#RetailTrends2020: Sustainable shopping – a new year for retail

In recent years, the retail sector – and in particular the fashion industry – has been shaped by an overwhelming consumer demand for fast-paced convenience. We see this in the rising number of Brits over-ordering goods online so they can be sure that they’ll have the right size or style exactly when they want it. And in the growing popularity of ‘fast fashion’, where the desire to instantly wear the same ‘look’ as a famous celebrity has prompted many retailers to rapidly mass produce inexpensive versions. However, while this focus on convenience isn’t going away anytime soon, 2019 has seen the beginnings of a shift, as a growing number of customers look to adopt more sustainable shopping habits.

Our research tells us that almost two thirds of UK shoppers actively want to reduce the environmental impact of their shopping habits. These ‘conscious consumers’ are increasingly putting their purchasing behaviour under the microscope and questioning if the way they consume products is sustainable. As we move into 2020, retailers looking to grow must find new ways to engage consumers who care about their environmental and ethical footprint.

The death of ‘serial returning’

One of the central ways that retailers have responded to meet the demand for quick and easy purchasing has been through offering increasingly flexible free returns and payment policies. With more than six in ten retailers now offering free returns we have seen a rise in the number of shoppers who consistently order and return items. We found that over the last two years, 26% of retailers have seen the number of returns they process increase, with more and more shoppers opting to buy online in bulk, only to return their purchase later on – with some even wearing clothes before returning them.

But, as issues like fashion waste and the use of poor-quality materials gain attention, many consumers are becoming more conscious of their shopping habits. We found that almost half of UK shoppers are concerned about the impact of over-ordering and returning goods, with one in ten now actively reducing the amount they order if they know they’re likely to just return it later.

As we head into 2020, we can expect this shift towards embracing sustainable retail to gain even more momentum with both consumers and retailers alike. The will may be there, but the challenge now is for retailers to find new ways of giving shoppers ways to make more environmentally conscious purchasing decisions. Whether this be through offering more detailed product descriptions for online shoppers or making sure their sizing is consistent across their product lines, it’s time for UK retailers to get proactive in the fight against serial returning. Some retailers are already making headway, including Asos which is offering a ‘virtual try-on’ function to its mobile app, giving consumers the option to virtually try before they buy.

A new way of shopping

If retailers want to attract this growing group of environmentally-conscious consumers, it’s essential that they find new and inventive ways of engaging customers who want to purchase in a more sustainable way.

One way of doing this that has been gaining popularity with shoppers in recent years, is to utilise click & collect services. This year, Barclaycard research showed that nine in ten retailers found click & collect to be their most popular delivery service. Allowing shoppers to purchase multiple items online and try them on in-store not only gets people through the door, but also cuts down the likelihood of returns – thereby reducing the financial and environmental impact of shipping and transporting items for home delivery.

Initiatives that contribute to reducing the environmental impact of deliveries are quickly catching on. One fifth of shoppers would now like to have the option to recycle their packaging at click & collect points, allowing them to make the most of the service. This autumn, we’ve seen department store heavyweight John Lewis & Partners announce plans to pilot the use of reusable click & collect bags to cut out the use of additional plastics and to facilitate the recycling of the materials used to transport click & collect orders. As we move into 2020 we can expect more retailers to look at services like click & collect as ways to help them become more sustainable – and more appealing to consumers.

It’s time for retailers to seize the moment

Finding ways to encourage a more environmentally-conscious approach to shopping is just one of the areas that retailers will need to address in the new year in order to move the sector forward. Whether this be through incorporating recycling into their click & collect services or investing in innovations to reduce returns like virtual try-on facilities, the time to act is now.

The good news is that the appetite from shoppers is there, with more and more consumers searching for environmentally-friendly options. As 2020 approaches, momentum will only increase, with more and more retailers exploring new and innovative ways of make their processes more sustainable in order to engage with this new group of environmentally-conscious consumers.