Figure of the week: 1,300,000,000

The 11th edition of the world’s most intense shopping day broke records yet again this year, with 1,300,000,000 orders placed in just 24 hours during China’s 11/11 event, equating to 1 parcel per Chinese citizen!

A continued lack of concern for the environmental impact

Delivering 1,300,000,000 packages ordered online, however, means using tonnes of cardboard boxes and adhesive tape as each product is packed and wrapped to ensure that it is well protected.

Then, of course, there is the small matter of transporting 1,300,000,000 parcels, which means relying on heavy logistics and polluting methods of transport – an environmental impact that is further aggravated by the fragmentation of the customer’s basket that e-commerce intrinsically causes. Indeed, it can often mean that a truck is dispatched simply to deliver a hands-free kit that a customer has ordered. Another feature of the e-commerce sector is the returns rate, which is higher than for purchases made in physical stores. In the context of China’s 11/11 singles’ event, for example, a package will arrive and in 30% of cases will get sent back to where it came from a few days later.

It is important to note that there is currently little information available regarding the ecological impact of e-commerce. Whilst Alibaba took sustainable development into account for the first time with this 11th edition of 11/11 and consequently put in place a series of measures, they are still among the few in the sector to show any real concern, despite the fact that the e-commerce sector is growing at 15% per year, making the issue all the more pressing.

There are, however, a number of initiatives inspired by the circular economy emerging around the world, including the Loop platform, for example, which has developed product-specific reusable or recyclable containers.

The compelling need to receive

How did it get to this? The tyranny of real time. The compelling need to own and use a product as soon as it’s ordered means that the customer tends to overlook the threat that their behaviour poses to the environment. The commercial sector is currently experiencing a time in its history when the issue of delivery time is becoming obsessive, even to the point of becoming an annoyance! Amazon, along with companies like Walmart and Target, are well aware that delivery is now an intrinsic part of the purchasing process and are investing huge sums of money in reducing delivery times even further in a crazy and seemingly unstoppable race.

The good news is that the emergence of ways of gauging the impact that such e-merchants are having seems inevitable, and the pressure doesn’t always come from the outside, either. Amazon employees, for example, are leading the fight to reduce impact, with Jeff Bezos consequently announcing the largest order of electric trucks in history at 100,000 units.