Three tips for online retailers to make their site more sustainable

By Gav Winter. Gav Winter is CEO of next generation website monitoring company RapidSpike, who have worked with brands including Kurt Geiger, Sofology and Tesco.

New findings from reveal that many online retailers could be doing more to reduce their carbon footprint. In the wake of the pandemic, where many retailers pivoted to ecommerce if they hadn’t already, online retail has proved to be a boon for business.

However, despite the lower high street footfall, ecommerce still has the potential to harm the environment. In its findings, revealed that Amazon’s UK site emits 0.56g of CO2 every time a user visits a page.

In isolation, this sounds innocuous. During traffic peaks, the outcomes are far more concerning, with more than 442 million visitors logging on in 2021 during peak retail periods. Other brands named and shamed by the report include fashion retailer Boohoo, whose site ranks at “79% dirtier” than other retailers.

The report also highlighted where these brands could make simple changes. For example, it was revealed that eBay could emit 9% less CO2 with a switch to a greener host.

The winners in online retail

Other retailers were found to have much more favourable green credentials. Musical instrument retailer guitarguitar, the UK’s largest vendor of guitars, is 79% cleaner than its online retail counterparts. With £45 million of sales and 50,000 sold annually, this is no mean feat. Likewise, grocery giant Sainsbury’s emits 64% fewer emissions than other brands tested by

A striking similarity between guitarguitar and Sainsbury’s is their Core Web Vitals score. The new ranking metric, introduced by Google in 2021, monitors user experience with metrics such as page loading speed and movability of elements. The Web Vital Index shows that both guitarguitar and Sainsbury’s continue to top the charts in performance, accessibility, page structure and reliability.

While there is no silver bullet to reducing a brand’s carbon footprint, simple changes can be made. It starts with the website:

1.     Looking for quick wins in website performance

While some retailers may be tempted to bulldoze and start again, there are many “quick wins”. Switching to a green web host is a simple solution with no tinkering of on-site code. Another key supplier to switch to is cloud-based solutions, rather than on-premise, legacy technology.

Technical fixes include optimising JavaScript to reduce page loading speed times. Even replacing custom fonts with web fonts will reduce the load without taking up a developer’s time. Auto-playing videos may also be a drain on resources without truly benefitting the customer.

In addition to reducing carbon footprint, these changes can speed up websites. An improvement as small as 0.1% can translate to millions in extra ecommerce revenue.

2.    Cutting down on power-intensive imagery

Images are an essential for retail stores, but can be one of the biggest causes of slow-loading sites. A simple image that is 1MB too large is harmless in isolation; the same downloaded by millions of users makes all the difference. This puts a huge strain on server, network and user device time, as well as electricity and transport time.

Using image optimising tools can scale down images without compromising on quality. Webmasters should also run their site through the Web Vitals index to spot further opportunities for scaling down. Metrics such as “first contentful paint” – the first image loading on a page – may present problems.

3.    Using online mystery shoppers for synthetic monitoring

Mystery shopping is no longer the domain of brick-and-mortar stores only. “Synthetic monitoring” involves website testing on retail brands to find, fix and prevent issues. This is an automated process, sometimes referred to as “application observability”. It provides key data on website availability, performance and security risks.

Each of these can impact a website’s carbon footprint, not to mention reputation and revenue. With a full list of diagnostics, webmasters can seek out quick wins and apply fixes to enhance sustainability.

Where else will online retailers benefit from being more sustainable?

A renewed focus on energy-saving not only safeguards the planet; it can also impact sales. According to customer experience consultancy CPM, 83% of online shoppers are concerned about their habits being unsustainable.

Retailers should follow the examples of brands such as Primark and publish regular statistics on their sustainability efforts. In tandem, measuring performance such as Core Web Vitals can translate to carbon emissions. For example, the average website costs the planet 6g of CO2 per page view.

Communicating these changes to customers will improve brands’ reputations and offer a sustainable strategy for years to come.

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