Packaging For Ecommerce: Where Is It headed?

Designing packaging

When it comes to online purchases, packaging is an essential part of order fulfilment as far as the retail customer is concerned.

Once an item has been purchased, its delivery is keenly anticipated. Depending on the exact nature of the purchase, excitement can build – and the box that is eventually delivered to the customer is an integral part of the shopping experience.

Ecommerce merchants are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of delivering a ‘wow factor’ when it comes to product packaging and shipping. In a recent survey, more than 80% of brand owners said that packaging was important to brand success. So, what is the best way to think about the box, so that the quality of the outside matches what’s on the inside?

Clearly, online stores and ecommerce platforms need to keep pace with packaging design trends and consumer preferences as they evolve, delivering ecommerce-appropriate packaging solutions that maximise commercial opportunities.

1. Sustainable materials and methods

Brand owners, packaging suppliers, fulfilment agencies, and other parties in global ecommerce retail are coming to realise that sustainable packaging is here to stay. According to industry experts, “the value of packaging for e-commerce applications is set to grow at 14% year-on-year between 2018 and 2023, and will be worth around $65 billion by 2023.”

This central trend is largely driven by consumer demand and growing global concern for climate change. Companies who are committing to sustainable business practices, including product packaging for consumer packaged goods, can gain a competitive edge and capitalise on the positive PR effect of promoting their business as one that is built around an environmentally friendly ethos.

Increasing package sustainability can be achieved by using biodegradable materials, reducing resources, recycling and repurposing. The key to a successful solution is to find the right balance between sustainability and product protection, so that the shipped product will arrive in pristine condition.

2. Packaging fit for ecommerce

Online business is booming globally, and all the indications are that e commerce is on a strong growth trajectory. A large proportion of CPG sales are taking place via key e-marketplaces such as Amazon, whose grocery sales have surged by 80% in major European markets and 65% in the United States during the current pandemic, according to this recent instalment of the McKinsey on Consumer and Retail podcast.

Shipping costs are a key factor for online merchants who are on a continual quest to find ways to minimise cost, reduce packaging space, weight and waste. In other words, for packaging to be fit for purpose in the fast-paced global ecommerce landscape, it should be cost-effective, compact, lightweight and sustainable. 

At its most basic, the primary function of packaging is to reduce losses from damage, at the lowest achievable cost. If the box fails to protect the goods being shipped resulting in a delivery of damaged products, not only will this negatively impact the bottom line, it can lower customer satisfaction and damage brand perception.

3. Branding and marketing opportunities

When it comes to online retail, no opportunity should be wasted to advertise the brand – and this includes packaging. In a recent study, 85% of participants acknowledged the impact of branded packaging on the buying process. 

Every element of ‘the box’ is now becoming a consumer touchpoint, especially in the context of the virtual marketplace with no face-to-face interactions. This makes product packaging so much more than a protective vessel to ship merchandise; it acts as a powerful brand messenger, both in transit and on arrival.

Savvy brands are rediscovering the power of the logo, the colour, the font, the graphics. From tissue paper to shipping labels, from stand-out colours to the latest trend in doodle graphics, brand designers are finding ways to appeal to all target groups via product packaging, helping their brand stand out from the crowd. Packaging has thus turned into a strategic pillar of product marketing. One compelling example is Amazon itself, it’s simple arrow-cum-smile logo instantly recognisable the world over.

What’s more, branded packaging has made it into the social media scene via ‘unboxing videos’. This is a huge opportunity for brand owners to directly communicate with their customer via the product that’s just been delivered. As one industry observer explains, “this is, probably, one of the most material things you can actually measure: people will share their experience. They will write reviews, post Instagram and Facebook pictures and even shoot videos, which gives you additional coverage.”

4. Innovation and differentiation

Marketing campaigns routinely rely on innovation to elicit a response from target audiences, be it for general brand awareness and recognition or for specific messaging. Memorable packaging can be an important part of the strategy.

Turn the basic box into something creative and unexpected and make people stand up and take notice, all the while promoting the contents of the box and the brand. Examples of new and exciting packaging solutions include:

  • Mineral water sold in practical, dumbbell-shaped bottles.
  • Name personalisations on jars of Nutella or Marmite spread.
  • Whimsical illustrations and informal copywriting on Oatly oat milk cartons.

Visual packaging trends include minimalist designs that respond to customers wanting to ‘cut through the noise’ of mind chatter and hectic lifestyles with products that tell it like it is. Another recent trend takes its inspiration from nature, evoking healthfulness and tranquillity as a calming antidote to busy lives.

Until fairly recently, packaging innovation has been concerned with in-store customer reactions, however with the growth of online sales, this is no longer the case. “There has been 90% similarity in packaging online versus offline. But now there’s enough volume [of eComm consumers/sales] to invest in different packaging. The pendulum will swing,” one manufacturer predicts.

2021 brings great opportunities for product packaging development for brand owners and ecommerce retailers alike. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed retail behaviour significantly, possibly permanently, moving a far larger proportion of sales volumes online than could ever have been predicted. Add to this the growing climate change crisis that neither producers or consumers can no longer ignore, and the path is set for product packaging to play a key part in digital marketing, online sales, fulfillment and distribution going forward.