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The impact of Online vs Offline Shopping

The impact of Online vs Offline Shopping
By Biyya Mansoer

Online shopping is convenient, efficient, and can even be a coping mechanism for many of us. What’s its impact? How can you shop online consciously? You may not be able to shop your way to a sustainable future but you can read this article to know how you can make better choices to get there.

In this day and age, buying online is more convenient than ever. The wide selection of brands and retailers on the web as well as the convenience of express delivery and free returns have made online shopping very appealing. Especially with recent events and the stress resulting from the Covid-19 lockdowns around the world, we have no choice but to hit the ‘add to cart’ button. 

Shopping online instead of traditional retail can be a more sustainable option. Online shopping could have a lower carbon footprint than shopping in-store in spite of the delivery trucks. This MIT study from 2013 concluded that in certain scenarios,  online shopping could emit less CO2 emissions than traditional shopping. However, it could also emit more CO2 emissions in other scenarios. Why?

As you already know, the impact of traditional shopping will depend mainly on the transportation used. Online shopping, on the other hand, has some factors to consider in order to make it a sustainable option. Let’s see how we can make this option the most sustainable one.

What is the environmental impact of online shopping? 

Shipping and delivery

There is a massive amount of energy and pollution involved in transporting products from one place to another. However, the environmental impact from shipping varies drastically depending on where your order has come from, its size, weight, and type of transportation.  Shipping by airplane, for example, has the highest carbon impact. 

Packaging waste

Typically, products are shipped in cardboard boxes or plastic bags. Often, if an item is packaged in a cardboard box, it still has plastic bags inside. With clothing, this is often done to prevent moisture. Even if you purchased something from the store, it was most likely shipped in the same type of packaging after all.

Both cardboard and plastic packaging have pros and cons. Of course, the major issue with plastic packaging is that it is not biodegradable. That’s why options such as paper or tissue are great sustainable alternatives because they are compostable and hold similar properties to plastic. If you purchase from sustainable brands, it is more likely that they will incorporate eco-friendly packaging.

How can you shop more sustainably online?
Image source : Logistex

Here some tips to minimise your environmental footprint from online shopping: 

1. Order from local brands to minimise emissions from shipping

Aviation accounts for 12% of CO2 emissions from all types of transport, compared to 74% from road transport, according to the Air Transport Action Group. If you order from local brands, it is less likely that they will deliver your order by airplane or even by van! According to a study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, replacing delivery vans with electric cargo bikes can lead to a 26% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

How can you shop more sustainably online?
Image source: @karl_shakur

2. Plan out what you want to buy

Making multiple and separate online shopping orders every day, and selecting express delivery options instead of combining your orders into one single delivery that will take longer to be delivered can potentially increase greenhouse gas emissions. The return rate for online orders is often higher than from shopping in stores, which also increases emissions. Making wish lists or inspiration boards on Pinterest is a great way to make a plan of what you really want to buy!

Want to be more efficient? Maybe try to combine your online order with friends and family to reduce the impact of waste packaging. This can actually save you some money from shipping and also prevent you from making impulse purchases.

How can you shop more sustainably online?
Image source: @rosiehw

3. Avoid making impulse purchases

The temptation that comes from online shopping is that it makes us buy things that we probably would not buy in-store. Buy what you actually want and need so that you are more likely to be satisfied with your purchase and will not end up returning it. 

Yes, sales and discounts can be very tempting because of their reduced prices. Although there is nothing wrong with saving money, you want to make sure that you will actually make good use of the items your purchase.

But then we know…it’s hard to resist and that’s ok.

How can you shop more sustainable online
Image source: Friends

4. Avoid purchasing items with the intention of returning them

The environmental impact of returning online orders is often overlooked.  A study by Deloitte in 2016 has found that online shopping leads to five times more returned products, which can negatively impact the environment.  In addition,  20% of online returns end up in landfills because they cannot be resold by the retailer, according to GreenStory. If it is possible, you can try to return your online order to a physical store if it is available locally.

5. Familiarize yourself with sizing charts

The disadvantage of shopping online is that you can’t try things on to see how they fit and feel. Sizing charts vary across different brands and that can be confusing when shopping online. When browsing, make sure you check out the size guides, measure yourself, read reviews, or even ask questions about the fit. This way, you will feel good about the item you bought and will not end up returning it. 

Image source: @chainkyr

6. Choose regular instead of express or ‘same-day’ delivery

This allows postal services to wait for full loads instead of delivering orders in half-empty shipments. Once you have selected your delivery option, make sure that your online order is delivered successfully to prevent multiple delivery attempts. When postal services have to make multiple delivery attempts, this increases carbon emissions. 

7. Order sustainable collections

Brands are more likely to have more environmentally friendly delivery services when they have sustainable collections in their offering.  Also, some brands recently have started to carbon offset their airplane deliveries. They are normally registered under the Carbon Neutral Certifications. A great new addition is compostable packaging instead of plastic to minimise waste that goes into landfills! Would you like to have a section on packaging on Renoon? Let us know. 

You can check out sustainable brands such as Holiday Romance that use recycled packaging.

Image source:

The bottom line 

We may not be able to shop our way to a sustainable future, but we can try to make better shopping choices to get there. Make conscious decisions about what you buy and how you buy it. 

Start doing so by searching for sustainable fashion options on Renoon. 


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