DTC brands fail to deliver on sustainability promises, study shows

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As climate activist Greta Thunberg calls out the fashion industry for its failure to respond to the climate emergency following the release of a new IPCC report that labelled it ‘code red for humanity’, new findings from parcelLab, the leading Operations Experience Management platform,  highlight a systematic failure across DTC retailers to deliver on environmental promises. Research shows that two thirds (68%) of the UK’s top 50 DTC retail brands fail to promote any sustainability messaging on their packaging and just 4% offer carbon neutral delivery as an option at the checkout.

The DTC report series, which looks at different aspects of the customer journey when ordering from the UK’s top 50 DTC brands, reveals that despite the fact 6 in 10 customers are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce the negative impact to the environment[1], many DTC retailers are failing to provide sustainable alternatives. As it stands, almost 1 in 5 (18%) DTC brands still rely on plastics to package their products, 30% include plastic packaging within the parcel itself and only 6% offer the choice of less packaging for delivery. The study also shows that some 55% of DTC retailers fail to offer customers the option of paperless returns.

The study also highlighted that over half (52%) of DTC retailers include branded inserts within their parcels. Regularly used as a marketing tactic, these materials are often thrown away, making them an unsustainable option for brands. This information could instead be included, where, the research shows, open rates can top 80%. When compared to ordinary marketing emails, which see open rates peak at around 25%, a real opportunity emerges for environmental messaging to occur in a more sustainable way. This is emphasised by the fact that the number of retailers including sustainability messaging in their delivery communication currently stands at 0%.

Tobias Buxhoidt, founder and CEO of parcelLab, commented: “Customers have shown time and time again that they are willing to change their spending habits to make environmentally conscious choices in the delivery process. While many brands may preach about their sustainability credentials or environmentally conscious approach to retail, they aren’t showing flexibility or willingness to allow their customers to make more eco-friendly choices where deliveries are concerned. Fulfilment companies such as DPD, which many retailers work with, might offer a carbon neutral delivery alternative, but many of the brands themselves do not give the choice of carbon offsetting in the transportation or packaging process. Whether its auditing package sizing to reduce waste, offering carbon offsetting or giving customers the option to purchase unbranded packaging with only relevant recycling information, there exists a whole gamut of measures brands can take to give back power to the consumer and allow them to make more sustainable choices.”

Finally, it is not just sustainability within the delivery process that DTC brands are be encouraged to re-evaluate. The report also shows only 45% of retailers promote paperless returns – a relatively simple step tech-savvy DTC brands can take to reduce the unnecessary use of materials and improve their sustainability records.