Socially conscious consumers can be targeted with better UX

Sustainability may have a new focus: the carbon footprint of digital retailers. In response to the pandemic, more and more brands turned to ecommerce, which now makes up one-fifth of all purchases.

On paper, this shift appears positive: less physical footfall and fewer trips to the high street in cars. Recent findings from suggest it may not be as black and white.

The site, which ranks websites based on performance and CO2 emissions, gives a percentage score relative to other sites crawled. Its 2022 findings revealed that retail giant Amazon emits 0.56g of CO2 for every page visited. With 474 million visits made to the website during the Cyber Monday sales, the numbers soon add up.

Quantifying the CO2 emissions of websites is a feat in itself. On average, a typical website will emit 6g of CO2 per website view – around 12,000 miles in a car based on yearly visitor numbers.  Larger retail brands will invariably have a larger footprint due to visitor numbers, but they can mitigate the effects of higher power consumption.

Retail brands are turning to UX (user experience) to lessen their carbon footprint. A notable example is GuitarGuitar – the largest online vendor of guitars in the UK. Despite generating £45 million per annum and selling 50,000 instruments, it compares favourably to other retail brands. Statistics from revealed that GuitarGuitar was 79% “cleaner” than other sites.

In the same vein, online grocer Sainsbury’s could challenge supermarket rivals with an impressive 64% score. Both brands emit just 0.81g of CO2 per page view. A common denominator is their Google Core Web Vitals Score.

Introduced in 2021, Google Core Web Vitals analyses the performance of a website to influence its ranking. Specifically, it looks at large elements loading on a page (such as images or hero banners) as well as pop-ups and movability. Each of these impacts performance, accessibility, page structure and reliability.

Based on findings from the Web Vital Index, both GuitarGuitar and Sainsbury’s topped the charts for these metrics. They offer a fluid user experience which is free from slow loading times or barriers to conversion. As an added bonus, this also lessens their carbon footprint.

Improved user experience may lead to better sales, but there are other advantages. There is growing evidence to suggest that today’s consumers are becoming more socially conscious. In particular, customer experience consultancy firm CPM interviewed 1,000 people. More than 8 in 10 (83%) expressed concerns about online shopping being unsustainable. Switching to a more efficient ecommerce setup may not only facilitate conversions, but keep these customers engaged.

Similarly, increased government pressure is helping to raise awareness for online retailers. The government’s Build Back Greener Net Zero project aims to decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy by 2050.

While this may seem a tall order, there are small steps that ecommerce retailers can take to be more sustainable. In turn, they will see their customer experience improve, bolstering their reputation, security and sales.

The first step involves looking for “quick wins”. This may involve removing auto-playing videos from websites or switching from custom fonts to web fonts. Technical changes that can speed up sites include reducing or optimising JavaScript. A final step may not involve the website directly, but rather, suppliers. Switching to a green host or moving from legacy to cloud technology will reduce server demands.

Secondly, a simple but more time-consuming win is to optimise images. At scale, an image that is 1MB too large downloaded 1 million times will make a huge difference on servers and networks. Online tools such as plug-ins can reduce image sizes without impacting quality.

The third and final step is through automated user testing. This is known as “synthetic monitoring” and uses automated software to mimic the journey users take onsite. It can log any potential errors, such as slow loading pages or security vulnerabilities. Retailers can then use this intelligence to make key decisions and potentially prevent website downtime.

As evidence from consumer studies shows, greenwashing will simply not wash. Socially conscious customers are looking for real brands who make a difference to the planet. These small changes can be used as part of a marketing strategy, not only to improve UX but to assure new customers. 

Online retail sustainability is no longer a “nice to have” but a necessity – and it starts with simple steps.