It’s getting easier and easier to buy online, but to avoid overconsumption, be mindful before you click. First, ask yourself if you really need the product or is it that you just can’t resist a sale? Before you buy, do your research: make sure it is the right item so that you avoid having to send it back if you don’t like it. To be a responsible e-consumer, you have to make the right decisions. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
It is becoming harder not to give in to all-round sales and big events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, etc. Prices are getting slashed, marketing is getting smarter but watch out for advertising ploys that aim to part you with your money even if you don’t really want to shop. You will see pop-up displays such as “X people are interested in this product” or “buy now, only 3 left” or any banners that create a sense of urgency in prospective buyers.
Before you reach for your credit card and go for that irresistible offer, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I really need this product right now?
- Is this product environmentally friendly?
- Is this the best product on the market?
Before you buy, try to do a simple comparison by comparing similar products in terms of price and sustainability.
Don’t go to the dark side !
‘Dark patterns’ are digital marketing techniques that distort decision-making processes and manipulate consumers by guiding online users onto a path that ends in a sale or a transaction.
Questionable online commercial practices that prevent consumers from making an informed choice by using their behavioural biases against them is one of the European Commission’s priorities for its 2020-2025 action programme.
A common ‘dark pattern’ is what they call ‘confirmshaming’, which is meant to make consumers feel guilty if they do not go ahead with the purchase they are guided to. This type of emotional marketing techniques is responsible for many rushed purchase decisions that lead to overconsumption and falling for products that may not be good for you or the planet.
Example: When you click to refuse a marketing offer, a discount or to sign-up to receive promotions by e-mail, a message appears where you are asked to confirm things like: ”No, thanks, I hate saving money” or “No thanks, I hate receiving good deals, I prefer to pay full price”. These are meant to shame the consumer into feeling embarrassed for not acting on the marketing request.
Note: Dark patterns can be found not only on websites. According to a European Commission study published in May 2022 97% of the most popular websites and apps used by EU consumers deployed at least one dark pattern.
More information on how some websites deceive or manipulate you can be found on the website of ECC France.
The second-hand market is a goldmine for many items that can be re-used several times over their life cycle: books, toys, board games, furniture, sports equipment, ready-to-wear clothing, children’s clothes, etc. Second-hand products can now be found on many online platforms and websites Europe, especially when it comes to books, decorative items and brand clothes.
Buying a refurbished product, particularly an electronic or mechanical device, is also a good way to reuse a product though there are no clear Europe-wide technical standards as to what a refurbished product is. In some countries, refurbished can simply mean a new, never-used product that is being sold for a second time. In others, a refurbished product is always a second hand product that has been repaired and resold.
Example: In France, refurbished means a second-hand product which has undergone tests covering all its functionalities in order to establish that it meets the legal safety obligations and the use that the consumer can legitimately expect. Before going on sale again, former user data has been deleted.
Note: Second-hand or reconditioned products purchased from a professional seller are covered by legal guarantee and conformity rules in the European Union. You can find out more on what this means on our website.
Have you spotted a pair of trousers on a Spanish website and are wondering about the exact fit? The piece of furniture you are interested in from a website in Italy only features two photos taken from a similar angle? Still not convinced you should buy?
Check out comparison sites and social reviews from the brand’s customers. They can sometimes help you make the right choice and reveal more about the products.
If you really want to make a purchase but still have doubts, do not hesitate to contact the seller directly if you have questions.
You are still not sure whether you should buy a product but the seller offers you free delivery? Is there always an option of free return if you change your mind? These are questions many consumers are faced with every day.
The good news is that online purchases in the European Union come with a ‘right of withdrawal’. This means that you can return any online purchase without having to give a reason. So this means, that you are never stuck with a product which doesn’t meet your expectations.
In the European Union, you have a 14-day right of withdrawal for many products, but returning a product should be an exception. Which is why it is important to know exactly what you are buying in order to avoid having to return it.
The right of withdrawal aims to give consumers the opportunity to test the product as you would have done in a shop. If you find that it does not suit you, you can then return it. This is why it is important not to give in to impulse online purchases that you may end up regretting later. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to returning products bought online.
Changing your mind about your purchase and withdrawing from your order may mean you have to pay a return fee (unless the seller pays for the return shipping costs). More importantly, in terms of the environment, returning the product back to the seller will involve transporting the same goods for a second time, which means causing a second round of CO2 emissions.
Some sellers will not resell returned product which means it may go to a landfill. Some recent research in France estimates that the rate of returns is between 10% and 40% depending on the sector, and even higher in the fast fashion and footwear retail industries. If a return is unavoidable and the trader doesn’t organise the return, try to reuse the original packaging for return and an environmentally-friendly shipping company.
Making an informed choice and knowing exactly what you are buying helps reduce order returns that are costly for the industry, the consumers and the environment.
Tips for limiting order returns
- Try to get an accurate idea of the product. Look for detailed product descriptions and good quality photos. If not satisfactory, search for additional information about the product elsewhere.
- Avoid ordering several sizes of the same garment and returning items that don’t fit. On ready-to-wear websites, you can see how clothes and accessories look on a real person or a mannequin. You should be able to get an accurate picture and description of the waist size, chest size and body fit. If you wish to find out more before you buy, ask the seller directly.
- It is always useful to read online consumer reviews or watch unboxing videos so that you know exactly what you are buying. Nevertheless, make sure that reviews come from verified customers on credible review sites as there are many false reviews online these days.
Have you ever placed an order and were then offered a ‘premium’ subscription? Some websites and brands now offer what is called a ‘VIP’, ‘premium’, ‘prime’ or ‘exclusive’ subscription, whereby you get product discounts and express delivery if you sign up to a monthly or weekly contract that allows you to make regular purchases in exchange for an overall price reduction.
While beneficial in terms of cost, this might push people to buy more than they need thus also creating more deliveries that impact the environment. You might consider whether the website is pushing you towards overconsumption and whether you need everything offered just because the price for multiple deliveries over a certain period of time is overall lower.
We may not realise just how big our digital carbon footprint is. Everything that we do online, which is a lot these days, generates emissions. One of the things we often do is subscribe to newsletters from brands and shops. But keep in mind that sending newsletters and other commercial e-mails costs energy so think whether you need that newsletter or not.
In principle, unsubscribing is simple and can be done via a link at the end of the e-mail newsletter. There are also free apps that can bulk-unsubscribe you from multiple newsletters. Or you can simply use an ad-blocker extension in your browser to prevent targeted marketing that offers subscriptions of any kind, including e-mail marketing.