Sustainable Retail: Developing new delivery models

Welcome to the latest sustainability column that takes a look at what retailing is doing to address the issues in its industry. Much of the ongoing focus will be on fashion but not exclusively.

This month’s column takes a look at what is new in the world of delivery and returns as we are in the midst of peak Christmas purchasing and returning season.

We are very pleased to bring this series of columns to you with the much appreciated support of our sponsor Prolog Fulfilment.

Research on the global online-buying public has consistently shown that when asked in surveys about sustainable deliveries they are all for it. In what form they are all for it though, varies considerably and as with many surveys the actual consumer behaviour belies their best-laid plans to look green on survey response forms. However, what is key to notice is that sustainability concerns (even if buyers don’t always act on them in the moment) keep rising up the agenda. And it would be a foolish brand or retailer that chose to ignore them.

In the autumn it was found that three quarters of respondents said that they would pay more for sustainable returning services, according to research from ReBound, but when the same question was asked in 2022 a mere 47% said that was the case. Likewise 76% intended to shop more with retailers that offered eco-friendly products. This all looks great for the immediate passing on of greener delivery costs to the consumer with no likely problem.

As always though there is more devil in the detail – because a significant 67% are much more interested in trading time for sustainability (i.e. they will wait longer for a pick up or wait longer for a refund if the process can be shown to be more sustainable). And the amounts that even those people who are prepared to pay, will pay are very, very small. Only 13% of those questioned would even pay £2.50 for a more earth-friendly way of returning their goods. So the headline is good but the practicalities remain complicated. Flexibility and convenience still win out.

It is therefore very timely that November saw the launch of a new delivery service by fashion brand RIXO powered by retail tech company Harper. Approaching the problem of returns from the customer’s perspective they have tackled head on the temptation to order multiple sizes and colours of the same item to make sure at least one fits. The resulting to-ing and fro-ing blizzard of returns and refunds with new packaging required every time, clearly leads to some very unsustainable practices.

However, instead of simply bemoaning the practice RIXO has streamlined this process into a ‘Try Before You Buy’ service that allows customers, prior to payment, to try on up to four styles at home where they are fully able to accessorise clothes with their existing wardrobe and they have five days to make their choices. Obviously it will be interesting to see how this works out in terms of consumer fraud and whether it could ever be scaleable or transferred over to less high-end labels and much bigger volumes.

Harper Concierge’s signature ‘Try At Home’ process, which is used by multiple luxury brands, takes even this a step further by hand delivering the items to the customer’s door, giving 40 minutes to try them on, taking payment for those which passed muster and taking the other items back to the retailer. Now that sounds sustainable but it clearly comes at a cost, which we have already ascertained the average customer is not about to pay.

Another recent survey reiterates the same story again. One quarter of those asked were actively prepared to switch to another retailer if sustainable delivery options were not on offer and over a quarter again claimed that paying more for eco-deliveries was fine with them, according to Stuart.

If retailers and their delivery partners can develop and utilise innovative returns services and adapt them to a far wider customer-base then half the battle is won because their customers do not need persuading that sustainable returns are the way forward but what they do need is practical examples of how the increased costs benefit them whether it is in terms of less post office queuing or delivery van emissions and how that can be ultimately a better trade-off than more time with unwanted items. And then everyone can have a merry Christmas.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider

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