Escalating e-commerce sales need better packaging

By Lisa McTigue Pierce in Sustainable Packaging on December 18, 2014

“Packaging must rise to the challenge of operating in an e-commerce environment because it’s growing in numbers and needs.” That was one of the points in my recent “Must. Master. Digital.” article.

Let’s look at the numbers. A 2012 Forrester Research study projected U.S. consumers will spend $327 billion online in 2016. Sounds like a lot, but that number may actually be much lower than what we’ll really see. A 2013 study by eMarketer upped the ante by saying Americans were expected to spend nearly $385 billion in 2013, a number that exceeds the 2016 projection by 15%.

Clearly, online sales have got the “Big Mo.” We wanted to gauge how this momentum will impact packaging so we devoted a section of the Packaging Digest 2014 Sustainable Packaging Study to the topic of e-commerce.

Currently, 31% of respondents say, yes, their products are sold via e-commerce (see chart 1). But, looking down the road three to five years, 44% expect their products will be sold through this channel. Will that change their packaging efforts moving forward?

A majority of respondents (62%) say, yes, products sold through e- or m-commerce (mobile) should use packaging designed specifically for this channel. But nearly a quarter (24%) are on the fence about this and 14% flat-out say nope!  (See chart 2.)

Who is on the hook for the shipment? For those companies already selling products online, 43% say products ship from their manufacturing/distribution facility, 38% say products ship from another seller and 19% say they don’t know.

Only about a third of respondents—packaging professionals, remember—don’t think e-commerce products are over-packaged (see chart 3). Do consumers agree? In the 2014 Sealed Air e-Commerce Survey: Packaging for e-Commerce Success study, just over half of Americans think extra packaging is beneficial to prevent product damage. But 47% view it as wasteful.

More than 600 participants to our survey had advice on what product manufacturers should do to minimize the environmental impact of primary and/or shipment packaging for products that are sent directly to consumers. Many were what you’d expect—reduce weight/volume/materials. But some were quite inventive. Among my favorites:

“Consider shipping and packaging as a single packaging unit.”

“Educate consumers on the incremental environmental impact this mode of shipping has.” I have to ask: Would this change their behavior though?

“Remove any pilferage deterrents; these should be unnecessary for direct sale.”

“Design all packages and packing to be…usable as a clean fuel. …All other packaging materials and most items sold in retail should be marked with a paid return address so that UPS can take it back to the company that was not inventive enough to make it into a fuel.”

“Most important is getting the product to the consumer undamaged.  Over-packaging is a larger consumer impression issue than it is an environmental one.”

“Require minimum quantities.”

“Find freight carriers that do not damage the product.”

“Labeling packaging to encourage reuse or recycling—a numbered triangle isn't enough!”

“Design them and test them to ISTA 3A for Parcel Delivery Systems.”

“Shorter distance shipping…look at different delivery methods.”

“Reduce marketing packaging, similar to frustration free from Amazon.”

“Likely don't need tamper-evident packaging. Likely don't need extra barrier protection as consumer will consume/use more quickly.” Not sure I agree with the assumptions implied.

“If I knew, I'd be a millionaire.”

“Set economic rules for waste products collection.”

“Reduce graphic/pkg needed in store. Put more graphics/ brand equity into shipping container— the FMOT [first moment of truth] for many consumers in e-commerce.”

 

Click here to see results of the Packaging Digest 2014 Sustainable Packaging Study on:

Circular Economy versus Eco-Efficiency

Bio-Based Materials

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