How e-commerce is changing the way businesses approach packaging

Home Articles How e-commerce is changing the way businesses approach packaging

Mark Patterson, VP of global packaging solutions at DHL Supply Chain, recently talked to Inside Packaging about the impact of this trend on packaging providers.

Mark Patterson

As the most disruptive event of modern times, the pandemic has had a major influence on the packaging industry. While shopping habits were steadily migrating online already, that shift saw a phenomenal acceleration, with research showing there was a 28% leap in e-commerce sales in the US in just the first month of lockdown.

Despite shops reopening across much of the world and some balance returning between on- and off-line, e-commerce looks set to continue along its upward trajectory. While this is a boon for many retail and consumer brands, it comes with new packaging considerations and complexities: managing higher volumes, the need for customisation, not to mention increasing packaging’s sustainability.

As a result, decisions that may have been kicked down the road previously have now become more pressing. Businesses are being forced to look at their approach to packaging and ask some challenging questions. Is it optimal; is it working as hard for the product or business as possible? And, at an even more fundamental level, is it sustainable – both financially and environmentally?

As package volumes rise, so does the carbon footprint of an e-commerce operation. This means examining the packaging lifecycle from cradle to grave, or even cradle to cradle where reuse is the end goal. The Design Council recently estimated that 80% of the ecological cost of a product is set at the design stage. Reducing the environmental impact of any product during the concept design, therefore, is a crucial stage at which to make cost savings. Responsibly sourced or recycled materials, environmentally friendly manufacturing, recycling or closed-loop systems and design that maximises transport efficiency are just some of the factors that businesses seeing their e-commerce operations scale up need to consider.

The surge in e-commerce has created opportunities and new requirements in terms of design. Businesses are seeing the potential to delight customers and secure future preference and loyalty through packaging. Luxury brand Net a Porter’s iconic ribboned black boxes, for example, were trailblazing two decades ago, but is now relatively commonplace among everyday brands.

It’s all up for grabs and in these exciting times in design.

In addition, e-commerce design needs to look at practical considerations too, with strength and durability being important factors. Direct-to-consumer packaging needs to be able to withstand significantly more than packaging destined for a retail shelf – the equivalent of roughly three times as many ‘drops’.