In the world of e-commerce delivery, the featureless brown package is becoming a rarity as boxes in a range of colourful designs increasingly land on shoppers’ doormats. Protecting goods from the stresses and strains of storage, distribution and delivery, has been a priority in the mail-order business ever since Pryce Pryce-Jones pioneered the concept in 1861. But in an increasingly crowded market, e-tailers want packaging that’s more than just functional, they want brand differentiation.
According to a survey by Dotcom Distribution, consumers who receive premium packaging are more likely to remember the brand and its message, with 52% later becoming repeat customers. In addition, four out of 10 shoppers polled said they would be likely to share a picture of an online order via social media if it arrived in a unique, branded or gift-like box.
Through cheaper materials, reusable packages and/or multiple sizes, e-tailers can cut shipping costs too. Despite the merits of optimised packaging, many e-tailers still send goods in drab, excessive and flimsy packaging.

A trio of considerations drive packaging optimisation – sturdiness, cost and brand – which often conflict with one other.
If an e-tailer reduces packaging, for example, lower storage and delivery costs might be offset by higher return costs if more goods are consequently damaged in transit. And premium materials will increase a brand’s glamour and perhaps protect goods better – but obviously increase shipping costs too.
A host of other goals should be targeted:
• Minimise environmental impact (thereby boosting the brand’s image) through sustainable materials and reduced packaging
• Ability to accommodate range of orders – of different products and order sizes
 Ease of opening by customer
• Ease of return for faulty or unwanted goods
• Protection from in-transit theft
• Compliance with local packaging regulations

Tips for e-tailers
Analyse your sales data. What’s the average order size? How much do order sizes typically vary? Armed with this data you can reach a good compromise with your logistics partner, between a unique pack for every single order – rather expensive and impractical – and having only one box size, which makes storage expensive and necessitates excessive exterior packaging and interior padding to fill void space.
Supply chains are unpredictable, making the appropriate box strength difficult to gauge. The potential for damaged goods and reputational damage should encourage e-tailers to err on the side of caution. A three-stage trial-and-error process is wise:
1. Begin with a fairly strong, heavy box
2. Monitor volume of returned damaged goods
3. Gradually reduce weight and strength (and therefore cost) to minimum level

Some additional tips:
• Protect environmental credentials by checking source of materials and proof of certification
• Ensure recycled materials are sufficiently durable
• Excessive use of printing inks, incompatible label materials or adhesives, wire ties and adhesive tapes all complicate recycling
• Visit suppliers occasionally to witness and discuss the manufacturing processes
• Train packing staff to choose appropriate boxes
• Consider the merits of off-the-shelf packaging solutions versus customised designs, the latter being more expensive but granting more control
• See what competitors are doing and if elements are worth copying
• With so many, and often conflicting, considerations and the consequences of misjudgement severe – crippling shipping costs and disgruntled customers to name two – choosing a reliable logistics partner is vital.


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