Free next day delivery is currently the easy-win strategy for retailers to attract and gain the loyalty of new customers. The immediacy of modern e-commerce is rapidly becoming an arms race to see who can deliver in matter of hours, rather than days, with services like Amazon Prime pushing the boundaries of how quickly a click on “checkout” can put a product in the customer’s hand. This culture has been normalised by so-called “ultra-fast fashion” brands like ASOS, Boohoo and Missguided who all do free next day deliveries and returns on orders for all customers, meaning consumers can order a dress on a Wednesday, receive it on a Thursday and have it returned to the retailer by Friday if it turns out to not be to their liking. The problem is that as this culture becomes more normal, people forget the impact it has on staff treatment, the environment and the ethical attitudes of the company your buying from…
Pressure on People
It will come as no surprise that faster delivery and return times puts significantly higher pressure on the warehouse staff who have to pack, unpack and re-pack products for delivery. There have already been a number of investigations by Buzzfeed and Channel 4’s Dispatches showing underpaid and overworked staff working in unsafe conditions to strict deadlines all in the name of “fast fashion”. Indeed many MPs have likened this to the use of slave-labour with some workers being paid lower than the minimum wage and for fewer hours than they have actually worked.
To take it to a higher level, Amazon has been in and out of the news over the past few years for its treatment of staff after it was reported they had fired workers for taking 4 separate sick days in 1 year (even with a doctor’s note) and other workers were camping near the warehouse in Scotland to avoid commuting costs and preserve as much of their minimum wage as possible.
So, instead of the cost being paid by customers, it is being forced onto the workers who are squeezed in terms of their pay and working hours. We are literally subisidising our own impatience with people’s lives.
Packaging & Pollution
According to a survey released earlier this year, London fell to 40th place when ranked against 231 cities around the world due to its increasingly bad air pollution and traffic congestion. Much of this has been attributed to the rise in office workers ordering next day clothing deliveries directo their office (rather than having them delivered at home or to a drop point). This has meant larger delivery lorries and vans have increased in numbers on the relatively small London roads presenting a real hazard to London’s inhabitants and their quality of life. Air quality levels in Central London are widely regarded as some of the worst in Europe and traffic continues to be a constant issue for both businesses and commuters alike.
We also see retailers attempting to fit in more packages per delivery by using plastic bag packaging, rather than cardboard boxes, which take up more space. This present yet another environmental issue as consumer orders generate large amounts of plastic (often non-recyclable) causing further damage. Although many retailers have schemes in place (such as clothes recycling, eco collections etc.) this is a largely unaddressed issue that is only getting bigger and more costly as time goes on.
Ask Yourself: Do You Really Need It?
It’s not often that I hark back to earlier days, but it’s important to remember that the fashion industry thrived without next day delivery and returns. Careful and considered shopping was the order of the day, with decisions based on quality, retailer loyalty and clothing versatility being the main focus. I try to live by this, specifically buying clothing that will work with a variety of outfits throughout the year and not just for specific events. I try and buy good quality clothing but do go in-store to the likes of H&M to pick up essentials like basic t-shirts from their sustainable clothing range.
It’s important to recognise that this problem is not the retailers’ problem, they are simply fulfilling a desire from us. We demanded quicker, cheaper clothing with less hassle and queues. We lost our patience and now the staff and the environment are having to pay the price. We have blood on our hands because we find it too hard to do the research, take our time and buy with intent rather than just throw money at whatever takes our fancy. We need to take responsibility and make change happen with our wallets (by keeping them closed) or it will become start becoming invasive and dangerous for everyone.
So if you have a tab open at checkout right now, with an order ready to be processed for payment. Take a moment and think whether you actually need it tomorrow? Alternatively, if you have a night out planned this weekend, maybe order a little earlier in the week so you can get standard delivery or book out some time in an evening to go to your local high street and pick it up yourself. You don’t NEED the fastest option, it just seems the most appealing to you right now.
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