Unboxing survey reveals retailers must address challenge of overpacking

By Amy Bulsara

Almost a quarter of parcels in the United Kingdom arrive overpacked, according to recent research from Macfarlane Packaging.

But which sectors face the biggest challenges? And how can retailers rework their delivery strategy to provide a better experience for customers?

In this article, Macfarlane explore the results of their unboxing survey, and seek to shed some light on the ways retailers can optimise their delivery efforts.


The study has found that 24% of UK shoppers think retailers use too much packaging.

Finding the right balance between adequate packaging and transit protection appears to be one of the key challenges online retailers must face, and the growing environmental concerns increase the pressure to ensure their packaging is eco-friendly and produces minimal amount of waste.

Excess packaging does not always guarantee products will reach their destination intact. Unnecessary filling material may “inflate” parcels and cause them to burst in transit if they are not handled carefully. And it is unlikely that customers will be impressed with parcels that simply look ugly.

In fact, the study has revealed that there is still plenty of room for improvement as far as customer experience is concerned, with 29% of respondents believing the packaging does not reflect the value of the brand and 31% of parcels arriving with no branding on the pack, outside or inside.

Woman carrying box

Research Overview

2018 marks the third year of Macfarlane Packaging’s unboxing research.

This year, the study was opened to UK shoppers and intended to see what they thought about their parcels and opening experience. The responses were collected through an online survey that ran over the summer and asked questions around the condition and appearance of the packaging and the overall unboxing experience.

The respondents had nineteen questions to answer, mainly multiple-choice, and were asked to upload a picture of the item they purchased inside the packaging.

Responses concerned orders placed with retailers online, but orders from marketplace and auction sites, including eBay, Amazon, eBuyer, were excluded from the survey. 

Key Findings

Over 200 survey responses were submitted into the study, 60% of which covered items from the Fashion, Home & Garden and Health & Beauty industries. This is consistent with other research, including the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index and Statista, which show a significant increase in online retail sales in these three sectors.

Results across all the industries:

  • 31% of packages in the study had no branding on the pack, inside or outside, and 29% of respondents thought that packaging didn’t reflect the value of the brand.
  • 29% of parcels were not a good fit for the product, with 24% of retailers using too much, and 10% too little, packaging.
  • 9% of packages were difficult to open, 8% were not easy to dispose of, and 6% arrived damaged. 34% came with no returns information.

Macfarlane Packaging has identified growing overpacking concerns from customers, particularly in the Home & Garden and Health & Beauty industries, which were the lowest scoring in the survey. Unsurprisingly, the Fashion sector came top for packaging that is the right size for the product, predominantly due to apparel requiring less packaging protection in transit.

Below is a brief overview of the three industries.

Measurement model


Items such as clothes, shoes, and accessories seem the easiest to pack and ship. None of the parcels arrived damaged, and most were easy to open, simple to dispose of, and used sufficient packaging to protect the contents in transit.

10% of participants thought the packaging was not a good fit for the products and 22% believed the packaging used didn’t reflect the value of the brand, an area where fashion retailers still have space for improvement.

Home & Garden

The highest number of products arriving damaged (12 %) was recorded in Home & Garden, due to the differences in size, weight, and fragility of the products belonging to this category.

Interestingly, the Home & Garden industry was also the one in which customers believed retailers were using too much packaging (41%). Home & Garden retailers also need to work on their brand visibility, as 44% of parcels arrived without branding on the pack and 38% of respondents believed the packaging didn’t reflect the value of the brand.

Health & Beauty

40% of Health & Beauty packages in the study weren’t a good fit for the products, the highest from the three sectors we examined. 30% of respondents also thought online sellers used too much packaging, however, only 3% of products arrived damaged and all the packages were easy to discard.

Collection of make up

Lessons learnt

The survey was designed to provide retailers with valuable feedback from customers on their experiences of opening and unpacking goods ordered online, with a focus on over-packing, sustainability, customer experience, and fit-for-purpose packaging. The results show that retailers still have plenty of room for improvement as far as their packaging is concerned.

Some industries, such as Fashion, seem to perform better than others, but it’s important to remember that each sector comes with its own challenges and specific needs and there isn’t always a universal packaging solution that would suit all requirements.

Packaging that is a good fit for products offers increased protection, creates less waste, and presents customers with smart, aesthetically pleasing packages that delight and help deliver a memorable unboxing experience.

Laurel Granville, Marketing Director of Macfarlane Packaging, said: “The current key industry issues of overpacking, sustainability, and customer experience are tested in this survey. We know that the unboxing experience remains a top priority for consumers and, therefore, presents opportunities for companies to enhance their image, build their brand, and reduce their costs.

“Our research shows that there are still too many products being overpacked, however this is a tricky balance for many retailers who need to ensure that products like flat screen TVs or fragile homeware items such as ceramics, candles or mirrors are delivered undamaged.

“It’s important that retailers keep a closer eye on the reduction of their packaging to address the environmental concerns of their customers.”

To see the full results of the study, visit: Macfarlane Packaging Unboxing 2018

Amy Bulsara, Retail Marketing Manager, Macfarlane Packaging

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