E-commerce, or online retail has exploded over the past few years, with many consumers now preferring to shop online than hit the High Street. Retail research agency Verdict has recently published a report which predicts that by 2018 e-retail in the UK could be worth over £50 billion, and that one pound in every seven spent on retail will be spent online.
This surge in online shopping has presented a number of challenges to the packaging industry. Products that are ordered online to be delivered to customers’ homes, or to stores for click and collect, require packaging that is strong enough to protect the goods in transit, complies with packaging regulations, and minimises environmental impact, whilst at the same time providing good value to the manufacturer or retailer. Traditional packaging for in-store retail, where a pallet may contain a number of outer packages, each with multiple individual units inside, is unlikely to work for an e-commerce situation.
Anyone who has shopped online has some experience of poor packaging. Perhaps your products arrived damaged because of insufficient or inappropriate packaging? Perhaps you ordered a small item that was delivered in an oversized box, taking up ten times as much space in the courier’s van as it needed to and requiring vast amounts of void filler?
When it comes to e-commerce, manufacturers and retailers are still learning valuable lessons about packaging. Some businesses have found great solutions for their key products; we’re probably all familiar with the corrugated sleeve that Amazon uses for books and DVDs, while others are still looking for answers.
Last year INCPEN, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment, published a guide called Packaging and the Internet: A guide to packaging goods for multi-channel delivery systems, to provide advice to retailers and manufacturers on choosing appropriate packaging for their e-commerce channels.
Although they conceded that is difficult to apply simple rules to supply chains which are complex, and usually tailored to individual businesses, the guide does give some general ideas about the type of packaging used for e-commerce. They look at both the retail pack, which is the immediate product packaging, and the outer packaging which will contain one or more retail packs depending on the customer order.
The retail pack:
- Must provide physical protection of the product
- Should provide legal information and instructions for the customer
- Needs to be strong enough for manual or automated handling
- Should not need branding for point of sale conversions
The outer packaging:
- May need to contain retail packs of different shapes and sizes
- Must prevent individual packages inside from moving about
- Should provide address, tracking, and delivery information
- Might have to comply with courier specific requirements
- Could provide a facility for returning unwanted items
In addition the guide suggests that all packaging should be reusable or recyclable, and should be made from recycled materials where possible. It should also be easy for the customer to open upon receipt.
When choosing or designing their e-commerce packaging, most manufacturers and retailers will have to reach a compromise over the number of different types of outer cartons they use. While having a lot of different packaging options will reduce excessive packaging and void filler, minimise courier costs, and create a more environmentally friendly solution, it will also increase the costs associated with packaging manufacture and storage.
The S. Lester team has a great deal of experience in designing packaging solutions, and together we can find a solution that minimizes waste, while remaining economically viable for your business. Give us a call on 01543 683774 to discuss your options.
You can read the full guide on the INCPEN website http://www.incpen.org/docs/PackagingAndTheInternet.pdf