Three ways to improve your e-commerce site’s sustainability

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This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: Three ways to improve your e-commerce site’s sustainability.

By Gav Winter, CEO of next generation website monitoring company RapidSpike.

On the surface, ecommerce retail looks to be a silver bullet for sustainability. No car journeys to the high street. No expensive energy bills for brick-and-mortar stores. Electric delivery vehicles. Indeed, it’s one of the lasting changes to come out of the pandemic – consumer habits have pivoted towards convenience and a more socially conscious mindset.

But this ‘shopper’s guilt’ extends to online retail, too. In one study by customer experience consultancy CPM, 1,000 shoppers were asked for their thoughts on buying online. An astonishing 83% said they were concerned that it was unsustainable.

So, what are the potential dangers of online shopping when it comes to sustainability? And how can e-commerce retailers mitigate its effects?

The real carbon footprint of online retail

Recent reports from Websitecarbon.com show the carbon emissions of large retailers’ online stores. The site measures CO2 emissions per page and gives a percentage score compared to other sites in its database.

In 2022 findings, it was revealed that Amazon emitted 0.56g of CO2 for every page visited. In isolation, this sounds harmless – particularly when we consider that the average page view for a website emits 6g of CO2. (That’s around 12,000 miles in a petrol car.) However, Amazon received up to 474 million visits during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday season in 2021, making it a big contributor.

There are ways these large retailers could reduce their impact even more. For example, the report showed that eBay could reduce its CO2 emissions by 9% simply by switching to a greener host.

This is just one of many changes that e-commerce retailers could make to lessen their carbon footprint – no matter how big the brand.

Little changes make a big difference

Switching to sustainable practices doesn’t have to be synonymous with saving the world. There are ‘quick wins’ that retailers can make, with or without the help of a developer. As a simple start, they may consider turning off auto-play videos or switching from custom fonts to standard web fonts.

Then there are suppliers. Like eBay, retailers could switch to green hosts to save energy, or replace legacy technology with cloud-based solutions. Getting more technical, developers could reduce or optimise their JavaScript. All of these will positively impact the page load speeds of the website – resulting in more sales.

Images don’t have to bring the website down

Retailers are completely reliant on images to sell their products, but the demands that come with these pixels can make a difference at scale. Even one image that is 1MB too large could be downloaded a million times.

In real-life terms, this could put unnecessary demands on servers, networks and user devices. It also takes up electricity and increases transport time. A simple image compression tool such as a plug-in can optimise these images without compromising visual quality.

Automating mystery shoppers

The mystery shopping experience extends beyond brick-and-mortar alone. This is known as ‘synthetic monitoring’ and essentially uses tools to mimic the customer journey. It also identifies blackspots in a website (known as ‘application observability’) which can highlight issues such as security or slow page load speeds.

With this information, retailers can make changes to their site that will not only improve its performance, but reduce its carbon footprint and increase sales.

Learning from the best

Today’s shoppers are more socially conscious and will not respond well to greenwashing. This is why it’s so important to have certifiable evidence of our efforts to reduce emissions. Sites such as Websitecarbon.com are a great place to start – and they have highlighted some winners in the ecommerce space.

For example, guitarguitar, despite being the UK’s largest online guitar vendor with a £45 million revenue per year, is 79% cleaner than other sites. Likewise, grocer Sainsbury’s is 64% cleaner than other sites measured.

On both sites, the Core Web Vitals score measured highly. This new metric for website performance, introduced by Google in 2021, is not only a ranking factor but a determiner of emissions. According to our Web Vital Index, both the abovementioned brands rank in the top five for performance. There’s a clear correlation between performance and sustainability.

The takeaways

Making an e-commerce website sustainable doesn’t have to mean ripping it up and starting again. Using these lessons from online retailers as guidance, we can make simple choices – even something as small as switching a supplier.

Everybody has their role to play in reducing their carbon footprint, and tech can help us get there faster.

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