Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Improving online retail sustainability with three key steps

By Gav Winter, CEO of website monitoring company RapidSpike

The ripples of the pandemic continue to be felt by online retailers. Not only are we tackling supply chain issues, global conflicts, and energy crises – we also have to react to post-pandemic consumer needs.

A socially conscious consumer

One issue that has been highlighted throughout this period, is sustainability. Government initiatives such as the Build Back Green Net Zero Strategy are putting further pressure on retailers. By 2050, the UK government wants all sectors to be completely decarbonised.

The role of ecommerce has been instrumental in reducing retail’s carbon footprint. Lower footfall and less reliance on vehicle transport will keep emissions down – but it is not without fault. One survey by customer experience consultancy CPM said that 83% of online shoppers fear their habit is unsustainable.

Website statistics show they may just be right.

The real impact of an ecommerce website

In 2022, the average page view of one website emits 6g of CO2. In everyday terms, that’s the equivalent of travelling 12,000 miles by car, per website. We see shocking figures like this in the latest findings by

The portal pits websites against one another and gives them a rating against other pieces of digital real estate. It found that the UK version of Amazon emitted 0.56g of CO2 during every page visit. In November 2021, the site had 442 million visits, and a further 474 in December – coinciding with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With such vast visitor figures, it’s easy to see how the numbers can add up.

On the flipside, some large retailers were revealed to be doing their bit. GuitarGuitar, which has the accolade of the UK’s largest guitar vendor, is 79% cleaner than other websites tested. Likewise, grocer Sainsbury’s is leading the way at 64% cleaner.

Where performance and sustainability collide

So, what are the secrets of brands such as GuitarGuitar and Sainsbury’s? There are no dark arts – rather, there’s a focus on website performance. According to Web Vital Index, both brands emit just 0.81g of CO2. This comes down to great scores in performance, accessibility, page structure and general reliability. 

There is a lot that other e-retailers can learn from these brands. It comes down to three simple changes.

  1. Seeking opportunities to reduce page sizes and processing times

Websites are driven by pixels – and ecommerce sites rely on images to sell. Even one shot that is 1MB too large has the potential to be downloaded millions of times. This can have tremendous impacts on:

  • Servers
  • Networks
  • User devices
  • Electricity
  • Transport time.

By using simple online tools to reduce image sizes without compromising quality, retailers can save energy at scale. In turn, this will increase page load speeds, thereby improving the user experience. And we all know what that means: more sales.

  1. Identifying the “quick wins” with little developer intervention

Not every change on a website needs hours of development time. Some will need intervention – such as reducing or optimising JavaScript. Others simply need a change of supplier, such as switching to a green host or moving from legacy technology to cloud-based.

Non-developers can also switch off auto-playing videos to improve the UX. Custom fonts likewise require additional loading time, so retailers should choose web-based alternatives.

  1. Using mystery shoppers to spot problems 

In technical terms, this is known as “synthetic monitoring” and uses an automated system to mimic the journey a customer takes. The term “application observability” may also be used – basically monitoring a site’s current state, such as an ecommerce retailer’s downtime.

This technology can identify any potential gaps in the user journey, which may also present opportunities to save energy. For example, if a first contentful paint is making a page load too slowly, the software may highlight this. Retailers could then take this intel and make decisions such as optimising image sizes.

The added bonus…

We all have our part to play in reducing our carbon footprint. Retail has further to go than most, and this extends to ecommerce. By making these changes, retailers can:

  • Improve revenue – even a 0.1% speed increase can push up sales
  • Spot security risks
  • Safeguard their reputation.

Likewise, we can each contribute to the government’s net zero goals. A few small changes can make an astronomical difference.