How BOPA/Pickup Can Make Your Fulfillment Operations More Sustainable

on Dec 19, 2023

Emily knows the clock is ticking.

As Head of E-commerce at fast-fashion retailer StyleCo, she's accomplished a lot. Online sales are booming, new customers flood in daily, and the brand is poised to hit a run rate of $150 million in revenue by year's end.

But she senses a reckoning on the horizon.

Each passing year brings more undeniable evidence of the environmental impact of the retail industry. 

Transportation alone accounted for 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. And delivery trucks — including medium and heavy trucks — account for        roughly a quarter of those emissions.

E-commerce packaging generates around 4.8 times more waste than brick-and-mortar stores and five times more emissions

Stories of warehouse workers at major retailers toiling in brutal conditions make headlines.

And customers — particularly those from the Gen Z and millennial generations, who now dominate the market — are taking notice. They want retailers to share their values, and brands that fail to adapt will quickly fall out of favor.

75% of Gen Z and millennial shoppers believe climate change is an urgent problem for our planet, and almost 60% say they've stopped buying from brands that don't have strong environmental credentials.

The growing imperative for sustainable fulfillment

E-commerce has revolutionized retail, bringing incredible convenience and choice to today's shoppers. But with great power comes great responsibility.

The rise in online shopping has led to a staggering increase in delivery emissions, packaging waste, and resource consumption. Retailers are under mounting pressure to make their fulfillment operations more sustainable.

Though fictional, Emily’s story highlights a dilemma familiar to retail leaders worldwide: how can she meet customer demand for convenience while reducing her environmental impact?

Like Emily, you may feel overwhelmed by the complex balancing act between business growth and social responsibility. But sustainable success is possible.

In this post, we'll follow Emily on her quest for sustainable fulfillment, exploring how Buy Online Pickup Anywhere (BOPA) and Pickup, combined with omnichannel experience platform, offer eco-friendly order fulfillment.

By the end, you'll have learned how the shift to flexible, streamlined BOPA and pickup can benefit the planet and your bottom line.

Woman shops online

The carbon footprint conundrum

Emily starts by digging into the data. What she discovers is startling:

  • In China, for instance, courier services delivered an astonishing                           83 billion express parcels in 2020 alone, resulting in around 1.8 million tons of plastic waste and nearly 10 million tons of paper waste.
  • 3 billion trees are cut down annually to produce 241 million tons of shipping cartons.
  • In 2022, the clothing industry released around 932 million                                metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the air. Without significant intervention, this number is projected to rise to nearly 1.3 billion metric tons by 2030.
  • In 1975, 24 million metric tons of textile fibers were produced worldwide. By 2021, this had surged to over 113 million tons, with 25.4 million tons from natural fibers like cotton and wool and 88.2 million tons (a whopping 78%) from chemical fibers. These chemical fibers find their way into the ocean and are troublesome to extract from water. They can readily spread through the entire food chain, posing a significant threat.
  • Of the 86 million tons of plastic packaging manufactured worldwide yearly, only 14% is recycled.

The deeper she digs, the clearer it becomes — radical change is a must. 

The writing is on the wall. The era of conscience-free consumption is ending, and Emily knows StyleCo must get ahead of the curve. She's determined to overhaul their retail operations to be cleaner, greener, and more ethical.

Continuing with business as usual will lead to a PR crisis. Environmentally-conscious Gen Z shoppers will turn to eco-friendly brands. And over time, emissions and waste will accumulate to catastrophic levels, something Emily cares deeply about.

She concludes that transforming fulfillment operations is imperative for StyleCo's future success and sustainability. But how can a company adopt greener practices without losing customers in a world obsessed with speed and convenience?

To begin her search for the solution, Emily audits StyleCo's                                            e-commerce fulfillment methods to understand the environmental impact.

She finds that, like most retailers, most orders are through free standard home delivery. This generates an excessive amount of emissions due to:

  • Individual packages transported in diesel-guzzling trucks and vans 
  • Inefficient delivery routes and timelines 
  • Packaging for each parcel 
  • Repeat attempts to deliver if the customer isn’t home
  • Return journeys for failed deliveries

The status quo is unsustainable. Emily considers lower-impact alternatives like bike couriers and electric vehicles. But the infrastructure isn't there yet. She needs solutions that can make an impact now while paving the way for future innovation.

Graphic showing why home delivery generates an exorbitant amount of emissions

Solving the conundrum with BOPA/Pickup 

The emissions data is concerning. Home delivery and online returns are causing a significant rise in greenhouse gas emissions. 

But here's the good news: sustainable solutions are available.

If you're a retailer aiming to reduce your carbon footprint, consider BOPA (Buy Online, Pickup Anywhere) and in-store pickup. These models use your existing local stores instead of creating new delivery fleets.

Customers can simply grab orders from nearby stores and lockers, bypassing last-mile emissions from doorstep deliveries. Often, these collection points are closer to your customer’s homes, which means fewer miles traveled to fulfill orders.

Moreover, you'll reduce excessive packaging and eliminate the hassle of failed first-time deliveries and their associated return trips.

Compared to home delivery, BOPA and pickup can slash local CO2 emissions by 30% or more. If adopted nationally, we're talking about reducing millions of metric tons of emissions.

It's a sustainable solution with scalability built right in.

A delivery man drops off an order

Economic sustainability — a win-win for retailers

Beyond the environmental impact, BOPA and pickup can also benefit your bottom line.

First, BOPA removes delivery costs by having customers pick up orders from convenient locations. Savings add up from:

  • No home delivery fees
  • Lower mileage costs 
  • Less packaging needed
  • Avoiding return trip emissions

Graphic explaining why BOPA makes financial sense

Second, pickup locks in a predictable cost structure. Store-based fulfillment has fixed overheads versus variable delivery costs. This makes forecasting and budgeting much simpler.

Third, BOPA leverages your existing local store networks versus building out dedicated delivery infrastructure. It’s quick to roll out and relatively affordable since you’re using your existing real estate and staff.

Finally, omnichannel options like BOPA increase brand exposure and foot traffic — and foot traffic increases the potential for spur-of-the-moment purchases. The higher volumes you get from diversifying channels also create economies of scale.

The numbers prove it: sustainable fulfillment equals higher profitability. Retailers can slash expenses by shifting more volume to BOPA while lowering environmental impact. 

It's a win-win for both the planet and the bottom line.

But what about the customer and their need for speed — and convenience?

How BOPA/Pickup meets customer expectations

If the customer wants the utmost convenience and speed, how does making them pick up their orders from a store or delivery locker meet those expectations?

Today’s consumers expect fulfillment options that match their lifestyles. Delivery everywhere is the new normal. Buyers want packages when and where they want them. And BOPA aligns perfectly with these expectations. 

You might have hundreds or even thousands of stores spread across cities, towns, and communities. By making every store in your chain pickup-enabled, you can offer greater proximity and convenience than home delivery can physically reach. 

Rather than being limited by the service area of delivery vans from a central warehouse, pickup taps into a far wider web of delivery points, bringing the product closer to the buyer.

The sheer density of locations means customers are never more than a short drive away. All buyers have to do is select their preferred store during checkout.

Customers also appreciate the flexibility of pickup. They can collect orders anytime during store hours instead of racing home from the office — or maybe even missing an entire day — just for a delivery. 

Besides, you can offer curbside pickup, where your staff brings packages directly to customers’ cars.

This convenience and control builds loyalty and provides a unique opportunity for customer engagement.

Shoppers can check out products in-store while collecting their orders, and you can present personalized offers at pickup and have real-time interactions with your customers to gauge their interest and persuade them to buy.

Optimizing BOPA/Pickup operations for efficiency with Delivery Solutions

BOPA and pickup present a sustainable fulfillment solution. But to reach their full potential, their operations must run smoothly and efficiently. After all, even the greenest model will fail if customers face shipping delays and headaches.

Optimized BOPA relies on having precise, up-to-the-minute information about order status across various locations and systems. And that’s where                   omnichannel software platforms like Delivery Solutions come in.

Our software platform streamlines and enhances omnichannel operations by connecting various back-end retail systems into a user-friendly interface. This improves existing warehouse management systems (WMS) or                                order management systems (OMS) with analytics and machine learning, making it simpler to set up and customize omnichannel solutions.

With OXM, retailers can integrate their existing omnichannel solution providers, access a robust ecosystem of carriers, or use built-in omnichannel solutions.

Omnichannel platforms like Delivery Solutions provide a centralized view by connecting various pickup solutions, allowing easy access to key data like order status and estimated pickup times (ETAs). This unified visibility helps you make data-driven decisions to improve efficiency. 

The platform enables real-time branded post-purchase            communication through SMS, email, and tracking pages. Automated updates reduce uncertainty and inquiries from buyers awaiting pickup. Delivery Solutions platform decreases calls about order status by 30% on average. This significantly cuts time wasted for both customers and staff.

As orders near completion, the platform automatically notifies customers to collect their items, ensuring they don't arrive too early and waste time waiting. This enhances pickup efficiency, reducing hassles for customers and promoting long-term sustainability.

Graphic explaining how to optimize BOPA/pickup operations for efficiency

Harnessing technology for smoother curbside pickup

The Delivery Solutions platform also provides tools to streamline           curbside operations. Solutions like geo-fencing utilize GPS to detect when a customer arrives in the store’s parking lot. Retail staff receive an alert to bring out the order, eliminating wait times.

Innovations like automated check-in kiosks and license plate scanning further speed up the pickup process. Customers can instantly notify staff of their arrival instead of waiting for a call or text.

Retailers can mobilize associates at the optimal moment with enhanced visibility into real-time customer location. This reduces time wasted for both staff and buyers.

Handovers happen rapidly, with staff ready and waiting when customers enter their designated curbside spot. Quick and seamless service keeps the sustainability benefits of pickup intact.

Advanced curbside technology also provides usage metrics to identify bottlenecks. These tools give managers data-backed insights into associate assignments, parking utilization, and more, equipping them to tweak plans for continual optimization.

By harnessing such solutions, retailers ensure their pickup operations run efficiently. Customers stay satisfied with the convenience while companies maintain the sustainability advantage of in-person order collection.

Retail sustainability beyond BOPA/Pickup

While BOPA and in-store pickup offer a powerful way to immediately reduce your carbon footprint, the journey toward sustainable retail doesn’t end there.

Several other innovative technologies and approaches can further enhance sustainability across your operations, some of which are as follows:

Sustainable materials

One important focus area is shifting toward eco-friendly packaging materials that are kinder to the planet.

In line with this, Dell has committed to using 100% sustainable packaging and over 50% sustainable materials in its products by 2030.

Recycled cardboard is another go-to for sustainable packaging; brands are waking up to this. For example, in 2021, 33% of Storopack’s in-house-manufactured products were made from renewable or recycled materials.

Reusable packaging is also gaining traction. Beauty brand                                        Lush designed durable pots that customers can return to stores and reuse. This closed-loop system greatly reduces single-use packaging.

Biodegradable plastics made from plant-based sources offer an alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics.

The reduction in waste and positive environmental impact of such sustainable materials is substantial. If widely adopted, these greener alternatives could slash packaging-related emissions.

Packaging design 

Sustainability also depends on smart packaging design. Optimizing the size and shape of packages to minimize excess space and material usage is crucial. 

Retailers can use predictive data to right-size packaging and employ algorithms to determine the most efficient packaging for each order. This prevents overpackaging and wasted resources.

Eliminating secondary packing (such as cartons) and using only mailing labels also trims material needs. 

In 2018, apparel brand Everlane committed to eliminating                                              all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2021. 

It has since achieved this goal, reducing the amount of polyester and nylon used in its fabrics to 3% and replacing all plastic shipping bags with 100% recycled plastic or FSC-certified paper. This switch allowed them to cut packaging waste in half.

AI and machine learning

When you apply artificial intelligence and machine learning across operations, sustainability reaches even further. These technologies are revolutionizing demand forecasting, inventory management, and waste reduction.

For instance, AI and ML models can analyze your historical sales data, customer demographics, marketing campaigns, and even weather forecasts to generate highly accurate demand predictions. This prevents overstocking and the resultant overproduction and waste.

You can also use AI to match customer preferences and reduce shipped returns. Optimized routes and loading patterns will cut miles traveled and emissions, and dynamic markdowns on perishable goods can limit food spoilage.

Smart, energy-efficient warehouses and transportation systems

Along with greener fulfillment models, retailers are future-proofing their supply chains by implementing smart, energy-efficient warehouses and transportation networks.

Modern warehouses use automation, IoT sensors, and data analytics to optimize energy use. Smart lighting and HVAC adjust based on floor usage. Robots optimize storage locations and routes to reduce wasted motion. Preventive maintenance slashes equipment downtime. 

These solutions increase throughput while lowering the carbon footprint.

On the logistics front, electric and hybrid delivery vehicles are hitting the roads in larger numbers. Retailers are testing delivery drones and robots as well. Route optimization software cuts unnecessary miles driven. Investments in natural gas and biodiesel trucks further reduce transportation emissions.

With smart, energy-efficient infrastructure such as these powering your logistics, you can compound the sustainability benefits of BOPA and pickup.

Graphic explaining how to implement retail sustainability beyond BOPA/pickup

Emily's sustainable solution

The path forward is now much clearer for Emily. She realizes that BOPA and in-store pickup are the perfect solutions to balance sustainability and customer demands. 

These omnichannel fulfillment models provide the convenience of quick local collection while slashing delivery emissions. By tapping into StyleCo’s vast existing store networks, BOPA removes the need for carbon-intensive home delivery.

Pickup options also give StyleCo valuable physical touchpoints for customer engagement. Emily sees in-store interactions as a way to build brand loyalty and expose shoppers to new products.

With this revelation, she decides to completely overhaul their fulfillment strategy. Emily makes BOPA and curbside pickup the cornerstones of a new sustainable vision for StyleCo — and adopts Delivery Solutions products to make managing the new system a smoother experience.

In this way, she ends the era of conscience-free consumption and leads her company into a greener future. 

The shift toward sustainable retail isn't a one-time initiative but an ongoing journey of continuous improvement.

The road ahead: The ongoing journey of retail sustainability

As Emily learned, new technologies and strategies are emerging to further reduce environmental impact. Retailers must stay committed to regularly evaluating operations and collaborating industry-wide to find better solutions. 

Suppliers and consumers also have a role to play in moving toward a greener future. Sustainability can remain at the forefront of strategic decisions through partnerships across the retail ecosystem and by staying attentive to evolving consumer preferences and regulations. 

Delivery Solutions' omnichannel experience products for everything after the sale help enterprise retailers scale with flexible options that boost savings and brand loyalty.

The road ahead won't always be smooth, but retailers like you and Emily can build a new era of socially conscious commerce by working together.

About the author

Caitlyn Metzker

Caitlyn Metzker, a professional with 9 years of experience, brings a wealth of insight to her Sr. Enterprise Account Executive role. As a University of South Carolina graduate, Caitlyn has honed her skills within the industry previously with Roadie and Kabbage. Originating from Philadelphia, her multifaceted interests include traveling, hiking, soccer, swimming, and boating, reflecting her adventurous spirit. Her favorite getaway is the picturesque Kauai, Hawaii. Caitlyn's business philosophy underscores the importance of continuous learning, as she believes that "there is always more to learn; absorb as much as you can." When not devising groundbreaking strategies, Caitlyn unwinds by delving into books or enjoying the serene beach. Adding a unique touch, she cherishes the privilege of occasionally working alongside her sister and mother as part of the UPS Digital family. Caitlyn's profound industry knowledge and passion make her an invaluable asset to our B2B SaaS sales and marketing team.


Topics from this blog: Delivery Solutions Efficiency Bopa

Omnichannel Strategy Ready

Launch a comprehensive delivery management experience for your enterprise retail brand today.