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The Role of Packaging in E-Commerce

Posted 08/18/2020 by Justine Hanlon, Regional Market Manager, ACS and Flexible Packaging

The growth of e-commerce is outpacing even the most optimistic forecasts, but as the industry grows, it faces new challenges around sustainabilty and fragmentation. For an industry update, we sat down with Tania Montesi, e-commerce business development manager for our Adhesive Coated Solutions business, to discuss packaging sustainability, innovation and packaging’s evolving role in e-commerce. 

What does sustainable packaging look like?

The most sustainable packaging is no packaging at all. The next best thing is a package that protects the contents, creates minimal waste, is made from the least amount of materials, and can either biodegrade, be re-used or bring value back to the environment. For example, compostable packaging that can bring nutrients back to the soil.

What sustainable packaging innovations are available?

The great news is that, as packaging evolves through e-commerce, many brands are embracing the opportunity to promote sustainability and communicate their brand values to the consumer through the packaging. A great example is Ecovative Design; their mission is to support life on Earth. They use the root structure of a mushroom because it acts like a natural glue. It binds agricultural waste and turns it into a positive-impact resource, replacing unsustainable synthetics, like polyethylene. Mycelium is used to mold around your product to protect it during the difficult journey, and the best part is that it’s 100% home compostable. All the consumer needs to do is to break it apart, put it in the soil, and in 30 days, it’s naturally composted.

Can flexible packaging be considered sustainable?

Yes, flexible packaging can be considered sustainable because it requires lower fossil fuel usage, less carbon emission and water usage, and a decreased amount of packaging waste. When used efficiently, it’s a great protection for liquid products through the e-commerce chain. On the flip side, in order to play a role in the circular economy, the flexible packaging industry needs to identify better end-of-life solutions. Some of these solutions require consumers to return the flexible package in-store to be recycled through internal programs. This example of a new bio-based polymer package contains 2% bio-based material, derived from sugar cane.

Why is corrugated the most common material used for e-commerce packaging?

Corrugated has always been the dominant material used to package and transport consumer goods. In the e-commerce distribution journey, corrugated is strong enough to protect the item, while being light enough to offer optimized shipping costs. Most of all, corrugated containers are sustainable by nature, as the fibers can be recycled numerous times. The key here is to right-size the corrugated container to ship the least amount of air, using no additional packaging components, like protective packaging. However, the corrugated container is facing challenges through the e-commerce journey, as brand owner are challenging the packaging to carry their brand image, enhance the unboxing experience, and protect the item.

How has packaging’s role evolved through e-commerce?

In a retail store, the packaging needs to catch the consumer’s attention from the shelf with graphics playing a key role. The packaging needs to quickly communicate why the product is the best choice over the competitors’ product next to it. This relationship has changed with e-commerce. The first time the consumer physically sees the product is after they have purchased it. The packaging needs to quickly convey that they have made the right choice by making a first good impression.

What other packaging changes are you seeing with the increased popularity of direct-to-consumer (D2C) segments?

With the increased popularity of prepared meals delivered to your door, the packaging can’t be inert and simply transport and protect the contents. In the area of food packaging, we refer to the packaging as being active. Although active packaging isn’t new, with the dynamic market changes we’ve seen, the importance of it has grown significantly. When you think about companies, like HelloFresh or Goodfood, the packaging needs to interact with the contents and the environment to keep the contents fresh and safe to withstand different climates. Another example is Sealed Air®’s Cryovac Darfresh and TempGuard Insulated liners. Innovations like these are great for heat sensitive products delivered to your door.

What would you recommend for a CPG that is just starting out in the e-commerce space and wants to create their first e-commerce package?

There are many considerations to think about, but the first one would be to find a good packaging partner that can help you from design to manufacturing. We have helped many brands make the right choices. Elements to think about are right-sizing your package and making sure it’s light, small and saves costs on materials and shipping. Choosing the right packaging materials: rigid or flexible. If you need filler, look for sustainable solutions that will delight the consumers. There are great alternatives that replace packing peanuts. But, most importantly, because return rates average 30% in this space, you need to make sure you’re protecting your product and the packaging both ways to prevent increased waste. Remember: that package is carrying your brand image. What first impression would you like to make? Yes, it’s all about the experience. We can help you create a design that will do all these things, and also create a wonderful unboxing experience that will delight your customers.

Do you see e-commerce growth continuing to increase?

E-commerce sales are growing at a very fast pace, and COVID-19 has accelerated this growth. Studies indicate that the amount of internet users increased during the pandemic, and that new shopping habits are being established. In fact, online shopping is quickly becoming the preferred method for many people. COVID-19 also forced retailers to quickly change their go-to-market strategies to stay in business. For some, that meant exploring new online channels to sell their products. Predictions indicate that 60% of new online consumers will keep purchasing online after the pandemic is over.

Where do you see the e-commerce packaging industry in five to 10 years?

Technology will be part of the future of packaging. It can increase consumer engagement with a brand and augment the connectivity to the product itself. Radio-frequency identification (RFID), for example, can allow tracking on a package and sends signals to a smartphone. Retailers will be able to know the exact location of their product at all times. This technology also will allow brands to monitor certain conditions during the journey like temperature, vibration and security.

From packaging reinforcement to easy opening, we have e-commerce packaging solutions for every need. Contact us for more information.

 

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