Technology and sustainability are currently two of the most significant factors driving furniture industry trends. Now more than ever, consumers desire a retail experience that is convenient, intuitive, and as close to instantaneous as possible.
At the same time, however, they seek the assurance that the companies they support are having a positive impact on the world. In fact, a recent Nielsen study involving participants from 60 countries found that 55 percent of consumers would be willing to pay a higher price for a product or service from a company with a commitment to environmental stewardship.
The world of e-commerce is growing rapidly. At $97.3 million, total US online retail sales in the second quarter of 2016 alone were up 15.8 percent from the year prior. This rapid e-commerce growth has extended to the furniture industry, where some 15 percent of all 2015 sales took place online.
The logistical and technological resources necessary to create an engaging e-commerce platform can easily increase a company’s carbon footprint. The following are strategies furniture companies – and firms across every sector – can utilize to weave environmental consciousness into the fabric of their e-commerce strategies.
Tip #1: Consider Energy Efficient Web Hosting and Design
Companies can also make their retail websites more sustainable by using images as efficiently as possible. While high-quality pictures are a necessity in a retail sector such as home furnishings, firms should consider using lower-resolution photos on search result pages in order to conserve processing power.
Other web design adjustments that can increase the load speed of a website and decrease its energy requirements include the use of browser caching and the use of printer-friendly page options. The color of a retailer’s website can even impact its energy efficiency. Because bold or dark colors require more energy to load, simple page layouts with a large amount of white space will yield faster page load times.
Tip #2: Develop Sustainable Packing and Logistics Strategies
Shipping is a key strategic consideration for any online retailer, but for a furniture company, logistics can pose significant challenges and opportunities. Tasked with delivering cumbersome and often-fragile items in a safe and timely manner, furniture companies must take extra care to craft efficient and sustainable logistics strategies.
They can begin with packaging. Inefficient packaging not only requires a greater amount of energy to transport, but can also create excessive pollution. Furniture companies should strive to improve their logistics sustainably by developing packaging that uses eco-friendly materials, such as responsibly-sourced cardboard that is Cradle to Cradle or Forestry Stewardship Council certified. Companies should avoid using Styrofoam, which is not biodegradable, and instead seek alternative, sustainable filling materials.
In designing their packaging, furniture retailers should aim for efficient boxes that are as streamlined as possible. In addition to reducing the cost of packaging materials and allowing for more efficient shipping, this can also help increase a company’s speed to market, offering new value to consumers.
Another simple way to improve the sustainability of furniture shipping practices is to reduce the amount of paperwork included in the box. Retailers should use electronic invoices whenever possible and consider allowing customers to opt to receive warranty information and instruction manuals online.
Furniture companies can gain an advantage in pursuing their sustainability goals by partnering with a logistics service provider. Certain providers with a commitment to green operations may offer payment options to help offset a retailer’s carbon footprint, and logistics firms can also provide data analysis tools to assess a company’s environmental efficiency.
In addition, online furniture retailers must ensure that their reverse supply chain is just as efficient as their initial delivery strategy. Because online purchases often carry an increased likelihood of returns, it is important to develop environmentally sustainable methods of facilitating product returns, repairs, and replacements. This is a boon not only for the environment, but also for a company’s customer service and brand image.
Tip #3: Harness Customer Engagement
By involving consumers in their sustainability initiatives, furniture retailers can have a positive environmental impact that extends far beyond their own operations. One potential strategy is to offer sustainability-minded incentives, such as donations to ecological organizations or pledges to offset carbon emissions, to new social media or website subscribers.
As furniture retailers develop online brand images that complement their e-commerce offerings, they can use social media platforms to encourage a greener lifestyle. For example, a company may launch a blog wherein they offer not only furniture design trend news, but also easy tips for sustainable living.
Online furniture retailers seeking to improve their sustainability initiatives might also find that they can accomplish this by involving customers in their logistics processes. Services such as UPS My Choice or UPS Access Point allow consumers to update and personalize their delivery times and locations. This may decrease the inconvenience, financial cost, and environmental burden posed by missed deliveries and repeated delivery attempts.