How is the ecommerce sector supporting consumers who want to shop in a more eco-friendly way?

In the UK, ecommerce retailers are increasingly looking to reduce their carbon footprint while meeting the growing demand among consumers for more sustainable options when shopping online.

Conscious consumerism — the practice of making purchasing decisions based on ethical, environmental, and social considerations — focuses on minimising negative impacts on people and the planet, and supporting sustainable and responsible businesses. A report by Mintel found that over 50% of UK consumers now prioritise sustainability and consider environmental or ethical factors when buying products.

Alongside conscious consumerism, several other online shopping trends have emerged through the pandemic, providing insight into changing habits and needs, and expectations of the ecommerce marketplace.

With one of the most advanced ecommerce markets in Europe — and the third largest in the world — the UK has an estimated 60 million ecommerce users — the majority of whom use their phones to purchase goods. Thanks to major strides in technology and innovation, today’s online shopping experience is smooth and sleek, and making purchases as easy as a couple of clicks.  

Our love of convenience sits uncomfortably alongside our sustainability concerns. With the proliferation of same-day and next-day delivery options, consumers expect fast and efficient shipping processes, with many opting for subscription services and auto-replenishment models to streamline their purchasing experience.

The market is responding by offering a range of eco-oriented ecommerce solutions that empower consumers to shop according to their priorities, while helping cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are a few of them…

Getting creative with sustainable packaging

Traditional packaging materials like plastic and Styrofoam are being replaced with biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable alternatives. UK retailers and brands are investing in innovative, minimalist packaging and product designs that minimise waste and utilise sustainable materials.

Finding inspiring ways to make packaging useful after a parcel has arrived is one environmental initiative gaining popularity. Samsung, for example, returns phones or tablets that have been repaired in boxes that can be reused as phone stands.

The circular economy: Incentivising returns

The concept of ‘circular economy’ is gaining traction in the UK ecommerce sector, with brands exploring different ways to extend the lifespan of products through repair, refurbishment, and recycling programs. By incentivising customers to return used items for resale or recycling, retailers can minimise waste and conserve resources while fostering a culture of reuse and sustainability.

Big beauty brands such as MAC incentivise customers to return their old packaging by offering them a free lipstick when they take part in their ‘Back to Mac’ initiative.

Meanwhile, in efforts to tackle the staggering quantity of textiles sent to landfill or incinerated each year, Marks & Spencer are allowing customers with unwearable clothes (from any label) to return them in a prepaid postal donation bag left with a courier, as part of their long-standing ‘Shwopping’ collaboration with Oxfam.

The rise of the preloved marketplace: Driving a passion for pre-owned goods

From clothes and accessories to furniture and electronics, more people are buying a variety of goods secondhand. Online platforms like Vinted, eBay, and Vestiaire Collective have emerged as key players in the preloved market, while social media influencers and celebrities promoting thrift shopping and vintage fashion has further fuelled the popularity of this marketplace among younger generations.

Vinted just this week reported a 61% rise in sales, and said growth had been spurred by entering new markets (such as Denmark and Finland), an expansion into luxury fashion, and the launch of a verification service.

The preloved market is poised to play a significant role in shaping the future of retail, promoting sustainability, and reducing waste in the fashion and consumer goods industries.

RELATED: Explore our Ecommerce: The Marketplace of Tomorrow programme

Carbon offsetting and sustainable logistics 

Many ecommerce businesses are adopting carbon-neutral shipping practices to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. By partnering with carbon offsetting organisations and investing in renewable energy projects, retailers can mitigate the environmental impact of transporting goods from warehouses to customers’ doorsteps. 

Consolidated shipping allows retailers to reduce emissions while offering competitive shipping rates to customers.

Carbon Checkout pioneered the concept in 2015, bringing carbon offsets to Shopify eCommerce stores and helping millions of customers balance the carbon footprint of their online transactions from within the checkout funnel. 3Degrees is another organisation helping etailers address the impact of their transportation-related emissions with a customised program of decarbonisation solutions.

Furthermore, a growing number of e-retailers like Amazon allow their customers to ‘opt-in’ to consolidated shipments to reduce end-to-end shipping costs, lower carbon footprint, and enjoy an improved shopping experience — when you take into account the added convenience and ease of tracking.

RELATED: Explore our Transforming Logistics programme for 2024

Transparency and information accessibility

Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar stores, online retailers provide comprehensive product descriptions, ingredient lists, and sourcing information directly on their websites. This transparency empowers consumers to scrutinize the ethical and environmental credentials of products before making a purchase, allowing them to support brands that align with their sustainability goals.

Research from the Harvard Business Review highlights the huge value in developing trust between brands and consumers. Data shows that highly trusted companies outperform others by up to 400% in terms of market value — and that sustainability promotes trust, particularly among younger generations, alongside a company’s perceived humanity and transparency.

A changing marketplace: Trends and innovations

According to a recent report, Amazon, Asda, Next and Screwfix are the biggest players in the UK ecommerce market (based on FY2023 data). However, Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands are increasingly leveraging social media, influencer marketing, and targeted advertising to reach consumers directly and bypass traditional retail channels.

Amazon, a leader in robotics implementation for over a decade, has unveiled a range of new robotics, and its much-hyped 60-minute drone deliveries are set to take flight in the UK in late 2024.

Social media sites are also increasingly a part of the online shopping experience. Amazon’s partnerships with Meta and Snap were debuted in late 2023, enabling shoppers to buy Amazon items directly from their apps, with a ‘Consult a friend’ functionality empowering customers to share, react and comment on products.

Learn about our 2024 programme on Ecommerce


Ecommerce: The Marketplace of Tomorrow will explore the technological advances transforming both the customer experience and online sales, sustainable solutions within the supply chain to match consumer trends and the solutions being adopted to improve operations and logistics. The programme will premiere at the eCommerce Expo, ExCel London on the 19th September.

There are commercial opportunities for leading organisations to be featured in the programme and spearhead their own news item. If your organisation wants to share what you stand for and be part of this important conversation, please contact ITN Business’ Programming Director, Isabella Sharp.