Pandemic accelerates ecommerce and sustainable marketplace shopping

Mar 18 2021
Business Marketplaces Insights

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The trend of online marketplace shopping isn’t new, but it’s clear the pandemic has accelerated the growth of the ecommerce industry. In lockdown, consumers who would otherwise have chosen brick and mortar retail are being forced online.

According to The Centre for Retail Research, ecommerce is the fastest growing retail market segment in Europe and North America. It predicts that ecommerce sales in the UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Italy will reach a combined total of £281 billion in 2021.

As more businesses than ever seek to take advantage of the ecommerce opportunity, the competition is steeper and standing out and attracting new customers becomes harder.

A parallel trend, sustainable consumption, is also set to be highly influential in the retail landscape in 2021. Consumers are now more mindful of their environmental impact and want to align the products they buy with their ethical values.

Changing buying habits

Sustainability concerns around fighting climate change and ethical sourcing in terms of labour practices and community impacts are changing shopping habits.

Multi-vendor marketplaces and direct-to-consumer models are now dominating the consumer packaged goods space in fashion and electronics and are growing in areas like grocery and beverage. While online demand is expected to flatten as traditional retail recovers, the evidence suggests that buying habits will continue to be influenced by the pandemic.

The Capgemini Research Institute surveyed 7,500 consumers and 750 large organisations, finding that 79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact.

It also found that Covid-19 has increased consumer awareness and commitment to buying sustainably, with 67% saying they will be more cautious about the scarcity of natural resources due to the crisis, with 65% being more mindful about the impact of their overall consumption.

So, what are sustainable practices?

  • Recycling and reducing packaging.
  • Organic additive free products and sustainable farming practices.
  • Ethical cruelty-free manufacturing.
  • Shipping and logistics practices that reduce packaging and environmental impacts.
  • Ethical social and environmental responsibility in the community.
  • Transparent product descriptions that reduce waste and returns.
  • Authentic “green” marketing that stands up to scrutiny.

Green business makes sense

The good news for marketplace operators is that investing in sustainability practices could be a good opportunity as while it can increase costs, some consumers are willing to pay a higher premium. Reputationally, there is also a lot to be gained.

During the pandemic large numbers of consumers are more willing to support a more diverse range of brands and those with unique statement offerings. A new report from communications firm Ketchum reveals that 88% of respondents said the Covid-19 pandemic made it more important for companies to be ethical, with 90% preferring to buy from businesses that prioritise customer and employee safety.

Notable examples of companies that are responding to the sustainability agenda include Etsy. They were early to focus supporting sustainable suppliers and vendors, decarbonising their logistics and promoting plastic-free shipping.

Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said;

“Climate change remains an ever-present threat to our environment and humanity, and we are bound and determined to do everything within our power to not only continue to be a carbon neutral company, but to also drive reductions in our overall footprint.”


Digitally engaged millennials

Catering to sustainability is all about helping environmentally conscious consumers make confident decisions, knowing that their next purchase can have a positive and meaningful impact.

Online platforms that don’t incorporate sustainability into their strategy, could be missing out one of the most important business opportunities of recent times. Millennials who are the primary consumers of sustainable goods and services represent the future of online retail.

Nielsen research in the US, found that millennials aged 21 to 34 are willing to:

  • pay more for environmentally friendly products (90%).
  • pay more for products with organic and natural ingredients (86%).
  • forego a brand to buy environmentally friendly products (53%).

Technology is playing a major role in the buying behaviour of millennials, more likely to be digitally engaged than their older counterparts, they demand products at their fingertips with a frictionless shopping experience.

Sourcing sustainable products for your multi-vendor marketplace has never been easier. There has been something of an explosion in the amount and variety of goods available.

Popular product categories include:

  • Sustainable tech - made from recycled materials and powered naturally.
  • Ethical fashion - garments that contribute to reducing harm to the planet.
  • Organic and fair trade foods.
  • Low-impact fitness wear.
  • Organic and naturally beauty products.
  • Upcycled kitchenware and outdoor furniture.
  • Organic and upcycled pet goods.


For many consumers, shopping is increasingly the act of making a difference by contributing to a better future and even, in the case of the current pandemic, helping to respond to crisis.

As the expectations of consumers change, and indeed those of other stakeholders like employees and investors, companies should take sustainability seriously. Allied to the recent growth in digital commerce, for marketplace operators, the future is most certainly getting greener.


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