There’s no denying it: shopping online makes life easier. Browsing without bother at any time, no waiting in lines, and snappy deliveries straight to your home. What’s not to love?
These pluses and more, make online shopping a pleasure. And the more tech-savvy and comfortable with our e-commerce experiences we become, the more online shopping we dive into.
But herein lies the rub.
While the online shopping revolution has given us some great advantages, there are still some downsides to purchasing via laptop.
The continuing digitalisation of modern life (especially after the COVID-19 pandemic) has spurred not just the popularity but also the aggressiveness of online shopping.
E-commerce behemoths such as Amazon and Ali Baba have increased consumers’ expectations for bargains, quick buys, and super-deals on shopping “event” days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Singles Day.
The Environmental Issues Around Online Shopping
As the owner of an online store, I’m well aware of how e-commerce businesses (and these “events” in particular) can contribute to environmental problems through fast fashions, fast shipping, and packaging waste.
And the fact that environmental degradation and climate change disproportionately affect women and marginalised communities around the world, is a big red flag to the use of unsustainable practices in a female-focused and woman-led business such as Enya’s Attic.
But what are small online stores and consumers who love to shop online to do? Park our principles on the back burner, jump in with the big boys, paddle hard and try to keep up with fast-moving shopping experiences, right?
Well, actually, no.
The truth is, it’s still possible to get your goods online – and to have a viable e-commerce business – without being environmentally and socially irresponsible.
In fact, by making online shopping more sustainable, we can ensure that it continues to be a personal pleasure without causing any environmental or social pain. Here’s how:
According to a recent report from First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 58% of consumers across all generations claimed they’d prefer to spend their hard-earned cashola on sustainable products.
However, that same report notes that only half of senior retailer executives believe that sustainability is a critical consideration for shoppers both online and off.
In other words, most major tradesfolk, including those online, won’t step up to better sustainable and ethical practices because they think it’ll affect their bottom line.
What We Can Do: Power to the Consumer
The implication here is clear: Consumers have the power – and we need to use it for good not evil.
If more shoppers searched for stores and e-commerce platforms that placed sustainability front and centre, offering products and supporting practices that are eco-friendly and ethical, businesses would have no choice but to find suppliers and manufacturers that matched those credentials.
The responsibility to ensure their products aren’t wounding the world lies with e-commerce businesses – But consumers can absolutely hold them accountable simply by popping organic, recycled, upcycled, Fairwearand other ethical and eco-friendly product options into their shopping carts!
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Consider the Packaging
One of the most significant forms of waste generated by online shopping is the wrapping.
Whether it’s a t-shirt or a TV, products often wing their way to customers packaged in layers of plastic, bubble wrap, and cardboard boxes.
These materials typically end up in landfill sites, doing their bit as unrecyclable articles to create chaos with the earth’s soil and wildlife. But the problems with these materials actually began when the wrappings were first manufactured.
Producing plastic and other forms of packaging such as cardboard, styrofoam and bubble wrap, involves the use of a shedload of unrenewable resources including water and wood, as well as chemicals, petroleum, and fibres. These latter lovelies generate air emissions including deadly greenhouse gases (GHG), as well as wastewater and/or sludge choc-full of toxic contaminants.
What We Can Do: Source, Seek Out & Properly Dispose
As online businesses, it’s a no-brainer to source and ship products in eco-friendly packaging.
Equally, as shoppers, it’s worth our while to do a quick scan of the website we’re buying from to see if packaging policies are mentioned. Then, when possible, choose products that are minimally packaged or shipped in eco-friendly materials.
Some brands, such as Enya’s Attic, use biodegradable, compostable, or recycled packaging materials to ship some of their products in.
Even if your new outfits, cyber gadgets or scented candlesarrive in swathes of wrapping, properly disposing of the material is a first step in the right direction.
Follow local recycling guidelines, or hang onto the packaging and reuse it when posting presents or boxing up stuff at home.
Buy Less and Buy Better
You might think that advocating for consumers to buy less is the death knell to a small online business like Enya’s Attic.
But here’s the thing.
I want Enya’s Attic’s products to speak to those who shop here, to answer a need or desire, and to make them feel seen.
Is it silly to want your customers to feel like they’re part of a community and not just another “ping!” on the cash register? I don’t think so.
Part of creating that welcome is also making sure that the quality of products and how they’re made and delivered don’t make the customer feel ripped off or reckless.
What We Can Do: Consider the Product and be Mindful of Habits
It doesn’t take much for businesses to consider the entire lifecycle of their products from production to disposal, and design exquisite offerings that are durable, recyclable, and repairable.
Using eco-friendly materials may be a little more expensive at times. But the more they become the norm in manufacturing, the less pricey they’ll become.
Many product manufacturers are already turning out eco-friendly and ethically-made items, so it’s really not that difficult for businesses to find partners who use environmentally safe materials and practices, reduce waste, and pay fair wages to their workers.
Adopting Sustainable Online Shopping Habits
On the other side of the shop counter, it’s also possible to adopt mindful approaches to online shopping habits.
Making an effort to prioritise quality over quantity, investing in durable products that will last longer, and buying items you absolutely adore or need and will keep or use for a long time to come will add an extra dollop of joy to shopping.
Whenever feasible, consolidate multiple purchases into a single order too. Grouping items together reduces the number of individual shipments and overall carbon emissions.
On this latter note, keep your eyes peeled for e-commerce platforms or brands that offset their carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy projects or tree-planting initiatives. This helps neutralize the environmental impact of shipping.
Think Slow Shopping, Not Speed-Shopping!
Finally, take your time while shopping online. Particularly during major global shopping events like the up-and-coming Black Friday and Cyber Monday “busiest shopping weekend of the year”.
These events tend to promote mindless consumption with can’t-miss-savings and scarcity marketing tactics. By doing so, they also put the metal to the peddle on excessive packaging and shipping waste.
This latter garbage and sewage overload is increased by the number of shipped “returns” when shoppers suffer buyer’s remorse and quickly return their products. According to statistics, the shipping and return of products accounted for a whopping 37% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020.
What We Can Do: Take Five
Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy deals and flash sales. We all love a bargain, but it’s important to make sure it’s the bargain you actually want!
So before taking the leap to buy, stand back and really consider whether you truly want this item or not.
If it’s possible, step away from your possible purchase for at least five minutes. Stand up and have a stretch. Make yourself a coffee. Call a friend.
Do something that takes your mind off the product and then, after five minutes or more, decide to buy …or not!
Changing the Business Mindset
As an online shop, investing in slow shopping also needs a step back and a mind shift.
During the competitive holiday season, it might seem to make sense for marketing strategies to incorporate scarcity tactics and hype if everyone else is doing it.
And, for sure, if you have a product that’s worthy of being hyped or limited in quantity or time, you’ll want to engage customers with these facts. After all a business is only a business if it has customers who buy its products or services.
But where it gets ick is if e-commerce businesses use scare marketing tactics, misleading advertising and low-cost fast fashion products (often sourced even more cheaply from factories with poor labour conditions) to fool or force bargain-hungry shoppers into parting with their cash.
Because here’s the truth: We love to receive discounts and deals but they shouldn’t come at the expense of the customer, the workers who produce the products, or the environment.
As businesses and consumers, we all have a duty of care and in e-commerce, it is possible to be profitable and ethical.
Slow Shopping in Slovember
This November, Enya’s Attic is joining several other online shopping businesses around the world in promoting slow shopping and sustainable shopping practices.
Slow shopping was inspired by the slow living movement, based on the idea that life is meant to be “lived better, not faster” (love that!)
It’s an intentional approach to purchasing. The purpose is to encourage customers to enjoy their browsing or buying experience, rather than feeling like Roadrunner rushing to get to checkout before the deal ends, the shop sells out or your bank notices you’ve been bouncing your credit card!
Customers are granted more time to make conscious, considered choices. As such, it enables them to find ethical and eco-friendly brands and websites, put the breaks on impulse buying, and reduce the amount of online orders made.
Throughout November, Enya’s Attic will be offering a store-wide 25% discount on all purchases.
That means, that if you stop by the online shop, you can take your time exploring our range of bookish productsinspired by women writers and history-makers, knowing that there’s a whole month in which to use our special offer.
At the end of the day, buying stuff is great. But buying stuff with intent and in a way that brings contentment and meaning - be it a gift or necessity for ourselves or others - is a whole lot better!