As social and environmental awareness grows, consumers and businesses increasingly value ethical practices. 

In fact, according to the 2018 Conscious Consumer Spending Index, 59% of people buy goods or services from companies they consider socially responsible. 32% of Americans plan to spend even more in the coming years with companies that align with their social values.

2018 Conscious Consumer Spending Index Graphic

Customers are embracing ethical eCommerce, from online stores that are selling products fair-trade, to online businesses that give back to their communities in some way. 

Shoppers are also experiencing growing concerns about the environmental impacts of their purchasing choices. They increasingly seek out commerce sites that clearly outline their eco-friendly efforts, offer high quality, sustainable products, and embrace manufacturing processes that minimize their environmental footprint.

In particular, online fashion trends are leaning into “reuse, re-wear, recycle,” styles, with many retailers offering discounts for returning old garments, and resale sites like Poshmark and thredUP catering almost exclusively to reselling clothing.

In fact, according to thredUP’s 2019 Resale Report, resale has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market over the past three years, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Yet  platforms still have a long way to go in addressing ethical issues in eCommerce.

Environmental Impacts of eCommerce

Long gone are the days when customers are satisfied merely by next-day delivery. Today’s ethically-conscious consumers are asking far more robust questions about eCommerce practices:

  • How far has this item been shipped?
  • Where was it originally made?
  • Was the item produced in a manufacturing plant that’s safe or a “sweatshop” that exploits communities?
  • Did they really need to use such a big box?
  • Why aren’t these shipping materials recyclable?

Packing and shipping alone are now a cause for concern, and the costs and impacts of digital commerce – real or hidden – matter to people.

To appeal to eCommerce shoppers concerned about their environmental footprint, brands have demonstrated a commitment to the environment by biodegradable, low-impact, reusable, or recycled packaging materials. 

Other businesses have established ethical eCommerce integrations with organizations like One Tree Planted, Friends of Trees, and the Nature Conservatory, which allow buyers to offset emissions with their purchase. 

Indeed, companies are quickly realizing just how aware consumers are of global issues. Many are looking for even more robust ways to draw attention to their goodwill, boost revenue, and strengthen loyalty to their brand. 

Smart brands have made ethical, sustainable practices part of their DNA. They’ve also developed accompanying content marketing campaigns around these practices, simultaneously educating customers on issues, and providing solutions via their own products and services.

Tom's Shoes and Ethical eCommerce

Tom’s Shoes is one of the most globally-recognized examples of ethical eCommerce. 

By positioning their founder and “Chief Shoe Giver” throughout the brand experience, they underscore their commitment to giving back. As a result, they have donated more than 65 million pairs of shoes, while growing the company’s value to a staggering $625 million. 

From its website home page to its product packaging, it’s hard to miss this brand’s mission and motivations for giving back. Recently, they’ve taken it one step further, and diversified their giving. Online shoppers can now “Pick a Style” and “Pick a Stand,” enabling buyers to choose the cause that resonates most with them. This reinforces the concept that by purchasing Tom’s Shoes, buyers can also be part of providing support for homelessness, safe water, and mental health.

Ethical Sourcing and Transparency

Direct-to-consumer apparel brand Everlane also launched their brand with a commitment to ethical business. They’ve focused on ethical sourcing and transparent pricing. 

Thanks to clearly communicated and compelling ethical practices, they’ve seen nearly triple-digit annual growth - and they’ve done it with low marketing investments. 

Everlane credits their success to their consumers’ positive brand experiences, connection to their cause, and in turn, great referrals and viral posts in social media. 

In Application

First of all, does your brand even have a commitment to ethical practices? Hopefully, yes! If not, now is the time to reassess your brand’s mission, and incorporate meaningful, impactful, ethical strategies.

If you have embraced ethical and sustainable business models, then how does your eCommerce experience highlight these practices? Even more importantly, how does it acknowledge and reflect your customers’ ethics? 

Ask these questions of your customer experience:

  • Does your site reflect your brand’s ethical commitments throughout the customer journey?
  • Do you make the path to participate simple (i.e. automatic or easy to opt-in)?
  • Can you design the brand experience to showcase your practices and values?

If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to rework your brand and customer experience so that ethical practices are at the forefront of every aspect. Reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge. We can help.

And remember - ethical eCommerce isn’t just good for the planet - it’s good for business. 

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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