If you are used to shop online, you have certainly heard of the term "dropshipping".
But what is it exactly, and what are its impacts on the environment?
An innovative shipping method with Limits
In order to serve their customer base locally, major online retailers rely on stocks that they acquire from wholesalers around the world a few times per year as big orders. Stocks are stored in their local warehouses and fulfilment centers.
This way, the retailer has a better control on his margin, packaging, service and image since he plays the role of an intermediary between the brands and the end consumer. The major drawback is that it is quite costly since the retailer needs to buy large amount of stocks in advance, with a significant risk of not selling everything.
When huge players like Alibaba entered the game, dropshipping has become very popular. Through this shipping method, dropshippers simply display products for end consumers, and when an order is triggered, the supplier ships this specific product directly to the consumer.
This method is more adapted to cheap commodities, but has also been extended to fashion products. While the main advantage of this method is the riddance of stock, it has several downsides, like a low barrier on entry which involves lower diversification and cheaper products, but most importantly poor client service since shipments can take weeks, stay blocked at customs and sometimes be lost in transit. Not to mention return and exchange management which is far from exemplary due to timelines and logistics complexities.
A significant impact on the environment
This method has without doubt the worst impact on the environment since each products are shipped one by one from any country around the world.
Let’s take a simple use case. A retailer buys a stock of 100 shirts and get them delivered from country A to country B by plane. The simplified flow to get 100 T shirts delivered to consumers is:
Country A Supplier Warehouse x1 -> Country A Airport x1 -> Country B Airport x1 -> Country B Warehouse x1 -> Country B delivery to customers x100.
Now imagine the same thing using Dropshipping. For 100 T shirts bought by customers online, the flow is the following:
Country A Supplier Warehouse x100 -> Country A Airport x100 -> Country B Airport x100 -> Country B Shipper Warehouse x100 -> Country B delivery to customers x100.
Obviously each flight does not transport only one T Shirt (thank God!) but you can easily understand how dropshipping carbon footprint since there are billions of consumers around the world.
So what can I do?
Fashion, the second most polluting industry in the planet, needs to slow down a bit. Not in terms of service or delivery times, but in terms of enormous, cheap but poor quality choices that are proposed to consumers.
Switching our consumption to better quality and durable products will allow consumers to buy less and enjoy more. Buying from retailers already available in your country is the way to go to avoid uncertainties on service and delivery timelines, while diminishing consumption impact on the planet.
Finally, choosing brands which promote a conscious and eco-friendly fashion model will motivate more and more fashion actors to act responsibly, beyond bold statements in newspapers.
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