Free shipping is a powerful incentive for online sales.
However, it has two consequential impacts according to this article. One, an increase in the environmental footprint of shopping with the increase of items moving back and forth between customer and warehouse, requiring packaging and emitting pollution for delivery and return. And two, an increased risk of the product being unsellable as new, with a high risk of these being swept into the waste bin.
Clothes get quickly out of season. An item purchased online at the end of a season and returned 60 days into the next season for example may need extra-presentation work to be done before it can be resold especially if the customer has removed the tags and packaging. This may lead to returned items to be too late to market. Options for retailers then is to sell those items as a secondary goods or donate them. If not, they are marked as waste, shredded and sent to landfills. What can brands do to counter this phenomenon? “Brands need to adopt a renewal system to organize and recapture value from the online shopping waste stream” according to Nicole Bassett, the co-founder of the Renewal Workshop.
If you are wondering what you can do as a consumer to reduce your impacts, start by asking yourself these questions whenever you are are about to shop online:
- Do you need it? – Do you want or do you need it? It’s okay if you only want it. This is a judgement-free zone. However, taking the time to think about acquisitions will help you make better decisions and cut down impulse purchases.
- Can you borrow it? – Not everyone feels comfortable borrowing people’s clothes but if you do, shop in your social network wardrobe for that temporary need.
- Can you get it in a store? – Trying what you want in a store will help you decide there and then if you really like it and if it fits. You may not need to return any clothes and in addition, it will help reduce the environmental impact of shipping emissions.
- Which one is best? – The higher the quality, the more use you will get out of it or the more likely it can be resold for someone else to use and love. Also, be aware of the fact that companies outsource their labour to economically developing countries where it is much cheaper and labour conditions include a total disregard for basic safety measures, low wages, violence in the workplace and child labour.
- Where will it go next? – Don’t throw apparel or textiles into the trash. Find another use for things that can be used anymore. Re-homing your old clothes is the fastest and most fun way. Give them to charities or sell them to second-hand stores (extra-money $$).