Are You Being Served (by online shopping)?

Online retail is ubiquitous. But is it any good?

Sometimes. Other times, not so much.

What about the environmental impact?

The good:

  • Consistently comprehensive information. Full product descriptions. Reviews by:
    • other consumers, consumer associations,
    • industry associations,
    • random bloggers. many of whom are professionals in the field.
  • Stock. It comes in that colour, your size, a format compliant with the electrical supply in Iceland and can be purchase without leaving the comfort of your lawn chair.
  • Products are easy to find. At the physical store, staff that don’t seem to be able to find one of the 200,000 products in the [warehouse] store. Because really, who could? Online, the droids in the warehouse find it for you.

Online allows the entire company’s warehouse to be within reach of every customer service representative and has other wonderful features, like convenience, variety, ease of finding the lowest price. These features suggest an overall positive environmental footprint. Fewer car trips by buyers, more efficient delivery through route optimization with one vehicle serving hundreds of customers. Lower shipping impact compared to a company stock dozens of outlets across the country. Less impulse buying and therefore throwing of unwanted items into the landfill.

The dark side:

  • Occasionally not so convenient. If you order something requiring a signature, such as wine or expensive electronics, and aren’t there when it is delivered (because you are at work during the day, when it’s always delivered), then you have to trek, drive etc., to an outlet that is only open during the day. Online shopping is meant to avoid this.
  • Prone to theft. Because of the point above, many packages are left on the doorstep. And some disappear while waiting for the buyer to come home from work. Various creative approaches are being suggested to overcome this. Meeting people at in the parking lot of their work. Designated, convenient pickup points. Secure approaches to allowing the delivery person to place the package inside the home. It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to address.
  • All that packaging. Tape. Boxes. Bubble wrap for fragile things. A mountain of stuff that is left over after the UPS truck departs. Might packaging of home-delivered merchandise negate 50 years of carrying your own shopping bags?

While the first two points could lead to extra emissions due to unnecessary trips, the third is more worrying, because it seems to have garnered little attention. The stats are staggering1. For the 2017 holiday season, UPS was predicted to ship 750 million packages, over 30 million a day.2 According to one source3, 41% of Americans get 2-5 parcels a month. Between 2012 and 2017, average annual deliveries increased in number between 5 and 6% for UPS, FedEx and the United postal service. How much cardboard, tape, sticky labels, and other assorted wrapping was involved? Tonnes4. Literally. And I haven’t heard a peep about it as an issue. Cardboard boxes are recycled, but how efficiently? The tape and labels aren’t generally. Overall, environmentally concerning.

While we’ve learned to minimize the packaging for items we carry out of the brick and mortar stores, can the same be done for home delivery? Here’s a great entrepreneurial opportunity – a ready made, growth market. Socially conscious. Easy to identify buyers and an easy to make value proposition if the new solution is less expensive than the current mound of packing.

Somebody go for it, please!

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1 Unless you are in the delivery business and then they are great – indicative of a good growth industry.

2https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/26/ups-expects-to-ship-750-million-packages-this-holiday-season.html

3https://www.shorr.com/packaging-news/2017-05/2017-package-theft-report-porch-pirates-purchase-habits-and-privacy

4 Incidentally, who is making cardboard boxes? -This also must be a great growth industry, especially with good recycling programs.

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