Alex MacPherson is Director of Solution Consulting and Account Management at Manhattan Associates
The last five years has seen Gen Z begin to flex their economic muscles as they continue to prioritise sustainable and ethical behaviour within consumerism. The age group are imposing new expectations and rules for brands and organisations as they remain increasingly perceptive to the influence of their purchases on societal and cultural trends, and consequently the environment.
How can brands and consumers find the right balance between the ever-increasing expectations of seemingly faster, more personalised brand experiences, whilst simultaneously juggling sustainability demands and remaining environmentally conscious?
THE CONSUMER PARADOX: FAST DELIVERY OR ECO-RESPONSIBILITY?
Ecommerce customers have deemed delivery as the most important criteria when shopping online, more so than cost and (perhaps) surprisingly, the product itself, according to a recent study published by IFOP and Star Service. Moreover, the choice of delivery option also proved crucial to respondents.
Although, surprisingly, an increasing number of consumers are exhibiting awareness and alignment with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies when selecting brands to shop with.
This research also reveals they are willing to accept a higher price for delivery that is environmentally sustainable, whilst a substantial landslide (80%) would accept slower delivery if this was guaranteed a more environmentally friendly option.
Therein lies a paradox: on the one hand, consumers are suggesting their purchase decisions are impacted by delivery speed, whilst a significant majority have expressed a preference for more sustainable alternatives even if this includes a delay.
SUSTAINABLE FASHION MEETS FAST FASHION
Two opposing trends have developed in conjunction with each other in recent years: sustainable fashion and fast fashion. Fast fashion is a considerable trend in the fashion industry, identifiable by the high-speed production of collections that are soon heavily discounted for sale purposes to clear the way for the next line. This demands extreme levels of production and transportation, delivered rapidly, with minimal regard for the environmental repercussions.
Contrastingly, sustainable fashion centralises around implementing ethical and transparent requirements to the clothing value chain (design, production, consumption), in the attempt to reduce environmental repercussions. Typified by the expansion of the second-hand market, platforms such as Vinted and brand initiatives like ThredUP at PacSun, Seconde Main at Kiabi, Resell at Ba&sh, and Remade with Love at Maje have driven this.
This industry promotes the circular economy and reuses as opposed to mass producing new products and the often sprawling supply chain networks required for manufacturing and delivery.
THE SHIFT TOWARDS PERSONALISED LOGISTICS
In reality, these seemingly paradoxical demands and customer beliefs should not be perceived in isolation, but alternatively as more of a portrayal of the expectation for ever greater customisation. A consumer who would prefer an item to be delivered as quickly as possible from one brand may actually be willing to wait a few days for another. The same goes for the decision to go in store to make a purchase or buy online, with consumers also possibly selecting click & collect for one purchase, and home delivery for another.
Therefore, the question is not whether logistics should decelerate and become slower logistics (there is no evidence to indicate that this has any significant environmental advantages), but how it can develop and align itself to satisfy the numerous expectations of individual consumers without sacrificing sustainability for the sake of customer service – a recent variable added to the already challenging equation of omnichannel commerce.
The ability to orchestrate both ultra-fast and slower flows depending on consumer demands is crucial as the pursuit of ultra-personal logistics hots up. Although, every effort must be made to make these flows more efficient and as sustainable as possible because in 2022, no brand can afford to manage its logistics without a profound environmental conscience.
Despite the challenges, help is at hand for retailers to make sustainable gains. With agile, flexible and responsive unified supply chain systems, each process and stage that underpins customer buying journeys (administration and orchestration of stock, order preparation in the warehouse, in the shop, cross-docking, grouping or splitting of the same order, returns management, organisation of restocking or smarter route planning) can consistently develop upstream or last-mile transport intentions to make not only the right calls on delivery speeds, but also the most environmentally friendly decisions.
ESTABLISHING SOLUTIONS FOR SATISFACTION AND SUSTAINABILITY
A ‘reverse engineering’ standpoint remains the most effective method for overcoming the challenge of omnichannel retail in 2022. Beginning at the end of the process with customer expectations and working backwards through the journey to the software and IT architecture that underpins it all enables retailers to easily meet the test.
Reengineering supply chains as such enables your supply chain network, systems and people to maintain secure and flexible IT foundations to facilitate speeding up, slowing down and the realignment with minimal impact to any point in the supply chain when rapid consumer shifts occur. Through this, you’ll maintain the ideal combination of speed (fast and slow), agility and control, whilst maintaining a happy planet and satisfied customers too.