
#9. Bringme - the virtual reception
When it comes to the actual delivery of a package, home-delivery can have a negative impact on the environment. The more packages need to be delivered at different locations, the less a company can optimize its efficiency of delivering packages together. Moreover, people are frequently not home and trucks have to drive back and forth. In response to this, collective pick-up points are gaining popularity. The Belgian Online Shopper Report showed that the importance of an option to use delivery to lockers or package dispensers has significantly increased compared to 2018 as well as a point of delivery at store chains where people shop.
Taking it one step further than the average parcel lockers, Belgian company Bringme – the virtual reception – connects anything that goes into and out of a building. Next to the box for deliveries, it offers a desk to welcome visitors, a bell, a lock and a manager. When making their deliveries, couriers can also collect consignments and returns, thus reducing the number of collection journeys.
#10. Taobé - customized samples based on a beauty profile
Another widely accepted practice in e-commerce is the free ‘try-and-return’-mentality in which delivery trucks drive back and forth just for customers to find the perfect fit. Worse, not all companies sell the returned items again and many goods end up being destroyed or thrown away. The good news is that major online fashion platform Zalando recently announced plans to change its free delivery and return policy. Even though these changes are mainly taken for business reasons, it would benefit the sustainability-level of online shopping as well.
In the meantime, there many creative ways in which businesses can help customers find the product that meets their specific needs. Belgian webshop Taobé offering exclusively beauty products that comply with the European regulations on cosmetic products is leading the way. By filling in a beauty profile, the company decides which samples to send to its customer adapted to his or her skin type, features and lifestyle.
Bonus: Inspiration from across the border
As much as we can be proud of all the above mentioned Belgian innovative companies, some businesses in our neighboring countries deserve a mention for their approach to sustainability in e-commerce.
Ocado – green delivery slots
The Belgian Online Shopper report shows that there is a decrease in the importance of offering same-day or next-day delivery as well as in the willingness to pay extra for same-day delivery. Those results are in line with a European study showing that 75% of consumers wouldn’t mind receiving their orders later if they knew selecting a shorter delivery period led to more air pollution and congestion. Hence the need to raise awareness of the positive impact of this decision by applying the theory of nudging, as explained earlier.
A good example from across the border is UK-based food-delivery brand Ocado. The company clusters their customers by location. When choosing a delivery slot for their purchase, customers see the times which already have a delivery booked in the same area highlighted as “greener delivery slots”.
Picnic - modern-day milkmen
Another interesting case from abroad fighting the negative impact of home delivery, is that of Dutch food-delivery company Picnic. Like modern-day milkmen, they follow a set route at set times calculated on customer locations. With their app showing exactly where their electrically-powered delivery van is driving, customers know when the van will be in their street and it is up to them to ensure they are home to receive their order.
Warby Parker – virtual try-on tool
Alternatives to answer the need of ‘try-before-you-buy’ are virtual try-on tools An inspirational example is that of the eyeglass brand, Warby Parker. The company recently developed a virtual try-on feature in its app which lets customers preview what glasses would look like in impressive detail using augmented reality.
To conclude, sustainability and e-commerce do not automatically exclude each other and can go hand in hand. All the above mentioned companies are proving that there are many ways in which the negative impact in e-commerce can be lowered or even cut to zero. We should be very proud of these best-in class. Find your inspiration and start leading the way towards sustainable e-commerce!
Want to know more about the Belgian e-commerce landscape? Have a look at our E-commerce Barometer.