How Our Shopping Habits Are Affecting the Environment

Written by: Peter Minkoff

The climate crisis paired with the ongoing pandemic has brought on a mindset shift for many. We’ve started questioning everything from the traditional workplace, delivery systems, all the way to the existing initiatives tackling rapid urbanization. In the midst of it all, the natural world is suffering, and people are rapidly beginning to understand their own role in the process – and what they can do to reverse it, make a difference, and set an example.

While the world is still going through major economic challenges that will also reshape how we buy, our perception of the environment and our responsibility in its protection are stealing the spotlight. Extreme consumerism, panic shopping, overwhelming convenience and availability have turned people into spending machines. Then again, many are taking a stance in refusing plastic packaging or turning to brands that are offering eco-friendly alternatives. Here’s where our shopping habits are taking us, and how they are affecting our natural world.

Return policies filling up landfills

In order to boost customer retention, retailers continuously work on creating even more convenient offers and more personalized services. From free shipping to free returns on items you don’t like, people have grown accustomed to such perks that simplify shopping and make many brands globally available. It turns out that many companies offer free returns at the expense of the environment for the long haul, simply because they are not able to resell products that are returned.

Research shows that 20% of returns end up in landfills, so the very option presents a threat, as both brands cannot force customers to purchase a returned item, and customers don’t have a tendency to pay a full price for what they perceived as “used”. On another, brighter note, more local stores focused on thrift shopping and selling second-hand items are beginning to see an uptake in sales, as more people are interested in preserving the environment and giving a new life to old items.

Emerging brands with sustainable offers

Now that we can all learn so much with a single Google search, brands are opening up their doors and sharing their policies with the world – elevating their responsibility and increasing our own awareness of our own carbon footprint and other impacts on the environment. This transparency has led to a shift in consumer awareness, and it has helped many smaller, eco-conscious brands rise to prominence.

In addition to offering eco-friendly products, these and other brands are now trying to offer plastic-free packaging, carbon-neutral shipping and delivery, and carbon-offset projects to help save the planet. As consumers, we stand responsible for these choices, so we have the chance to look for environmentally friendly brands that meet these new and growing standards.

Delayed payments on the rise

On the other end of the convenience spectrum, we need to feel safe and taken care of when shopping online. We have gone a step further, especially during the pandemic, wanting to be able to buy online and pay at a later date in more cost-effective installments. In countries such as Australia, this trend has picked up rapidly among online shoppers, as they want to be able to invest in more sustainable brands that might come at a higher price.

In such instances, payment programs such as the Humm buy now pay later in Australia enable these transactions and work with forward-thinking businesses. As a result, people have access to invest in sustainable products and solutions with the ability to pay at a later date, making sustainability more available to wider audiences.

Growing awareness of local brands

Customers that know just how taxing shipping can be for the environment due to the immense carbon footprint of airlines and other transportation models in the industry. So far, few have paid attention to this issue, but over time, as more local brands show their initiative, buyers are turning to locally available businesses instead, even for online purchases.

Unlike some of the world’s leading brands with sweatshops around the globe contributing to modern slavery of various kinds, localized brands now showcase their environmental efforts paired with fair labor practices. Consumers are rapidly turning to local alternatives, precisely in order to minimize their environmental impact and to find fair ways to buy.

Digital banking for a cashless world

Printing money will likely remain a trend for a long time, but as new digital currencies such as bitcoin enter the mainstream and major financial institutions turn to e-banking, we have a chance to change our ways. To avoid deforestation and other detrimental effects of printing cash for the sake of indulging our shopping habits, ecommerce business as well as regular stores are quickly introducing contactless platforms and digital payment systems.

While we have a long way to go before we can call our shopping habits eco-friendly, especially keeping in mind global shipping policies and free returns that support consumerism, these alternative, meaningful changes have the potential to make a difference. 

On one hand, we still choose certain shopping outlets that directly harm the environment, but on the other, we are quickly discovering how businesses, fintech companies, as well as retailers are shifting their own role in an attempt to preserve the environment. Education and elevated customer awareness will, too, reshape how we buy and how businesses present themselves to their target audience. As we learn more about our own role in nature preservation, we’ll have a better chance to change our own ways and introduce smarter shopping habits to replace the ones that harm the planet.

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