Packaging up Christmas for the retail industry

With the festive period in full swing, Isabel Rocher, head of e-commerce solutions at DS Smith explores how the packaging industry is helping meet the challenges posed by the e-commerce revolution.

Everybody’s doing it. More and more of us will be doing at least some of our Christmas shopping online this year, as the quickest and most convenient way to get through that long list of gifts we need to buy. 2016 has seen a huge increase in the number of people shopping online. According to the ONS, the amount we spent online in September 2016 increased 22% compared with September 2015.

In the packaging industry, we’re acutely conscious that we are delivering your – the retailer’s – promise to the consumer. So the packaging has to be fit for purpose in the e-commerce era and leave every customer wanting to make that all-important repeat purchase.

Strong enough for the job

Firstly, packaging has to be robust enough for today’s demands. There are up to 50 touch-points in the e-commerce supply cycle; potentially 50 separate opportunities at which a package is handled by a machine or by human hands and, crucially, each of these points can bring its own, unique risks. With packages sometimes being returned to a depot several times following a delivery failure, packaging needs to be structurally sound and more adaptable than ever before.

At DS Smith, we’ve invested in a unique testing facility that replicates the rigours and forces of the e-commerce supply cycle until we’re confident that the package has the strength it needs to protect our customers’ products whatever the type or length of its journey from the supplier.

Making an impact

While the packaging of course needs to be strong, it also needs to be user-friendly and attractive. A package that arrives in a customer’s home needs to fulfil many of the functions that would have traditionally happened in the store. A product that stands out in-store still needs the ‘wow factor’ when delivered inside a box and in an environment free of sales assistants, POS and ambience – packaging also needs to help with post-purchase engagement. You want the opening of a package to be a special event, a moment where a customer feels the thrill of a good purchase; you certainly don’t want to shower them with polystyrene filler or pose a test of dexterity and ingenuity to get the package open in the first place.

Green agenda

A third must is to be environmentally conscious. A complaint that shoppers regularly level at online retailers is the use of excessive packaging. We’re working hard to reduce the environmental impact of all our packaging products.

Although we recognise that there is still work to be done in this area, when you consider the breadth of the product range offered by online retailers, and as a result, the almost infinite combinations of products purchased and shipped together, you can start to understand why this is a complex issue for the packaging industry to resolve. As an industry, we need to work together to find solutions and continue to innovate and create packaging that is highly efficient in its use of space, even when multiple, differing objects are delivered together.

Embracing the opportunity

Today, we have a generation of shoppers for whom the use of connected devices to order products is not just a preference but an instinctive act. But, paradoxically, the simpler the shopping experience is for the customer, the more complex and diverse the requirements are for all of us involved in the supply cycle. At Christmas, as online purchases flood into homes and offices around the country, these complex requirements are compounded.

These are challenges that we relish. They motivate us to continue working harder than ever to deliver better e-commerce solutions for the retail industry and, ultimately, consumers.