Can retailers sustain their current delivery practices?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/ablokhin
Oct 07, 2022

A global survey finds that only 38 percent of consumers feel retailers are doing a good job of using sustainable delivery practices. Over half, however, indicated they were quite/very interested in environmentally-friendly delivery methods and 54 percent would be willing to accept longer lead times for an environmentally-friendly delivery.

The survey of 8,000 consumers across nine European countries, Canada and the U.S., was commissioned by Descartes Systems Group.

According to the survey, environmentally-friendly delivery options that consumers would be quite/very interested in included:

  • Combining all of a customer’s orders over a period into a single delivery at the end of the week, 50 percent; 
  • Having the seller recommend the most environmentally friendly delivery option, 48 percent; 
  • Picking up the order at a store, 47 percent;
  • Combining all the customer’s orders over a period into a single delivery when there are multiple deliveries in the area, 47 percent; 
  • Having the seller rate the environmental impact of all delivery options, 43 percent; 
  • Using a drop box facility at a central location, 41 percent;
  • Slowing down to make them more environmentally friendly, 39 percent.

In addition, 20 percent (27 percent for Gen-Z and Millennials) would pay more for a delivery from an environmentally-friendly company. A slight majority expect the information on carbon footprint of deliveries to be widely available in five years.

Fast and free delivery regularly tops the list of desires around online shipping. An X Delivery survey this year found that 62 percent of shoppers expect their orders to arrive in less than three business days when choosing free shipping.

Blue Yonder’s “2022 Consumer Sustainability Survey” found 86 percent of consumers willing to delay e-commerce deliveries for the sake of improving sustainability — if given an incentive. Consumers were also found to be willing to do their part for the environment by recycling, spending more on sustainable packaging or setting minimum spending requirements on deliveries.

Less optimistically, Digital Commerce 360’s recently-released annual look at shipping and delivery of online orders found only 17 percent of consumers all right with waiting longer and willing to combine products for sustainability reasons, seven percent favoring one retailer over another due to its sustainability practices, and just five percent willing to pay extra for sustainable delivery.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How open do you see consumers being to waiting, paying-up, picking up and taking other steps to support sustainable online delivery? What do you think may be standard practice for supporting sustainability in five years that is less common currently?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I think the takeaway here is to segment customers by delivery wants and needs."
"Brands have to ride the fine line of providing the expected fast delivery while fulfilling and delivering those orders profitably and sustainably."
"...it would be very helpful and encouraging if retailers presented delivery options that describe the environmental benefits."

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17 Comments on "Can retailers sustain their current delivery practices?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I believe that consumers are willing to accept more environmentally sustainable delivery options now. However it would be very helpful and encouraging if retailers presented delivery options that describe the environmental benefits.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I think the level of openness is a lot less than stated in the survey – there’s always overstatement on these kinds of questions and people want to look green, even if they’re not. That said, Mark Ryski’s point is a good one – if retailers want to take steps to appear more environmentally friendly, they could do a better job of giving shoppers options.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Consumers express concern but are the ones who use same-day, next-day and fast delivery. This is a classic case of what consumers say in surveys not always being reflected in their behavior! There are options, on Amazon for example, which allow people to group orders into one delivery rather than having multiple. Allowing that choice is sensible and I expect more retailers to follow suit. Some of the delivery ideas, such as grouping all orders into a single period at the end of the week, are interesting but I wonder how they’d work from a logistics standpoint if lots of people selected them.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

It’s important to understand that same-day shipping wasn’t driven by customer demand but rather by the retailers pushing to differentiate. The sea of boxes and trucks moving products to doorsteps is not sustainable – environmentally or financially. But moving backward is never an option so retailers will have to work very hard to communicate the value of bundling shipments, longer shipping times and in-store pickup to make it appealing as an environmental effort rather than out of need to improve profit margins.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
If more stores used MFCs, it would not only be more environmentally friendly, considering gas consumption, but it would also enable faster delivery times. People say they are willing to wait, but the reality is they want it yesterday. Almost everyone wants to save the planet, but few do anything about it when it conflicts with their personal needs. I think the takeaway here is to segment customers by delivery wants and needs. Giving the consumer the option to pick will more likely lead to a more loyal target audience for the retailer. Letting shoppers pick from a menu of options will require even more sophisticated fulfillment systems, though. Not impossible, but extremely complex. But you can’t slow down delivery trucks and have them consolidate orders and have them wait to deliver and still deliver your order quickly. As the comedian Steven Wright said, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” By the way, I’m also not sure that driving to a store vs. taking delivery is the better choice for the environment. Five… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

There is a lot of encouraging news in these surveys. But there is also a lot to be worried about. The “86 percent of consumers willing to delay e-commerce deliveries for the sake of improving sustainability…” sounds great. Then comes the caveat: “…if given an incentive.” It’s frustrating that improved sustainability is not enough incentive in and of itself. It sounds rooted in race-to-the-bottom thinking. As long as there are retailers willing to offer fast and free delivery as a CAC or some kind of competitive edge, there will be plenty of customers who will be happy to participate. Unfortunately, answering a survey in a politically correct manner doesn’t necessarily have much to do with actual behavior.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Brands have to ride the fine line of providing the expected fast delivery while fulfilling and delivering those orders profitably and sustainably. As a consumer I do want my order quickly, but not when it means that I am receiving each small item in the order in separate boxes at different times! Providing delivery options such as grouping items into one delivery or delaying items for one assigned delivery day as Amazon does will likely be more of the norm over the next few years.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Often, I find in surveys like these that those who respond answer what they should instead of what they will do.

There is a window that Amazon sets, and others follow those set expectations. We have an “I want it now” culture, and people only go so far for the common good.

Where does the answer lie? It lies with the retailer. It is the choices the retailer makes in packaging, processing, and delivery. The good news is that those environmentally friendly processes can also be cost-effective.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Wait, three or four months ago, the topic du jour was quick commerce (delivery in 15 minutes or less) and now we’re seeing surveys saying 86 percent of consumers are willing to delay deliveries for the sake of improving sustainability, but only with an incentive? Hmmm. I’m a big fan of Amazon’s order bundling even if it means a slight delay. That makes sense for all stakeholders (retailer, consumer, environment). Additionally, retailers should spend time looking at packaging and processing innovation for friendlier options. There is huge upside in these areas.

Shelley E. Kohan
BrainTrust
The sustainability issue for delivery is akin to the same issue for fast fashion. Shein sales this year are projected at $20 billion and Inditex (Zara) just posted revenues up 25 percent with H&M up 20 percent for the first half of 2022. Consumers want sustainable options but they continue to behave in a manner opposite of that idea. For delivery, consumers do not want to wait for goods and they continue to order multiple units of the same style. Returns for online have grown over the past few years adding to the sustainability issue. Retailers can win big by reducing the packaging and using eco-friendly packing materials. These are tangible and visual factors that consumers can see which may positively influence future purchases. Surveyed consumers may say they will spend more on eco-friendly delivery methods, but I will believe it when I see it. Future practices may include transparency in the last-mile delivery so consumers can make a choice based on the actual impact on the environment. For online retailers, the future entails getting… Read more »
Al McClain
Staff

It’s pretty clear that retailers and brands will have to take the lead on sustainability issues and do the right things, rather than relying on consumers individually to do them.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Amazon first revealed its electric delivery van in 2020, and now they’re expanding to more cities. They announced plans for 100,000 custom electric delivery vehicles from electric vehicle maker Rivian.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

That’s swell — I guess — but it does nothing about the excess packaging, congestion and wear on roads, etc. It seems like it just kicks the issue further down the road — no pun intended — or worse, makes people think the problem is “solved” … kind of like filters on cigarettes.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

EVs is just one step. The solution needs many more. There is no one solution to environmental concerns. It is a lot of solutions over a long period of time. Where does the answer lie? It lies with the retailer. It is the choices the retailer makes in packaging, processing, and delivery. The good news is that those environmentally friendly processes can also be cost-effective.

Natalie Walkley
BrainTrust

We all know consumers will give the socially desirable answer in surveys like this, so it is difficult to truly predict behavior. It will come down to certain products and what consumers might be more willing to wait for. Also, I think order delay for consolidation and SIOC packaging initiatives will be the most widely used initially.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

When I first saw the headline I was thinking about financially sustainable; the environmental angle is just further evidence of how far things have gone awry.

That roughly half the respondents see little prospect for a reckoning on this is disappointing … though I can’t say they’re wrong. (It does make we wonder about the credibility of the frequent posts we see here on RW claiming sustainability is important … presumably they come from the other half).

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

This is a paradox. Consumers want sustainable delivery practices but they also want the convenience of rapid delivery – rather than having to wait.

Who is responsible here? Is it consumers, or is it the retailers/delivery providers who are simply responding to the market demands that consumers make of them?

One might argue that the buck stops with consumers — those who feel strongly enough regarding sustainable practices could consider waiting or consolidating their requirements into a single delivery or shopping trip. Equally it could be argued that consumers don’t always appreciate how sustainable — or not — a given choice they make is. Perhaps there is a part for retailers to play in this by providing information about the carbon footprint (or other externalities) associated with a given delivery approach. This would then leave the consumer to make the choice themselves.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I think the takeaway here is to segment customers by delivery wants and needs."
"Brands have to ride the fine line of providing the expected fast delivery while fulfilling and delivering those orders profitably and sustainably."
"...it would be very helpful and encouraging if retailers presented delivery options that describe the environmental benefits."

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