Cost and convenience stifling consumer desire to shop sustainably new PFS research finds

Consumers in the UK and US desire to shop more sustainably, but poor customer experiences and higher prices are stifling them, new research from premier fulfilment provider, PFS, has found. Just under half (48%) of consumers in the UK and US are now more conscious of how their online shopping behaviour impacts the environment than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. But this heightened awareness is not necessarily translating into buying habits or being met by retailers, as consumers crave speed and convenience.

The survey, commissioned by PFS and conducted by Arlington Research, compared and contrasted the expectations of 4,000 adult consumers and 200 senior decision-makers from the retail industry, when it comes to sustainable practices and returns processes. The results form part of PFS’ new report ‘Expectation vs. reality: is sustainability sustainable?’. When questioned on these topics, over half of consumers (57%) agreed that if a brand has outstanding sustainability credentials but fails to meet their delivery and customer service expectations, they will not purchase from the same brand in the future. Meanwhile, for workers in the retail sector, the response rose dramatically – 76% of retailers believe this to be true of their customers.

Despite the importance of sustainability in the purchase process, it seems that cost is still a priority that can trump the ethical aspirations of consumers. The top reason holding them back from making more eco-friendly purchases is the higher cost of sustainable products (35%). Retailers also agreed with this as the top reason (47%). In fact, over half of consumers (55%) agreed they base their purchasing decisions on convenience and cost over sustainability and concern for their impact on the environment. Speed also plays a big factor, with just over half those surveyed (51%) agreeing that fast delivery is the most important consideration for them when buying a product online.

Patrick Lowe, AVP Business Management at PFS said: “Retailers understand that consumers have heightened awareness levels when it comes to the impact of how they shop but also that their ideals don’t always match the realities. It’s a balancing act to appeal to cost-conscious consumers with cost-effective and sustainable solutions from retailers. Consumers know what they want to do but aren’t actively doing it yet. Perhaps they need to see more tangible evidence or be given more lucrative options that meet their needs of speed and environmental consciousness?”

“It is important that the retail industry – along with other influencers in the supply chain – take steps to drive and support behaviours that consumers want to demonstrate. Retailers need to work with consumers to make sustainability sustainable and incentivise them to want and choose more sustainable options. Changes don’t need to be widespread or wholescale, but by offering different choices, retailers can start to support shoppers and build loyalty,” Lowe adds.

To remove the complexity and cost for retailers, working with a third-party logistics provider can take the strain out of sustainability and lead to improved ROI and enhanced reputation, so retailers can stand ahead of the pack.

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