The number of online orders and delivered packages is growing every year, all over the world. (Image: Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash)
Packaging in the times of e-commerce
Since the Covid-19 pandemic at the latest, mail order has become an intrinsic part of all our lives. Where once it was considered an oddity to order books on the net, parcel delivery services have become an everyday sight in almost every residential area. And with the Christmas business approaching, parcel deliveries will once again hit all-time highs.
Especially when it comes to clothing, this trend – if trend is at all still the right world – becomes more than obvious. For example, the turnover from online sales of clothing in Germany in 2019, at 9.8 billion euros, was approximately one fifth of the total turnover in this product group, says the Federal Statistical Office. According to a survey by the European Union Statistical Office, a total of 82 percent of all Germans aged 16 to 24 had made a purchase online within the last three months of 2021. The EU average was less, but still reached 74 percent. Those numbers aren't peanuts.
And one decisive factor when it comes to customer satisfaction with the product received, is the packaging used for shipping. For e-commerce, it is of the utmost importance that the product reaches the final customers undamaged and unaffected by external conditions. As with all packaging, protecting the product is the be-all and end-all. According to a study launched by DS Smith in Germany, 47 percent of the people in question stated that a damaged product would cause them to at least think twice about ordering from the same seller again. Another 43 percent would perceive the image of the brand as tarnished. So when it comes to shipping packages, saving in the wrong place does not save money.
Sustainability is in demand
But the result can be a narrow path to walk. In e-commerce, too, sustainability is gaining importance, and those who do not care are those whom customers might not care about, either. According to the DS Smith study, for example, 76 percent of customers in Germany dislike packaging that is obviously too large for the product. And at least 56 percent take packaging of this sort as an indicator that the manufacturer is not serious about any commitment to sustainability. This can have negative effects on future decisions to buy.
Paper e-com by Hugo Beck matches the size of the bag to the dimensions of the product. (Image: Hugo Beck GmbH)
One solution to this problem is so-called rightsizing. During the packaging process, modern packaging machines are able to cut cardboard strips to size to fit the product being packed, instead of choosing from a small catalogue of standard sizes, which then might be too large. German machine engineering company Hugo Beck, for example, is offering the paper e-com packaging machine as a solution for customised packaging of products. Uncoated as well as coated, recyclable papers can be used to make paper bags with two seamed sides and an overlap at the top. The size of the bag is automatically adjusted to different measured lengths and widths of the product – and because the paper e-com fit uses two paper rolls with different breadths, it also reduces the amount of paper that is used.
Flexibility and fitness for recycling
Flexible bags like the WalkiFibre Wrap need less space to transport compared with boxes, and thus cut down carbon. (Image: Walki Group)
Another option to save packaging material are flexible shipping bags, if this is possible for the product. Already at the end of 2021, in the USA and parts of Europe, packaging giant Amazon introduced flexible, paper based packaging into their assortment of shipped food and later general products. This development without questions set a sign. Just as significant was the decision by the company to no longer use plastic outer wrappings for small delivery sizes.
Finnish paper expert Walki has recently added a packaging solution for small e-commerce deliveries to their portfolio. The shipping bag, called WalkiFibre Wrap, is a flexible packaging made of fibres, which although it is coated with PE, can be recycled in many countries.
Product safety inside the packaging can also focus on sustainability. Today, material for filling and cushioning can be made from sustainable and/or recyclable materials, which should meet with customers’ warm approval.
Is the future re-usable?
The concept of reusable shipping packages for commercial goods is still at the very beginning. But it is out of the question, that this field will see a lot of changes in the coming months and years. Evidence can be seen in the multitude of start-ups which market returnable packaging made from sustainable materials and who initiate the corresponding circulation. This promising option is probably one of the most challenging, as it also demands an amount of dedication from consumers that is not to be taken lightly.
Another aspect which should not be overlooked due to the focus on sustainability, is the so-called unboxing moment. With individual retailers out of the picture, unwrapping a product has often become the only instance where customers are in direct contact with a brand. While the main attention is more often than not on the primary packaging, the shipping package can be so much more than a boring, brown box. A true feast is also one for the eyes.
In short: People can think what they want about online retail, there is no way around it any more. Manufacturers and users of packaging would do well to assess their own products for possible improvement.