by Carla Fetcas
The parameters modern consumers consider when buying goods or making use of services are of major interest to market analysis. Do consumers only care about their own benefits or are there other criteria that play into their purchases ? possibly ones that concern a general good like the environment? What impact do these criteria have on their consumption patterns?
In our on-demand e-commerce existence, it can be argued that the term “entitled consumer” has become reality ? if impatient consumers want something, they can get it NOW, just by tapping a button . However, this dangerous culture of instant gratification, where consumers make many smaller, impulse purchases, is detrimental to the planet. The problem is not just the mere fact that consumers are buying more, but also the ease that exists in sending back products to online retailers .
Convenience in everyday life has proven to be the strongest criterion in making consumption choices . According to the research, there are different types of convenience which are related to decision-making before consumption, to access (i.e., how long it takes to get the desired good or service), to transaction etc. . Some argue that, nowadays, convenience stands above “price”; this trend becomes all the more obvious when noting one of the biggest commodities of our modern lives: time ? which we can now get back through offers of convenience . Convenience is, therefore, all about the time and effort consumers must expend .
There is a major problem arising in the online shopping sector relating to returning unwanted products. Although there are a few possibilities as to how returns are conducted (return to seller, disposal, liquidation etc.), none of these possibilities are ideal, and all of them involve fees for the sellers. Disposal is very common, as it is often linked to less additional costs than the other options . It has been discovered that the tendency to return items is three times higher in online purchases as compared to purchases made in a real-life store, despite the fact that a mere ten percent of the products are fraudulent . In addition, Amazon third-party sellers report that they are throwing away approximately one third of the products that have been sent back . Returns must be in pristine condition for the sellers to be able to resell them as new, even if the previous customer has not used the product at all . Amazon does, however, claim to be working towards reselling, donating, and recycling more and to use “energy recovery” (i.e., burning the product) only as a last resort .
It is blatantly obvious that these shopping habits demonstrate a lack of public awareness that sent-back items do not have the same value for the seller once returned. Keeping up these practices, naturally, generates an overflowing number of billions of tons of landfill additions and a million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions . This modern phenomenon can be referred to as the “tyranny of convenience” .
The question remains as to what there is left to do for individuals. “What can be measured can be improved” , it is said, but it is not easy to change consumer habits just by alerting consumers to the impact of their actions on the environment . Consumers must change their day-to-day lifestyle choices in a way that they view as practical, so that environmentally beneficial choices have the potential to become a new norm, not the exception .
Studies have shown that there is an increasing tendency to consider environmental factors amongst consumers . It has been found that consumers, for example, tolerate a change in product when they know this will have a positive impact on the environment. For instance, they are more willing to accept that companies use the whole animal instead of just parts of it in food production, because they realise that this will lead to the reduction of food waste . Nevertheless, according to a report by the European Commission and the International Trade Centre, the actual sales of sustainable food have not strongly increased, despite high expectations among retailers. Moreover, it is suspected that consumers claim to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle, but don’t actually do so, rather following old, practical, cheap, and convenient habits . Minor changes in everyday habits could, however, already have an impact on measurable metrics such as an individual’s personal carbon footprint , as well as on the footprint of their peers. Collectively, this could initiate a shift in society and its attitudes .
In the end, it is due to our demand for convenience that there is a whole new ecosystem of product and service delivery systems. These systems are constantly evolving in terms of their efficiency but not in terms of reducing their environmental impact . Pursuing convenience is an inevitable part of human innovation, but it is also crucial to understand that – especially in the light of demand-driven offers ? individuals do have agency. This agency has the possibility to impact the environment (both positively and negatively) , especially if consumers simultaneously notice and question their damaging consumption patterns.
References: Jonathan Hewlett, 2021, The Environmental Crisis of Convenience, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/environmental-crisis-convenience-jonathan-hewlett/, accessed on February 4, 2023.
 Katie Tarasov, 2022, What really happens to Amazon returns, CNBC Climate, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/28/amazon-returns-what-really-happens-to-them.html, accessed on February 4, 2023.
 Themis Altintzoglou, 2020, Environment vs Convenience; who wins in the supermarket?, Sciencenorway.no, https://sciencenorway.no/behaviour-food-opinion/environment-vs-convenience-who-wins-in-the-supermarket/1619179, accessed on February 4, 2023.
 Leonard L. Berry, Kathleen Seiders, Dhruv Grewal, 2018, Understanding Service Convenience, SAGE Journal of Marketing, https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkg.18.104.22.16805.
 Arne de Keyser, 2019, The Business of Convenience: Why Marketers Should Be Obsessed with ‘Fast’ and ‘Easy’, EDHEC Business School, https://www.edhec.edu/en/research-and-faculty/edhec-vox/business-convenience-why-marketers-should-be-obsessed-fast-and-easy, accessed on February 4, 2023.
 Tim Wu, The Tyranny of Convenience, 2018, Open Markets, https://www.openmarketsinstitute.org/publications/the-tyranny-of-convenience, accessed on February 4, 2023.