Think of the progress UK retailers have made in reducing single-use plastic bags since the introduction of a 5p charge in October 2015. This policy change has reportedly taken 6 billion plastic bags out of circulation and gathered £29 million for good causes (source). These impressive results for the environment haven’t driven customers away, and the small penalty alone cannot be the reason that so many customers now ensure they regularly use a ‘bag for life’. So what is this change in mindset telling us?
To cultivate the progressive image that 21st century customers demand, more and more retailers are focusing on sustainability and their impact on the environment. Millennials, in particular, are attracted to companies who share their values and beliefs, and they expect brands to engage with them and to be socially aware. A report last year recorded the fact that 88% of millennials and Gen X’ers want retailers ‘to do more good, not just less bad’ (HBR) and reputations can be damaged very quickly when retailer’s tech-savvy customers spread damaging reports on social media.
In response, many large retailers now have a Head of Corporate Responsibility or a Head of Sustainability function within their organisation. This role encompasses political and ethical areas such as modern slavery and responsible sourcing but also environmental issues of reducing waste and improving the supply chain, which will ultimately cut costs too. In the case of Debenhams, for example, reduction of carbon emissions is one of the KPI’s measured by their board – the 2016 Annual Report records a reduction of 12% on the previous year.
They are not alone in their efforts. Last month H&M became the first International retailer to sign up to EP100 with ambitious plans to achieve a climate positive value chain by 2040. Others, such as Shop Direct, N Brown and Tesco are undertaking initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility and employ environmentally friendly technologies, becoming the first retailers to sign up to the UN Global Compact.
Clear Returns advocate a similar strategy on returns – reducing costs and the impact on the environment through the reduction of transportation, warehousing and packaging. With today’s customer-centric retail mindset, it involves something of a shift in policy. Clear Returns focus on modifying customer behaviour with data analytics and small policy changes which can have a big effect on the bottom line.
Clear Returns’ specialist returns technology perfectly aligns with this growing, socially- responsible, trend. Primarily to help retailers reduce the operational cost of dealing with returns, it also lowers the impact of e-commerce on the environment. This isn’t a case of reducing sales, but ensuring that goods are not being regularly shipped and returned by customers who have no intention of keeping them. Returns can be the next ‘plastic bag’ but, who will lead the way?