Australians have had a challenging start to 2020. In just six months we’ve navigated the impact and the side-effects of bushfires, floods and now the measures put in place to contain a global health pandemic. While retailers may have started this year with sustainability high on the priority list, the current climate has resulted, understandably, in a shifted focus.

While sustainability is often desired by consumers, it requires retailers to actively change their business and their processes to make it possible. So, the question remains, what does sustainable retail look like in a post-COVID-19 world?

A commitment to sustainability can drive consumer connection

Research reveals that customers, especially those within younger demographics, seek brands that publicly champion values that align with their own. Studies show that 52 per cent of millennials and 48 per cent of Gen-Xers feel it’s important that their values align with the brands they like.

As such, brands like Australian fashion brand, Spell Byron Bay, have built a cult following, off the back of their commitment to the environment. The company champions the use of natural dyes and ethically sourced fabrics, partnering with organisations like Canopy, which is set up to ensure brand’s cellulose based fibres (viscose, rayon, tencel, modal) do not contribute to the deforestation of ancient or endangered forests.

The brand’s success highlights how retailers can use sustainability to connect with their audience on a deeper level, building long-term customer relationships and brand loyalty. As other retail businesses look for ways to stand out from the increasingly crowded online space, the success of businesses like Spell Byron Bay highlight how sustainability can become a legitimate method of differentiation and representation of quality.

Integrating sustainability will be part of business recovery 

Prior to 2020, ecommerce was on the rise and it’s been a saving side-effect of the global health pandemic that retailers – both pure-play online and those that have actively pivoted – have continued to see online traffic increase.

As the demand for home delivery rises accordingly, it’s becoming clear that choosing to incorporate sustainable options – from packaging to delivery – can become an additional selling point. It’s another way for retailers to acquire more customers and boost loyalty.

Just this month, Aussie fashion leader The Iconic, announced its commitment to environmental retail through sustainable packaging. Referring to the sourcing, development and use of packaging solutions that have minimal environmental impact and footprint, the company is making an effort to be “earth-friendly”, aiming to avoid further contributing to the depletion of natural resources.

It highlights the role that retailers can play in the education of consumers. Whether it’s calling attention to the best way to recycle or showing customers how to dispose of packing materials in an eco-friendly manner. It shows that the commitment to sustainability doesn’t have to be a major event. Every step is one closer to minimising the waste and pollution that end up in our landfills and oceans.

Sustainability can’t wait

Understandably, as we navigate a global health pandemic, retailers across the country have varying priorities – a focus on sustainable practices may not rate highly. However, in an increasingly crowded online space, retailers need to consider all the options available to them to help grow customer loyalty and research shows that customers are increasingly factoring in sustainability when choosing which brands to do business with.

Arguably, in a post COVID-19 world, our impact on the environment and in turn, sustainable retail, will see a significant boost in interest and impact. So, whether it’s offering sustainable transportation options, to having biodegradable and eco-friendly packaging, retailers need to be thinking about the product journey now, and how they can do business at the same time as protecting the planet.

Shannon Ingrey is general manager and vice president for Australia and New Zealand at BigCommerce