The Future Laboratory View: How Eco-venient is your retail business?

Our guest contributor, futures consultancy The Future Laboratory’s new trend report examines how to balance customers’ needs with more responsible retail practices

The Future Laboratory’s new Eco-venience Retail report offers a fresh framework that puts eco-conscious practices at the center of brands’ retail operations. “End-to-end, the retail experience must now be relevant, sustainable, cost-effective and beneficial not only for the consumer but for the retailer, too,” explains Kathryn Bishop, Foresight Editor at The Future Laboratory and writer of the Eco-venience Retail report.

In 2021, beauty retailers must draw from Eco-venience Retail to improve supply chains, logistics and consumer reach, as convenience and care for the environment become ever-more intertwined. Discover four key trends from the report below.

Trend 1: Small-box stores

Retailers are swapping flagship and big-box formats for shops that are convenient and responsive to the characteristics and needs of local communities. With almost one in five UK retailers (18%) planning to move stores out of major city centers and into local high streets within the next 12 months, this points to a more dispersed, localized future for retail networks (source: Brightpearl).

One example is in Edinburgh, UK, where the Little Dobbies micro-garden center for city residents removes the need to venture to Dobbies’ out-of-town depots, while providing convenient and accessible products that suit urban living. In Queens, New York, Ikea’s first small store in the US is merchandised with room sets that reflect the size limitations of locals’ apartments and homes, alongside a product range comprising space-saving furniture that can be adapted to locals’ lifestyles.

Small-box stores also have an opportunity to play a Civic Brand role in local neighborhoods. In China’s lower-tier cities, Alibaba’s Freshippo Mini stores are about one-tenth of the size of its regular store formats and are designed to be set up quickly to address gaps in product availability. ‘Retail can take any form once you think creatively,’ says Sucharita Kodali, Vice-President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. ‘I envisage these small stores like an exhibit at a trade show.’


Nike Unite is a retail space designed specifically for local communities


Trend 2: Pro-planet packaging

At the same time, e-commerce will swell in the decade ahead. According to the World Economic Forum, demand for last-mile delivery is expected to grow by 78% globally by 2030.

This will force innovation in packaging and logistics to reduce retailers’ carbon footprints, promote circularity and boost customer loyalty. Seen in practice, nascent platform Olive consolidates each shopper’s purchases from companies, such as Everlane, Saks Fifth Avenue and Anthropologie into a single weekly delivery, thereby reducing packaging and vehicles on the road. Items arrive in a re-usable, cardboard-free tote, and any returns can be arranged paper-free in-app, with doorstep collection using the same bag.

In China, firms such as Cainiao – Alibaba’s logistics unit – are using algorithms to select appropriately sized delivery boxes to minimize waste, while the boxes themselves feature codes granting shoppers redeemable rewards in exchange for recycling.

Future packaging could even use by-products from beauty ingredients. Brands can take cues from PriestmanGoode’s Zero concept – containers made from materials that are either biodegradable or re-usable, including Piñatex and bioplastic made from cacao by-products.

For retailers, the packaging is designed to encourage positive behavioral change among customers by not only promoting re-use, but also being regarded as a desirable object rather than something disposable.


The Beyond Bag Challenge asked a series of design studios to explore how the future of packaging and retail bags might look in a sustainable future


Trend 3: Low-impact e-commerce

Combining consumers’ greater eco-awareness with a more streamlined online experience, beauty retailers will also begin exploring low-impact e-commerce in the 2020s.

To do this, they will strip back their virtual presence to simpler formats that drastically reduce their digital carbon footprint and pass this onto shoppers. Pointing to this future, are companies such as Organic Basics, an apparel brand whose low-energy website reduces the amount of data transfer by up to 70%. It runs on green energy from wind turbines and has limited numbers of product images and no videos.

Design will be a central feature of such websites. ‘Retailers are thinking about how they can communicate their sustainable credentials in the virtual or digital environment,’ explains Tyler Chaffo, Manager of Global Sustainability, Intelligent Labels at labelling company Avery Dennison.

Creative use of fonts and graphics will result in sites that are faster to load as well as lighter in their data use. Companies will even prove their e-commerce credentials by designing in line with global standards; Russian agency RedME recently built a website with a design based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Low Impact Website by Organic Basics, Denmark


Trend 4: Totality traceability 

By the 2030s, retailers will be on a path to make every manufactured product traceable.

QR codes and barcodes will transform into information-rich touchpoints for retailers and customers alike, with unique digital product IDs given to everything from fragrances to brushes and tools and limited-edition or collaborative goods. Spearheading such a future is Evrythng, a company that is using such product IDs to amplify trust and chains of custody for retailers, and to create long-term benefits for shoppers, too.

Already, the company is working with Ralph Lauren and Puma to add unique digital IDs to products. ‘Once an item is digitised and is carrying a visible identity, that means that multiple parties can authenticate it at any point in the lifecycle,’ explains Niall Murphy, CEO and Co-Founder of Evrythng.

Totality Traceability will also mean each product has a tangible story, which is crucial for a future of more considered and sustainable retail practices and ingredients sourcing. A digital product ID scan will reveal the materials, sourcing and manufacturing dates of an item; it could unlock beauty advice or application tips and even tips on how to recycle an item.

PANGAIA’s transparent collection and packaging


To harness the trends and strategic implications that will ensure your brand is part of this future, you can buy the Eco-venient Retail report here

The Future Laboratory is one of the world’s leading futures consultancies. Stay on top of the latest consumer trends and market shifts by visiting its trends intelligence platform,, and find out more about its client work at