Online Shopping is so common nowadays that websites are becoming more modern and updated with this consumption model. However, as you click on “buy”, you might wonder about the environmental impact of online shopping. Is it better to have a truck bring my stuff to me? Or is it better for me to go to the store?
The only simple answer here is that it depends. How close is the nearest store? Would you walk, bike, or drive there?
Go solo or with a friend? Are you getting one item or many different things? What is the likelihood that you will return the product? Would the online order be overnighted to you via air mail?
“On average when comparing generic online and traditional behaviors, online shopping tends to be more efficient than traditional shopping,” wrote Dimitri Weideli, the paper’s author.
However, these benefits were eroded if customers used rush delivery or picked up and returned items in person. The study looked at the impact of online shopping for three typical products:
- Laptop: higher dollar value, bulkier, more protective packaging required
- Barbie doll: low dollar value, small profile, medium packaging
- T-shirt: low/no packaging, higher return rate
Customer location, such as urban or suburban, was a critical factor in the environmental impact, as was choice of transportation mode. The farther away you are from a physical store and the less efficient your transportation, the better off you are purchasing online.
Ultimately, though, it’s we as the customers who will make the decisions that will ultimately determine which method of getting the product is better. So, if you want to go shopping the old school way, share the trip with a friend and maybe even take the bus. If you want to buy online, leave enough time to use the ground option and don’t buy with the intention of returning some portion of the goods.