The four cornerstones of great e-retail packaging

In this industry we spend a lot of time talking about customer experience, from initial engagement right through to the delivery of an order into the customer’s hands.

There are many areas that comprise the overall experience and getting it wrong at any point of the journey can quickly turn a good experience into a bad one.

One of these areas that seldom receive much attention outside of the logistics function is packaging. That it should be wholly appropriate for its content is a fairly reasonable assumption, but it’s not something that can be easily taken for granted.

Getting this part wrong produces an awful experience, leaving the customer unsure whether their order has been tampered with or even potentially causing damage to the produce in transit.

Below, DS Smith outline 4 P’s they suggest as a framework to find the complete solution to an e-retailer’s packaging requirements which mean that the business satisfies all stakeholders from suppliers through fulfilment to customers.

The 4 P’s - Protect, Promote, Profit, Planet

Protect: It goes without saying that this is probably the most obvious requirement and yet, time after time we see examples of failed packaging and subsequent damaged goods that cost you time, complexity and money. Take this hypothetical scenario: Your customer has found your e-commerce site and is delighted to find that you have exactly what they want. Your excellent transactional platform whisks them through checkout and they select your standard delivery option, confident and expectant that their purchase will be delivered within the next few days.

Unfortunately, your next contact with the customer is not a return visit for purchasing but instead, a complaint to your customer service team. It seems that their purchase has been damaged in transit, spilt void fill all over their floor, got soaked in the safe place… sound familiar? You now have to spend time, money and other resources in replacing this damaged product.

The scenario above involves extra carriage charges, written off inventory, customer dissatisfaction and hidden staffing costs in both despatch and customer services.

Usually this every day scenario is a result of inadequate or inappropriate packaging selection for the required product. It really is false economy to try and rationalise your packaging to a one size fits all solution; you may consider it viable to use a box that is over sized for the product but consider the excess use of void fill materials and probable failure to protect due to incorrect box sizing resulting in damaged goods – the odds are that your cost incurred through product replacement and customer dissatisfaction has far outstripped your initial savings in packaging material stocks.

Protect hit list  
Materials Performance v fibre grammage – get the balance right
Damage in transit – to measure is to know
Supply chain route map –identify crucial performance areas
Testing process / criteria – establish performance targets
Specify by packaging performance – not material type
Set packaging performance requirement at the NPD stage
Pack style Performance v board area and weight v unit cost
Pack style is a driver of packaging performance so make sure its fit for purpose
Pack size Fit v SKU count
Work on the 80/20 and managing the ugglies separately
Minimise internal pack space to minimise distribution cost, average is still 25% wasted space
Consider retention packaging for fragile items for protection and reduced SKU count

Promote: So, we now have a product that is safely packaged and en- route to your customer. Let’s now consider how we can maximise exposure of your brand within the delivery window to the customer. The world is literally overflowing with plain brown boxes but you have the opportunity to create the “WOW” factor for your brand. Consider the product and what perception you wish to create with your customer.

Perhaps your company prides itself on its ethical trading policy in which case packaging in recycled corrugated cardboard with a simple recycled message in vegetable based inks provides a suitable message.

Maybe the value of your product means that you want to maximise the impact when the customer receives and opens the package; in which case high quality multi colour internal print will reinforce your brand and product offering. Would a brown outer liner will suffice, whilst a high quality coated white inner liner helps to present the packaged contents to best effect.

In both cases, intelligent packaging design will deliver real results for your company by reflecting what is most important to you and your business.

Promote hit list  
Materials How the packaging looks on delivery v material grammage / type
White outer might look better in the warehouse but how do they travel
Environmental credentials of materials should fit with brand messaging
Pack style Easy for customers to open, unpack, store or breakdown and recycle – Frustration free packaging – consider a rating system completed by employees or customers
Consider potential re-use potential
Minimum void fill and wasted space
Minimum mess for customer to clean up after opening
Print / graphics Outside appearance of packaging reflects brand, presentation and security requirements
Inside print fits with brand cues

Profit: Whatever other parameters you choose to measure your businesses performance by; underlying profit is surely the one that everybody pays attention to. There are myriad opportunities for your potential profit to be leached away and wasteful or inadequate packaging is definitely a major contender.

Whether your fulfilment warehouse is in-house or a 3PL, highly automated or hand pick only; having a sensible range of correctly specified packaging options will increase pick rates, decrease customer returns and contribute positively to the bottom line. Ensuring these are well designed, quick to erect and pack for despatch will lead to a smooth running logistics operation.

Given the high rate of returns experienced by the majority of e-retailers, ease of return and reverse logistics should be a prime consideration in your packaging. As an industry, we talk about the kitchen table experience for online purchasers. Consider how quickly and easily your customer can open your packaging, inspect their purchase and, if necessary repackage for return and credit or replacement.

Easy open packages with a built in tear strip and resealing tape will aid returns whilst protecting your inventory (after all you need to restock it). At the same time, this improved customer return experience will more likely lead to additional purchasing and therefore improved turnover and profit.

Profit hit list  
Materials Optimum grammage, full protection without over specifying
Specify by packaging performance rather than materials
Damage due to packaging – to measure is to know
Minimum corrugated flute calliper to reduce stock area and pack size
Pack style Labour saving v packaging unit cost
Machine automation of packaging erection and / or packing
Print / graphics Generic prints to reduce SKU count
Online printing to reduce SKU count

Planet: Whilst it may be the last of our 4P’s, it is probably the most important for many customers.

Choose your packaging options with care – considering the material, its source and its end of life process will help your business to make a practical and sustainable selection. Think about your own home and how much or how little of your waste you separate for recycling or reuse.

The chances are you have purchased something within the last week or two that you felt failed to meet your expectations for environmentally friendly packaging. Now think about your customers and what their experience will be when they receive your product.

Corrugated cardboard is a highly versatile packaging material which when manufactured from recycled papers and printed using vegetable based inks provides a superbly performing sustainable product that truly can be cradle to cradle – or as we like to say: “box to box”.

Planet hit list  
Materials Use of recycled materials that are easily recyclable for the customer through kerbside collection
Consider the amount of packaging in the primary pack
Pack style Easy to break down for recycling, leaving little mess and risk of injury
Try to use one type of material
Voidfill Material is paper based or disposal is easily recognised by the customer
As little used as possible and leaves no mess for the customer to clear up

DS Smith is a leading international supplier of recycled packaging for consumer goods, producing more than 10 billion boxes a year, and employing more than 22,000 people. Through the combined operations of DS Smith Packaging, DS Smith Paper and DS Smith Recycling, the Group is a leading force in high performance recycled packaging.

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