The Impact of Online Shopping

Hello, my name is Julie, I am 46 and I used to be on Amazon Prime……

We love convenience, don’t we? And what is better than going online, hunting for what you want, finding it AND getting it sent to your home/work? With user review to boot! Forget walking/commuting to not one but various shops and possibly not finding what you want or having to buy something which is not exactly what you want. Forget using up your precious time on evenings or weekends rushing to the shops with hundreds who have the same thought and having to queue and queue and queue…. Who wants that?

The pandemic has given a massive impetus to online shopping, monopolized by a few ( think Amazon, Alibaba, Ebay, Walmart). In 2021, retail e-commerce sales amounted to approx. US$5 trillion worldwide. This figure is forecast to grow by 50% over the next four years, reaching about US$7.4 trillion by 2025 (1).

But have you thought about the impact of online shopping?

Did you know that brick and mortar stores i.e. your local retailers are going out of business? In the US alone, more than 9300 stores have closed in 2019, and more are closing (2). More people are out of jobs and hey, that is not all. Online giants use third party contractors like package delivery personnel who are not employees of the company and have harsh working conditions. Importantly, online giants pay less tax while you also have to think that sending your money abroad means less tax dollars go into important services like hospitals, schools, infrastructure etc.

How about the impact of all this online shopping on the environment? You might think that online shopping is greener than in-store shopping. After all, an online store does not use the electricity that a traditional store might use and it doesn’t require the customer to drive anywhere. Home deliveries where several parcels are dropped also generate a smaller *CO2 footprint than a single shopping expedition to the store, right? Not right but not wrong either because the reality is slightly more complex than that. Many home deliveries fail the first time and the driver has to make repeated attempts to deliver the purchase. Customers who choose speedy delivery or those who buy single items from different places also contribute towards increasing the CO2 footprint. This footprint also goes up if the customer chooses to return the item. A study in Germany showed that as many as one in three online purchases are returned (3). According to another study, merchandise worth more than US$760 billion is returned each year in the USA (4). Optoro, an online returns processor estimated that returned inventory created 5.8bn lbs / 2.6bn kgs of landfill waste in 2020 and the shipping of returns alone emitted 16 million metric tons of CO2 (5) . This is unsustainable!

Products’ packaging contributes in large part to CO2 emissions from producing plastics, polluting ecosystems as well as adding enormous amounts of waste to our landfills. 3.2 billion trees are pulped yearly to produce 241 million tons of shipping cartons, the forest conservation group Canopy found (6). And of the 86 million tons of plastic packaging produced globally each year, less than 14% is recycled!

Shipping emission is another online shopping environmental impact to consider. The transport of goods across the world is responsible for a huge portion of CO2 emissions generated by e-commerce. In 2020, the shipping and return of products accounted for 37% of the total **GHG emissions. The major problem can be attributed, once again, to the consumers’ appetite for convenience (7)

There is little doubt that the e-commerce revolution has brought enormous advantages- at the touch of a button, we can access almost anything, anywhere and within a short period of time, have it sent to our designated destination. However, online shopping and its impact must not be ignored. We consumers are the ones that have the last word, and our behaviour and our decisions eventually determine the impact of this industry. So, let’s put some more thought before we look to buy that product online:

Do we really need it?

Can we maybe buy it locally?

Can we get it second hand?

Can we borrow it?

We should all think whether spending our time and money to go in-store/local is worth it not just for our environment, but also for our community, our neighbours and for our future! It will take a while to break the habit (dare I say “addiction”, in some cases?), but it can be done- I did it and survived!

*CO2: Carbon Dioxide

**GHG: Green House Gases