Three retail sustainability trends for 2022

With rising emissions and global temperatures, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow couldn’t have happened soon enough. Massive cuts in carbon are required if the Paris Agreement targets (limiting global warming to well below 2°C, ideally under 1.5°C), are to be met. At present, the world is not coming anywhere close to meeting either target. Something needs to happen. And fast.

We’ve heard all sorts of ESG announcements from businesses. However, the fear is that these pledges – like so many others – will fall by the wayside.  

Retail, just like every other sector, needs to step up in the fight against climate change. Moving away from empty promises, retailers have a duty to make significant changes that offer customers simpler, more convenient ways to shop sustainably. In other words, retailers need to close the gap between what they say and what they actually do to improve their sustainability practices. 

Covid-19 has fast-tracked social consciousness into the minds of consumers. As a result, the ongoing pandemic is also informing the decisions being made by retailers and brands to give customers what they want. Today’s consumers increasingly expect retailers to demonstrate genuine net zero commitments in their activities.  

We’re already familiar with trends such as omnichannel and a move towards more frictionless or virtual marketplaces. But what can we expect in 2022? Looking to the coming year, we can expect retailers to hone in on key sustainability trends including renewed focus on the circular economy, returns, and partnerships.  

Here’s a look at these three trends in more detail. 

1. Circular economy: Good news for the consumer, business, and the planet 

Companies that upcycle and recycle clothes are increasing in popularity among consumers. In 2022, we will see a surge in investment in these companies. Second-hand products offer consumers items that are unique and more affordable than other options. And who can deny the thrill of finding a bargain one-off piece?

Circular fashion that extends a product’s lifecycle makes perfect sense for the planet. But it also makes good business sense: according to research by Forrester, 49% of the UK’s consumers prefer to buy environmentally sustainable products. And where consumers go, business always follows. It’s estimated that the circular economy will attract billions of pounds worth of investment in 2022. 

2. Returns: Time to move into the spotlight 

For a long time, returns have been placed in the ‘boring but necessary’ category of retail. But after months of lockdowns and restrictions, consumers appreciate how important a smooth, stress-free returns process can be. Now is the time for the humble return to shine and retailers will find that returns will soon become a hot differentiator.  

Around three in five UK consumers prefer retailers that offer free returns, while about two in five would sooner shop with retailers that provide refunds via the original form of payment. Retailers will also be interested to hear that fear of returns processes actually deters a third of consumers from making an online purchase.  

The way retailers will address this in the coming year is through more investment (e.g locations, issuing of refunds, and more streamlined processes). They will also do what they can to share data internally and upgrade how products are presented to consumers to reduce the number of items being returned in the first place. 

3. Partnerships: Unlikely bedfellows will become incredible retail partners 

Retail partnerships of all shapes and sizes will hold the key to growth in 2022. Faced with a market in turmoil (not helped by the pandemic), smart retailers and brands realise they need to reinvent themselves if they are to continue to appeal to consumers. For many looking to improve their business agility, this will mean partnering with organisations they would have previously dismissed.  

We can expect to see established retailers partnering with direct-to-consumer brands who are keen to expand their reach in often prime locations. Plus, we’ll see more retailers investing in retail media networks (ad placements sold on retailer websites and in-store to brand partners and marketers) to boost revenue. These ad formats offer an effective – and often highly profitable – revenue stream that reaches active, alert shoppers. 

At Delta, we’re committed to helping retailers and brands breathe life into their sustainability plans, and making sure spoken promises turn into positive actions. To find out how we can help your business take sustainability to new levels, get in touch with the team today: