Background

Sustainability defining Swiss online retail

Lucerne University of Applied Sciences was commissioned by Swiss Post to investigate sustainability in Swiss e-commerce for the first time. 227 companies were surveyed on environmental and social aspects of the value chain for their online shops. Here are the key facts.

Gabriel Ehrbar

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Sustainable and fair production

According to the information provided by the online retailers surveyed in the study, 52 percent of all products that can be found on Swiss online shops are produced in a sustainable manner. Retailers are emphasizing social aspects even more strongly. More than three quarters of all items in online shops are manufactured under fair working conditions. What is surprising is that companies are rather reserved when it comes to pointing out to consumers how sustainable the products on offer are. Only 14 percent of all online shops that were examined identify sustainable products as such, and just 11 percent offer their online customers a search filter to locate items that have been produced sustainably.

Most companies using plastic

Alongside the product itself, packaging also contributes to the overall sustainability record of online shops. According to the study, 56 percent of packaging used is made up of recycled material. When it comes to filler, 48 percent of online retailers rely on recycled material. Just one third manage to avoid plastic in their packaging. A crucial aspect is also the size of packaging. A majority of 72 percent of online retailers use shipping packaging that is tailored to the size of products, allowing transport capacities to be used more efficiently and material to be saved. Alternatively, 49 percent of online shops send products directly in their original packaging. The study found that packaging is playing an increasingly important role. Four out of every five online shops expect that the demand from consumers for sustainable packaging will increase in the next two years.

Open to sustainable shipping

When looking at sustainability, the shipping of products is a special challenge for online retailers. Just 15 percent of the companies surveyed offer locally adapted, environmentally-friendly logistics solutions. For example, these could be bicycle delivery services in combination with trains, or transport by e-cargo bikes. Only 15 percent of all online shops offer customers the option to choose a carbon-neutral form of shipping without paying extra. On the other hand, the study shows that there is a high willingness on the part of retailers to improve sustainability in logistics: 75 percent are open to sustainable transport solutions – especially on the last mile.

Consignment management needed

Sustainability is also important to consumers. This year’s e-commerce trend indicator, run in partnership with the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich (HWZ), found that almost 70 percent of consumers believe that the ability to manage consignments when receiving parcels makes an important contribution towards sustainability.

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Coronavirus pandemic generates surge in online retail

As well as surveying Swiss online retailers, Swiss Post conducted the Swiss e-commerce trend indicator in partnership with the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich (HWZ). The HWZ study examined the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on online retail. Compared to last year, the share of Swiss customers who purchase something online at least once a week has risen by more than 13 percent. Especially the over-55 age group shopped significantly more often on online shops than they did in 2019 (+ 25 percent). The proportion of those using TWINT as a payment option has increased from 17 to 29 percent. Sustainability aspects were also investigated as part of this study. For customers, it is particularly important for packaging sizes to be specifically adapted when shipping goods (75 percent) and for reusable packaging to be used (73 percent). Swiss consumers would prefer to be informed about the origin of products (79 percent) than about manufacturing conditions (65 percent).

written by

Gabriel Ehrbar