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A new survey from Descartes has found that a majority of e-commerce consumers would forgo shorter delivery times in favor of doing business with an environmentally friendly company.

The survey, of over 8,000 e-commerce consumers across nine countries in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, identified 54% of those respondents would accept longer lead times when dealing with a company that placed a higher importance on sustainable delivery. In addition 20% said they would pay more for a delivery from an environmentally friendly company.

“This may not sound like a lot, but the experience of companies that offer premium delivery pricing says that it represents millions in incremental revenue,” explained Descartes.

The survey was conducted by Sapio Research.

Gen Z and millennials (27%) were more likely to pay a premium than those over the age of 55 (14%).

Convenience remained an important factor for a plurality of respondents, with 40% saying it trumped environmental impact (23%) as the most important factor, but 37% said the two were equal. In all, 60% rated the environmental impact of deliveries as important.

Forward-thinking consumers

The survey is potentially good news for retailers and delivery providers looking to acquire electric vehicles, which often come with a premium price tag.

“Consumers are looking for not only more eco-friendly home delivery strategies, they also plan to raise their expectations for the vehicles that deliver them. While expectations are much lower today (20% quite/very important) about retailers or their delivery agents employing electric vehicles, the number rises dramatically in five years (53% quite/very important),” the survey said. “Surprisingly, there is very little difference in consumer sentiment between Europe and North America today (tied at 20%) and (54% and 52%, respectively) in the future.”

The carbon footprint of a delivery is not seen as particularly important to consumers today, with just 23% saying it is quite or very important. But in five years’ time, that number rises to 51%.

Difference between countries

There are some stark differences between countries, with one particularly shocking figure coming from Denmark. That country, which has continually received high marks for its environmental initiatives, ranked the lowest at just 27% of respondents saying that helping the environment is quite or very important in their daily lives.

The authors of the report had a theory for the surprising result.

“It might be that protecting the environment in Denmark is a “given” and baked into everyday purchasing decisions. That’s why it is important that retailers use the data to help ensure they are in tune with consumer importance and base expectations,” they said.

Environmental impact was rated highest by residents of France (56%) followed by Germany (52%). U.S. residents placed it at 42%, suggesting there is still some work to do in America to both develop sustainable delivery options and encourage consumers to choose them.

When it comes to purchasing decisions, the environmental impact plays less of a role, with just 39% of respondents saying they regularly or always make purchases based upon a company’s or product’s environmental impact. French residents were again the highest, with 49% saying this was the case, while Norway came in last at 27%. The U.S. was in the middle of the pack at 35%.

Age was the other big determining factor, with 42% of respondents ages 25-34 making purchasing decisions based upon environmental impact, but only 34% of those over 65 years doing so.

Techniques to entire sustainability-minded consumers

For brands, convincing consumers of their environmentally friendly savvy is key to retaining customers. Half of respondents said they were quite or very interested in an environmentally friendly delivery method.

Grocery (35%) and clothing and footwear (35%) were the two biggest categories of goods where customers had the greatest concerns about their environmental friendliness.

“Consumers cited grocery (52%) and clothing and footwear (45%) as the top product categories for store pickup as opposed to home delivery if they thought it would help the environment. The implicit challenge for e-commerce pure plays in those markets is that they need to show that their home delivery approach is as environmentally friendly, if not more, than bricks-and-mortar competitors to maintain or grow their business,” the survey noted.

Forty percent of consumers indicated their desire to purchase more grocery items from companies that could demonstrate their supply chains were more sustainable than the competition. That number was 39% for clothing and footwear buyers.

Consumer delivery preferences

When it came to identifying which methods of delivery consumers were most interested in, though, there is no clear-cut winner. The following delivery methods were asked about specifically (number represents total percentage of people saying it was quite or very important):

Combining all orders into a single delivery   50%
Having the seller recommend the most environmentally friendly option 48%
Picking up at the store 47%
Combining all orders into a single delivery for delivery when there are multiple deliveries in the area 47%
Having the seller rate the environmental impact of all delivery options 42%
Using a drop box (locker) facility 41%
Slowing deliveries down to make them more environmentally friendly 39%

Overall, Descartes found that consumers believe retailers are not doing a good job with their delivery sustainability efforts and could be doing more.

“Given that e-commerce purchases and sustainability expectations are going to rise, now is the time for retailers to improve their home delivery and sustainability efforts,” Descartes wrote. “Rather than viewing sustainability as just another challenge, retailers need to see it for the huge opportunity that sustainability presents. Consumers intend to buy more from retailers that are perceived to be more sustainable. Many are willing to take delivery options that are more economic to the retailer and even pay more for the product or delivery service.”

Descartes added that retailers need to “abandon the monolithic approaches to home delivery that don’t take advantage of opportunities with more sustainable delivery.”

“Consumers will expect sustainable delivery options — and this will grow over time,” it said. “Not all consumers will care, but the numbers that do can represent a great opportunity to improve bottom line performance and do the right thing for the environment.”

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