Ethical e-commerce: a necessity in times of conscious consumers

Jonas wera

Digital Marketing Consultant

Building an e-commerce site has never been easier. Thanks to companies like Wix, your e-comm store is just a few clicks away. However, if you’ve taken up the challenge and tried building your own online store, you might have noticed it isn’t all that easy. Today’s consumer is no longer satisfied with buying ordinary products from ordinary companies. The 2019 consumer cares about the environment, the ethically manufactured products, animal welfare, sustainability, and the list goes on. If you want to make a killer e-comm store, you will have to respond to the needs of the conscious consumer.

The conscious consumer

The conscious consumer is highlighted as one of the key trends of 2019 by the Euromonitor International. It is the 2019 consumer of developed countries: the one that takes into account the external effects of his or her consumption on others, the society and the planet. Think of the growing number of vegetarians and vegans or the attention that Greta Thunberg managed to get with her pro-environment movement.

Key drivers for the conscious consumer

If you want to cater to the conscious consumer (and you better do if you want to build a sustainable company), you should focus on transparency, environment, society and storytelling.

Transparency

We have seen the first amazing examples of this already. A few years back, San Francisco-based Everlane launched the principle of Radical Transparency. It means that when you buy something, you get to see what exactly you are paying for. Below is an example of the detailed cost breakdown a customer receives. This is exactly what a conscious consumer expects to see. This is how you build trust.

Environment

A conscious consumer cares about the environment and the impact his or her choices have on the environment. Apart from the product itself, e-commerce has two environmental challenges inherent to its nature: transportation of the goods to the consumer and the always-rising number of returns. Simply put, sending delivery vans into cities for same-day delivery is not sustainable and the conscious consumer knows. In our May 28 article, we already wrote about how to reduce the number of returns but even if we manage to keep the returns under control, we still have the enormous number of parcels being shipped each day.

Offering an in-store pick-up for consumers is one way of limiting the number of packages you have to ship, having an extensive network of partners where customers can collect their package is another. But no matter how good these initiatives could be, you will always have customers to whom you will have to physically ship the product. A good idea in that case is to work with green transportation companies (with electric vehicles, for examples, or bike delivery if your products allow for it) or offer the option to offset the CO2 of the shipment.

Society

As for any business, online or offline, the conscious consumer cares about the way the products are made. We have come to an age that child labour has, luckily, moved to the back but we still have a long way to go on the ethical front. The apparel industry, to name just one, is already fighting for years to “ethicalize” the industry, with varying degrees of success. No month goes by or yet another subcontractor of a famous clothing company gets caught exploiting sweatshops. It’s a supply chain disease we don’t seem to get rid of. But your conscious consumer does expect you to get rid of it.
So what can you do? One way is to work with local production plants that you have full control over. It also comes with the side-effect that it lowers your transportation-related carbon footprint.
Another way is to open up your factories. Instead of using uncontrollable subcontractors, try manufacturing it all in your certified plants and use video footage to show how the plant looks like to your customers. You can even up the ante and stitch labels into garments that say “handmade by Chris” and have a URL or scannable QR-code take them to a video of Chris.

Storytelling

The most difficult exercise might be to justify the often higher price tag for ethical commerce. Why should the consumer pay more for the same product because it is ethical? Here is the thing: the conscious consumer is already willing to pay the extra Euro for ethical clothing. Sadly, however, not all consumers are already conscious ones. In order to keep your audience wide, you better cater to the unconscious consumer too. And here comes the importance of education and storytelling.
You will have to educate your audience on the importance of ethical e-commerce and convince your consumer that you are a truly ethical company.

TOMS Shoes is a perfect example. For every pair of shoes sold, the company supports someone in need. Their website is entirely catered around the conscious consumer, giving loads of details on all the projects and people they support. This is what storytelling should be.

Is your company ready for e-commerce 2.O?

Are you already fully catering towards the conscious consumer? Don’t worry if you are not yet, our specialists would be happy to assist.

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