Be is solar panels or reusable packaging, businesses need to coopt sustainable ways. It can pay off for them big time. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

There’s something happening in retail right now. To be fair, change has been coming for a while in the industry, spurred on by the rise of the “conscious consumer” and a dawning realisation that paying lip service to the notion of sustainability is no longer enough.

Once upon a time, this would be a blink and you’d miss it footnote at the end of a corporate report, but now it’s something that is actively shaping business strategies and transforming e-commerce. Think of the rise in demand for organic, recyclable and ethical produce that has been taking shape recently. On Sprii alone, the growth of this category is up by over 220 per cent in the last six months.

This is in line with a global shift of course, as consumers become more cautious with their spending, but investing more in higher quality products that have a traceable history. Ultimately, we’re seeing the process behind a product becoming almost as important as the item itself, with parents notably favouring more organic products for their children as the market begins to open up online.

According to a report from ‘The Global Organic Trade Guide’, the Organic F&B market in the Middle East is expected to be worth $18.42 billion (Dh67.6 billion) by 2022. Both Dubai and Saudi Arabia have seen significant growth in this sector, with more European suppliers entering the market.

The buck doesn’t just stop with organic food though; this is just one part of a larger societal shift that has been happening. Driven by millennial spending power and a change in sentiment towards ethical purchasing, the wellness sector has also seen explosive growth in step with the increasingly urban population. Natural and organic beauty, worth some $2.5 billion in 2017 is now pegged to grow between 12-15 per cent annually over the next five years.

Reduced delivery times

And as the barrier to entry eases for organic produce and more choice becomes available, e-commerce is poised to deliver both on price and speed. Remember when you had to wait weeks for your favourite global brand to reach you and it cost an exorbitant amount to ship? Thankfully, this is now a thing of the past, as local players can answer the need for both global and home-grown brands on the ground, cutting out the middleman and providing a better consumer experience overall.

Given how time-poor consumers are, this should be key for retailers looking to encourage long-term loyalty. To my mind, successful e-commerce ventures need to be able to tap into local market trends to anticipate a need ahead of time and provide a point of difference.

For example, when we launched our first range of organic products in 2017, we focused on the well-known, such as WaterWipes, yet we quickly found there was a gap in the market to provide our consumers with a home-grown alternative as well. Now we serve as a platform and partner for local brands to gain visibility and scale, while still providing the end user with the widest choice possible.

A real need

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss this organic evolution as little more than a vanity project, but for us, the adoption of more sustainable practices is becoming less of an afterthought and more of a way of life. Worldwide, we are beginning to see this take shape as well, as markets adopt Sustainable Development Goals in earnest, and locally, DMCC has just announced the first 15 businesses to become members of the United Nations Global Compact.

Essentially, this paves the way for early adopters like us to really commit to and understand the Ten Principles in their entirety, helping us find the right way forward in creating a better world for all.

Consumers are more socially cognisant than ever before, which means businesses need to respond to that at every touchpoint across the user journey online. From ethical sourcing to opting for recyclable packaging, and yes, to an extent, looking to lower carbon fuel emissions with a more efficient transportation system.

You don’t have to do everything at once, but you do need to be mindful of the impact you want to make in the long run. Having a road map that spans the next five years is a good place to start, allowing you to breakdown your goals into manageable milestones and visualise your pathway to success.

Things like going plastic-free aren’t going to happen overnight, but there are steps you can take in the short to medium term, such as tracking excess waste and encouraging consumers to reuse and recycle, while you work on a long-term implementation plan. Even things like reducing the thickness of tape used in packaging can go some way to sustainable consumption.

Regionally, we’re well poised to meet the UN goals, but beyond this we’re seeing a whole lifestyle shift — one driven by consumer care, not consumption. This is where more nimble start-ups have an advantage in being able to pivot early and provide a 360-degree experience that takes into account shopper habits and also their beliefs.

One thing’s for sure though; the organic movement is only going to grow — make sure you’re ready to meet the need.

— Sarah Jones is the CEO of Sprii.