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GUEST COMMENT Building sustainability into customer engagement

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Following Covid-19, the adoption of online shopping has shifted dramatically, and as part of this shift, ecommerce sales have picked up serious momentum. According to recent data from Statista, in 2020, ecommerce sales worldwideamounted to $4.28 trillion

However, this shift to online is not the only notable consumer trend. Increasingly consumers are becoming much more environmentally conscious and aware of the impact their lifestyles are having on the earth. We are seeing this reflected in purchasing decisions, with consumers applying their sustainability expectations not only to the brands they engage with, but the way in which the brands engage with them. For many shoppers, sustainability is now a priority, and well-known fashion brands such as Asos and Mulberry, as well as supermarket chain Aldi, areinnovating to cut their carbon footprints.

It started with physical shops doing away with plastic bags and introducing ‘bags for life’, and now highstreets are filled with creative ways to improve sustainability. From an uplift in second-hand fashion and refurbish furniture, to more awareness around World Earth Day (which celebrated its 51st year in April). But what about online?

The future of business is centered on sustainability, and that applies to ecommerce retailers as much as any other business. The question is how can marketers take steps to ensure their position and any activity they’re undertaking, plays a role in reducing the carbon footprint of the organisation, and show consumers the business is serious about sustainability?

Engaging with the sustainably conscious consumer

Retailers rely on their marketing teams to engage with existing customers to build brand loyalty and attract new customers. However, as consumers become more actively focused on shopping with brands who are actively behaving more sustainably, the carbon footprint from marketing engagements they receive play a role in meeting those demands.

Email marketing, in particular, remains an effective way of communicating with customers. According to theUK email and marketing benchmark 2021 from Campaign Monitor, retail had the lowest unsubscribe rate for email marketing of any industry across billions of email interactions. It also had the lowest open rate as well at 13%.

According toHow bad are bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee, a standard email has a carbon footprint of 4g CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). So, while consumers may not be unsubscribing from those marketing emails, they are going to be aware that the more an organisation is sending, the bigger their carbon contribution. And of those marketing emails being received, how many of them make it through the ‘junk’ folder, straight into the inboxes of customers?

There are two things to note here, not only the carbon footprint, but the relatively low open rate. Campaign Monitor states that the average open rate is 16.4% across all industries in the UK. Clearly, within retail there is room for improvement.

Personalisation has always been important to consumers, but as many more share increasing amounts of data with the organisations they engage with, it has become even more crucial. In order to share fewer emails, but secure a higher engagement, personalisation is key. Working with consumer data to share the products they are interested in, all at the right time, can focus results and reduce negative environmental impact.

Bringing sustainability in-house

It’s not just the way marketers communicate externally that has a bearing on a brand’s carbon footprint. Think about all those emails sent every day asking for a file, image, datasheet – and the replies. While a standard email has a footprint of 4g CO2e, an email with an attachment has a footprint closer to 50g CO2e – well over 10 times the amount – according to Berners-Lee.

There are a number of alternatives to sharing documents and images via email. Using cloud servers and file management platforms means that any member of the team can access any item from any location. Often though, that’s not quite enough. With hundreds and thousands of datasets to manage, and often multiple versions of digital assets, it’s often painstaking to find exactly what is needed – hence the ‘quick email’ to a colleague to get help locating the right files or images.

Another option is to build digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) tools into the marketing stack, as this can have a tangible impact on efficiencies. Having a centralised hub of a brand’s approved content, along with all the permissions and product information a marketer needs for their role, not only saves time across the team by reducing search, but also on that overall carbon footprint.

Sustainably marketing for the future

As we look towards a brighter second half of the year for retailing in 2021, emerging from the difficult, long periods of lockdown, it remains critical for retailers to stay agile and flexible in a digitally transformed market. As retail spending is predicted to increase, consumers will be looking more than ever to support brands which they feel deliver personal, and social value – as well as positively impact their sustainable consciousness.

Therefore, appealing to consumers not only with personalised content that they want to engage with, but being able to market to their environmental mindfulness in a way that is more sustainable, will continue to become increasingly important.

To be seen as a sustainable retailer means understanding the environmental impact of the business at every level, and ensuring that everyone across the brand is invested in making improvements for the environment, and also for the bottom line.


Jake Athey, VP Marketing, Widen

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