Ethical Issues in eCommerce

August 30, 2019


Kelly Rader

As social and environmental awareness grows, consumers and businesses put an increasing value on ethical practices. In 2018, “59% of people bought goods or services from a company they considered socially responsible, and 32% of Americans plan to spend even more this year with companies that align with their social values,” according to the 2018 Conscious Consumer Spending Index. Consumers are also concerned about the environmental impacts of their purchasing choices. 

Environmental Impacts of eCommerce

This touches eCommerce directly - where packaging and shipping can raise concerns. People are asking themselves smart questions as they shop like, “How far will this ship?” and “Where was it made” and even after they receive a delivery, “Did they really need to use such a big box?”. The cost and impacts of digital commerce – real or hidden – matter to people.  Companies are realizing, too, just how aware consumers are of global issues and many are looking for ways to draw attention to their goodwill hoping to boost revenue and loyalty. 

Tom's Shoes and Ethical Commerce

The brand Tom’s, is one of the most recognized examples of ethical commerce. By positioning the 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 their mission for giving. Recently, they’ve diversified their giving so online shoppers can “Pick your style” and “Pick a stand”, reinforcing that their shoe purchase can also provide support for homelessness, safe water or mental health.

Ethical Sourcing and Transparency

Direct-to-consumer apparel brand Everlane also launched with a commitment to ethical business - focusing on ethical sourcing and transparent pricing. With low marketing investment, they’ve seen double-to-triple digit annual growth. They credit their success to their consumers positive brand experiences and in turn great referrals and viral posts in social media.

Environmental Impact of eCommerce

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. eCommerce integrations with organizations like One Tree Planted, Friends of Trees, and the Nature Conservatory, can allow buyers to offset emissions with their purchase. 

How does your eCommerce experience reflect your customers’ ethics? Can you:

  • Reflect your ethical commitments throughout the customer journey?
  • Make the path to participate easy (automatic or easy to opt-in)?
  • Design the brand experience to showcase your practices and values?

About the Author

Kelly Rader, CUA and VP of Digital Experience‍

Digital pioneer with 20+ years of experience bringing innovative digital products and services to market successfully for many industries and within a variety of challenging environments ranging from start-up to Fortune 100 companies. Effective in gaining organizational alignment on strategy and delivering creative solutions that solve real business problems.

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