Social Responsibility and eCommerce: A Nice-to-Have or a Must-Have?

In today’s world, social responsibility is a must-have in eCommerce. Consumers are savvier and more environmentally conscious than ever before. And with the rise in social media and instant connectivity, it isn’t possible for the unscrupulous to hide — at least, not for very long.

So, what does social responsibility look like in eCommerce? Socially responsible eCommerce merchants are those willing to account for social and environmental factors and take responsibility for them. This often involves reduced and sustainable packaging, recyclable products, or charity drives.

In this article, we’ll explore the different things eCommerce brands can do to increase social responsibility and sustainability in their eCommerce venture.

Brands that stand for something

At the heart of it, social responsibility happens when a brand stands for a specific cause. The cause isn’t for a one-off campaign. Instead, the cause is incorporated into the business’s brand identity.

Championing a socially responsible mission for your eCommerce brand has many benefits:

  • Builds brand awareness
  • Boosts worker morale
  • Attracts potential customers
  • Retains customers

There are many socially-responsible causes eCommerce brands can champion. So, how can you choose the right one for your company?

You must be authentic, and the cause you’re championing must be on-brand. Ultimately, you don’t want to choose a random cause. The mission must align with your brand values and resonate with your customer base.

In addition, implementing social responsibility, whichever route it takes for your brand, needs to positively impact the bottom line.

Examples of sustainability in eCommerce

For eCommerce brands, implementing sustainable, eco-friendly business operations is a huge draw for today’s consumers. Eighty-five percent of surveyed customers find sustainable packaging a must, while 52 percent specifically search for sustainable brands to support.

If you choose sustainable operations as your social cause, you’ll find that it’s the easiest to optimize for the eCommerce world:

  • Packaging
  • Reduced carbon emissions
  • Logistics
  • Returns management

But from the above list, shoppers' most pressing concern with online retail is the colossal waste in packaging, shipping, and delivery. The good news is that your brand can take many effective, socially-responsible routes to address these concerns.

For sustainable packaging, in particular, you can make one or all of these part of your social responsibility mission:

  • Recyclable packaging
  • Reduced filler materials
  • No plastic
  • Compostable packaging
  • Reusable packaging

Sustainability can make your store more competitive, especially in a market where this is important to consumers. Incorporating a sustainable packaging initiative into your operations will help win customers’ hearts and give your smaller eCommerce brand an edge over larger corporations.

Let’s examine other examples of how eCommerce brands can become more socially responsible.

Social responsibility for fashion eCommerce

Supporting and donating to charitable causes is another socially-responsible practice to implement in your eCommerce venture. But many online retail merchants are completely changing how they operate their businesses, intending to make their entire industry more ethical.

Clothing and fashion retailers are one such example.

For hundreds of years, the fashion industry has employed highly unethical practices. In fact, slave labor is a massive problem within this industry — especially with the fast fashion subset of this group.

As a result, many shoppers today are looking to support brands that produce clothing ethically and pay their workers a living wage. The UK-based clothing company, Boden, is meeting and exceeding customer expectations in this regard.

The company has made ethical fashion a pillar of the brand, committing to ending modern-day slavery and dangerous working conditions which plague the industry. The company only works with suppliers who can prove they provide safe working conditions.

Boden also ships their items in recyclable materials and thoroughly communicates its sustainable practices and tax strategies on its website.

Socially responsible jewelry brands in eCommerce

The jewelry brand, Omi Woods, is an excellent example of a socially-responsible eCommerce brand. The company only sources and sells conflict-free jewelry, meaning the materials only come from vendors that pay a living wage.

The company’s jewelry is inspired by traditional African designs, making its particular cause on-brand.

Is investing in socially responsible eCommerce practices profitable?

Nothing in life is free, including championing a feel-good cause. For example, investing in sustainable packaging can be expensive. Also, paying workers a living wage may seem like it risks making your business less competitive over brands that don’t source ethically. But this thinking would be shortsighted.

In fact, research shows that making these investments is worth it in the long run. For example, surveyed eCommerce websites have demonstrated that sustainable product sales are a money maker, growing 20 percent within four years of the survey. Younger generations are driving these new buying behaviors — Millennials and Gen Z.

For eCommerce brands, catering to Millennial shoppers' sensibilities is a good idea for long-term profitability. Millennials, women, in particular, are responsible for $170 billion in buying power.

Sustainable eCommerce brands like Honest and Hello Bello and the rise in Farmer's markets indicate this change in consumer expectations and buying power driving it. People want to know who is growing their food and how ethically sourced it is.

The bottom line is that investing in sustainable, socially-responsible business practices will pay off over time.

With this rise in consumer expectations, you want to get in on the ground floor and implement these practices to get ahead of the curve. Otherwise, you may end up on the back foot playing catch up over your competitors who jumped on the sustainability bandwagon early.

Marketing your good deeds

You might worry that marketing your good deeds will seem too boastful. But that’s not the case at all. Consumers are searching for socially-responsible brands and want to know that the companies they pay are conducting ethical practices and operations. So, let the world know what you’re doing to give back.

One way to do this is to make your cause front and center on your website. Introduce viewers to your practices on your home and about us pages. A website banner is also a good marketing asset for communicating sustainable practices.

Displaying your initiatives in your blogs, social media profiles, and press releases are also good ideas. Strategical press releases help educate your customer base on your beliefs and practices and how aligned they are with the customer’s values.

Building a reputation as an ethical eCommerce merchant

Once you choose a cause that reflects your brand values, these practices will help you communicate your goodwill, increase trust among consumers, and improve your build your reputation as a socially-responsible brand:

  • Create a social responsibility marketing campaign around your cause
  • Communicate the actions your company is taking to support and champion your cause
  • Get your employees and customers involved
  • Use social media to share compelling stories about your sustainable program
  • Promote your socially responsible campaign through various marketing channels, paid and unpaid
  • Increase your brand awareness with press releases, newsletters, and emails
  • Communicate how your particular campaign is different from your competitor's

Marketing your social cause can be difficult. You must walk a fine line between boasting and effective yet subtle communication.

Striking a brilliant PR balance

A brand that does an excellent job of this balancing act is the shoe brand Blu Kicks. The company was initially founded to protect Hawaiian reef fish. Instead of donating a percentage of their annual sales once per year, the company donates a dollar for every pair of shoes sold.

This spin on the old classic charity drive puts the customer closer to the action, making them feel more personally involved in the mission. As a result, the customer isn’t just endorsing a fabulous pair of shoes, but they’re a part of a sustained effort to protect wildlife.

Blu Kicks incorporates its mission into every piece of content they publish, making the mission loud and clear and making the customer feel like they are part of something much bigger than simply shopping.

Make your mission clear with Lingble.

On the surface, it can look like there's a significant conflict between sustainability and the customer experience. But solving this problem and making your socially-responsible mission the foundation of your eCommerce brand comes down to authentic, clear communication.

At Lingble, our marketing experts build sustainable eCommerce brands through marketing support, omnichannel reach, and improved customer satisfaction. Get in touch with our team today to learn more.