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Shopping for Sustainable Products Online: These Internet Sellers Do The Best Job of Informing Their Customers

How easy is it to buy sustainable products on the Internet? A ranking of the 100 highest-grossing online shops in Germany now reveals which provides the best information on the environmental and social compatibility aspects of the products they sell. The ranking was published by IÖW, together with the consumer protection association Fo.KUS Konsum, Umwelt und Soziales. “During the Christmas holidays, a number of online retailers are anticipating new sales records. Quick and convenient shopping in the world’s largest department store is the lure of online commerce. Nevertheless, for consumers shopping for sustainably produced products, this vision does not hold or is only valid to a limited extent,” says study author Helmut Hagemann, commenting on the results. The five online sellers in Germany best serving the sustainable goods consumer are: otto.de, quelle.de, conrad.de, bonprix.de, and tchibo.de.

“These online shops have achieved their high ranking because they do a better job than their competitors of informing their customers about the sustainability of their products,” says Hagemann. “When customers search for eco-products in these shops, they usually find genuine eco-products – not a given in the world of online commerce. These products are often highlighted in the advertising and the specific sustainability aspects readily explained. Additionally specific search functions, specialized portals, and company sustainability reports are often made available to customers. And even with so-called conventional products, you will often find useful information with respect to the environmental impact of the product,” Hagemann noted.

The secret winners, in the non-competitive category: Memolife, Wachbär and Hess-Natur

Excluded from the official ranking because they are not among the top one hundred online sellers by sales turnover in Germany, the three biggest online environmental products retailers – memolife.de, waschbaer.de, and hessnatur.de – were also evaluated for comparison purposes. “These three suppliers achieved higher evaluations, sometimes by a significant margin, and are therefore the covert winners of our investigation,” said Hagemann.

The other suppliers in the top-ten ranking of online shops providing the best information about the sustainability of their products were: reichelt.de, alternate.de, amazon.de, Saturn.de and rewe.de. There were also some deficiencies, Hagemann noted: “While the ten best shops are able to characterize their sustainable products relatively well, they have little to say about their less sustainable products. For example, customers often remain in the dark about products that may have been produced by a company in the early stages of initiating environmental management practices or by a company committed to fairer working conditions in the fashion industry.

At the bottom of the list are two Chinese online shops, which have risen rapidly in sales in Germany. Their poor position in the ranking stems mainly from their violations of statutory labelling requirements regarding energy efficiency and textile fibers.

The study suggests a number of ways by which sellers can improve their sustainable product information. These include a more precise search function and better labelling of eco-products. According to the study author, it is important that companies implement a sustainable information policy in their objectives in order to put this into practice.

About the project Ranking of sustainability-related product information in e-commerce (Top 100 Online Shops):
Product information can serve to inform and guide consumers about the sustainability of goods. Thus, product information is important as a decision-making aid when choosing between more or less sustainable products. Given the overall importance of the Internet, e-commerce has become not only an increasingly important source for purchasing consumer goods, but also a first-class source of product information. This is of particular importance to product-related environmental information, which may (or may not be) provided by online sellers.
This project analyzed the environmentally relevant product information provided by the most important online shops in Germany (the top 100 by sales turnover) on the basis of several thousand product offerings. Publication of the result in the form of a ranking is intended to stimulate further dialogue with the industry.

More about the project

To the study (in German)