Driving Circularity and Sustainability: Unleashing the Power of Unified Commerce

Tricks & Tips
September 15, 2023

Article By Jon Levy, Country Manager - Australia, Shopline

In today's fast-paced world, the clock is ticking faster than ever on environmental concerns. Sustainability has become a critical factor influencing consumers' choices, with customers increasingly demanding eco-friendly products and responsible business practices from the brands they support. In response to this growing demand, businesses worldwide are striving to incorporate circularity and sustainability into their core business models.

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at Ragtrader Live in Melbourne, where I shared insights on how retailers can embark on this transformative journey. The short answer – unified commerce.

For the long answer, keep reading as I delve into the intersection of circularity, sustainability, and unified commerce, and how combining the three provides a path for success. 

Three retailer archetypes

Before diving into the details, let's take a step back and categorise retailers based on their sustainability approaches. From my experience, I've identified three main archetypes:

  1. Don't ask, don't tell, do nothing – some businesses choose to ignore sustainability concerns, adopting a 'head in the sand' approach.
  2. Ambitious brands – these are brands with a genuine desire to do more but might be struggling to implement sustainable strategies effectively.
  3. Core operational brands – pioneers who have sustainability deeply ingrained in their business DNA, such as Boody, Zero Co, Koala Eco, Ecoriginals, and many more.

The majority of the retailers I've worked with fall into the second category, where they share a common challenge. They recognise the need to do more for the environment but often struggle to balance sustainability with profitability.

Retailing, especially in the 'rag trade', is notoriously challenging. It involves a complex dance between production, distribution, and customer service, all within the constraints of tight margins and ever-increasing customer expectations. So how can retailers navigate this intricate web?

Issue 1: Supply chain and traceability

One pressing concern is optimising supply chains and enhancing transparency to embrace new sustainability initiatives fully.

The challenge of traceability is significant, but companies like RAMP, Testex, and others offer traceability solutions. These solutions excel at capturing data, yet the journey isn't complete until this information influences customer decisions – a role filled by unified commerce.

However, our potential in this arena extends beyond traceability. Unified commerce and its data unification capabilities offer a single link between sales channels and your ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system or OMS (Order Management System). With this link in place, we can implement new initiatives faster and continuously refine operations.

Here are some of these solutions:

  • By connecting product sourcing information to the last mile delivery, we ensure the product journey is optimised.
  • Unified data empowers better planning, including potential AI integration, giving brands more time to source from sustainable suppliers and deliver more efficiently.
  • Sharing supplier and production material information, accessible both online and in-store, empowers customers with the choice to support sustainably sourced products, providing a competitive edge.

Issue 2: Operations and delivery

Reducing the carbon footprint of each item while minimising delivery impact is another critical challenge. One noticeable issue with brands struggling in this area is the lack of consideration for customer location in the shipping process. Products often ship from a single location, regardless of the customer's proximity. 

But by delivering intelligently, we can significantly reduce environmental impact. Here are five strategies to implement if you haven’t already: 

  1. Enabling click and collect, and incentivising it, if you haven't already, can bring customers into your physical store, creating a win-win situation.
  2. Advanced address validation and time slot deliveries minimise the need to ship products back and forth, reducing waste and emissions.
  3. Leveraging your stores as distribution centres shortens the distance between products and customers, resulting in lower costs, faster delivery, and reduced environmental impact. Using your store network as shipping locations can also unlock services like Uber delivery, which may be challenging from a warehouse due to loading dock constraints. 
  4. Providing accurate dimensions and weights enables automated shipping options based on shopping cart contents, streamlining the process.
  5. Better packaging practices involve using appropriately sized packaging and eco-friendly materials.

Issue 3: Returns

Did you know more than 24 per cent of retail fashion orders are returned? This is 8 per cent more than any other category. It’s an issue costing businesses billions and comes with sustainability implications.

Returns aren't just a headache for retailers; they also result in a disappointing experience for customers. To address this, give the product the best chance not to be returned by:  

  • Providing rich product content to help customers make informed buying decisions, reducing the likelihood of disappointment upon receiving their items.
  • User-generated content (UGC) and reviews offer customers a more accurate depiction of the product, including size, texture, weight, and feel, before making a purchase.

If a return becomes necessary, consider offering an in-store return option, which is not only environmentally efficient but also provides an opportunity for customers to exchange the item. In fact, a recent report by Manhattan Associates, highlighted that 73 per cent of Australian shoppers emphasised this as a crucial factor when deciding where to shop; underscoring the value of flexibility, choice, and a consistent omnichannel shopping experience.

As we move forward in an era where sustainability isn't just a trend but a necessity, the convergence of circularity, sustainability, and unified commerce stands as a beacon of hope for the retail industry. By embracing these principles and implementing innovative solutions, retailers can not only reduce their environmental impact but also thrive in a conscious market. Unified commerce serves as the key to unlocking a greener, more sustainable future for retail.

Shopline is Asia's leading unified ecommerce platform, serving as the trusted solution for over 500,000 retailers globally. Want to know more? Reach out to us today to arrange your demo: https://au.shopline.com/ 

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