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Though consumer behavior can and has varied widely from person to person, between bubbles and recessions, and from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 – and arguably, soon, Web 3.0 – the fact remains that people have a fundamental need to buy goods. Current lifestyles limit the time we have to make our consumption decisions, but with the Web the range of retail channels has never been more diverse: some of us choose to spend available time shopping offline in physical storefronts, while others of us prefer the convenience of shopping online for pickup or home/office delivery.
These choices each come with unique environmental implications, and one’s preferred consumption method may have unintended merits or consequences on the environment. There is an emerging dialogue surrounding this, like the trend towards eating locally-sourced produce and goods. But given the level of transparency we demand with respect to our purchases – from nutritional content to where something was manufactured – we should all be more struck by how little we think about the carbon footprint of our purchases.
On this front, emerging hyperlocal e-commerce channels are mounting a significant challenge to previous platforms through which consumers began to shop online. With the commercialization of the Internet in the mid-1990s, we saw the rise of Internet juggernauts like Amazon.com, eBay.com, and others. These companies promoted a more efficient method for consumers to shop, yet one of the unintended consequences was the disintermediation of the local merchant.
At the time, the pitch to consumers was: “Why shop locally from merchants, when you can purchase everything you possibly need from across the country, without leaving the comfort of your own home?” But the novelty and convenience of this overshadowed the potential downsides — mom-and-pop stores going out of business, interstate tax issues, and an increased carbon footprint by online retailers, among others. But the fulfillment side of this purchase equation, while it is certainly less glamorous, begs further investigation.
With the emergence of hyperlocal e-commerce, consumers now have a viable alternative to carbon-intensive e-commerce.
When a consumer purchases through one of these traditional e-commerce websites, the purchase order is transmitted to a remote fulfillment center, and then the purchased item begins a long journey on planes, trains and automobiles to one’s front door or office loading dock. But with the emergence of hyperlocal e-commerce, consumers now have a viable alternative to carbon-intensive e-commerce. Additionally, local merchants now have a voice online, and consumers have access to what they want — delivered same day and sourced locally — greatly reducing the carbon footprint of our consumption decisions.
Operators of hyperlocal e-commerce websites and services are offering a more eco-friendly channel through which to purchase everyday needs, enabling consumers to “go green” without giving anything up. Shopping through hyperlocal e-commerce platforms significantly reduces the distance a product or order travels between vendor and consumer, as cited in a recent report commissioned by eBay:
“As key job creators and harbingers of entrepreneurialism, the nation’s smallest businesses generate the energy that can lead our country back to prosperity. But there’s one kind of energy that the new generation of Mom-and Pop retailers — the ones who operate online — tend to generate less of: The fossil fuel consumption that leads to global warming. By minimizing infrastructure, reducing the need for warehousing, and maximizing transportation efficiency, small online retailers have created a climate-friendly way to buy and sell.”
We agree. Small businesses are the engine of our economy and the key to economic recovery. And operators of hyperlocal e-commerce platforms provide these businesses an online channel so consumers can shop local and reduce the carbon footprint of what they consume. We increasingly hear and read about how new online businesses are now driving commerce to local merchants by offering group incentives, or making local merchant’s inventory searchable on the Web. These make the collective use of hyperlocal e-commerce platforms an even more attractive channel through which consumers can handle their everyday purchases.
At Delivery.com, products purchased through our site travel on average no more than half a mile between vendor and consumer, and in more densely populated metropolitan areas like Manhattan in New York City that average shrinks to under a third of a mile.
So don’t stop consuming what you like, and certainly don’t stop consuming what you need. Instead, consider changing how you consume and through whom you consume it, and collectively we might even put ourselves on a path to not only economic recovery, but a greener one too!
Jed Kleckner is CEO of Delivery.com, a leading destination for local online and mobile ordering that connects users to merchants in their neighborhoods. He also oversees Cantor Ventures, the venture capital arm of Cantor Fitzgerald, which invests in and incubates marketplace focused businesses like Delivery.com.