Ecommerce was not only all the rage during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who were furloughed or even fired from their jobs had no choice but to join up with e-commerce opportunities such as those offered by the mammoth Amazon marketplace in order to make ends meet. These e-commerce business owners quickly realized the value of online payments. At the same time, they also realized that with all the different credit and debit cards in use today, managing their online payments could be challenging chore. 

But now that we’re over the major hump of the COVID-19 pandemic and many people have gone back to traditional work (despite the “Great Resignation”), something surprising has hit the e-commerce market. Consumer sustainability.  

According to a new business article from Forbes, in 2021, Amazon had a heck of a year, boasting an increase in net sales of close to 25 percent. But what is said to be hidden in the weeds of this stat was a separate number that shocked the ecommerce business community. That is, Amazon’s online sales dropped by a full 1 percent in the 2021’s fourth quarter. 

The mega-company’s large earning’s boost was said to have been spearheaded almost entirely by its cloud computing web services division.    

Amazon’s decline is said not to be an “isolated case.” In February of 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that e-commerce sales dropped from 13.6 percent in the 2020’s fourth quarter to 12.9 percent the following year. But the decline came “against a year-ago quarter when the pandemic was having its maximum impact” and brick and mortar stores were, for the most part shuttered and/or operating at limited capacity.  

A Return to the Stores

As the pandemic eased up and its variants proving not to be nearly as lethal, shoppers started getting out of the house and returning to the stores. This factor alone had a direct affect on the “online slowdown.” However, another factor could be playing a larger role. It’s also a factor that e-commerce retailers from t-shirt vendors to bestselling authors should not shrug off.  

Say the experts, Gen Zers and Millennial consumers are said to be increasingly uncomfortable about “sustainability issues” such as all that wasteful packaging and the thousands of trucks and vans required to deliver something as simple as the latest probiotic to your front door within 24 hours.  

The Sustainable Consumer

A marketing services provider survey conducted in 2021 in the UK concluded that nearly half of the 2,000 shoppers surveyed stated that they would prefer to purchase less from Amazon. A third went on to say that they felt a profound sense of guilt when they used the mega-company to purchase the products they want and need. 

A similar poll conducted in the U.S. came up with similar results. Gen Z sustainable-minded consumers are leading the pack. The survey exposed a widening awareness among the public when it came to accountability and ethical issues, not to mention the growing ESG (environmental, social and governance) movement. Gen Zers, even those who still live in their parent’s basements, are pointing their fingers at who they perceive to be bad corporate actors when it comes to ESG. 

Forty percent of Gen Zers are concerned that specific brands are paying their fair share of taxes. They are also concerned about fair labor practices.  

Another, more recent survey conducted by International Post Corporation, a global postal management services organization, discovered that almost fifty percent of e-commerce consumers attest to having changed their online shopping behavior over sustainability concerns. 

What all this adds up to is that Amazon, which is virtually synonymous with the e-commerce industry, will take a substantial hit, especially as Boomers fade into the sunset and Gen Z and Millennials exit their safe spaces to become the dominant segment of the global consumer base.  

Amazon Brick and Mortar Stores

Amazon had been planning on addressing the sustainability problem by opening up brick and mortar retail stores of their own. These stores would feature some of their bestselling and best reviewed products including books. 

But Amazon found it difficult if not impossible to compete with discount giants like Target and Walmart. The company plans on hanging onto its Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods divisions, but they are seeking a more “scalable strategy beyond food.” 

There’s simply no doubt that e-commerce is most definitely here to stay. But it’s also quite possible that the threat of Amazon putting out of business entire retail segments like independent bookstores, could be over, at least in the short term while everyone enjoys walking around without the burden of a mask covering their face. 

In the long term, when Gen Zers and Millennials come to realize that driving their cars, even if they are EVs, to the store will use more collective energy than one Amazon van and that the smartphone they are using was manufactured by slave labor in China, they might see a sustainable need to return to online shopping.