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Packaging holds increasing importance in retail as the popularity of e-commerce grows, leaving retailers to make their mark on customers based on packaging and delivery time alone. So what key aspects do retailers need to consider to ‘wow’ consumers? Maria Highland reports.

Retail packaging has a lot to do. It protects the item, and entices the customer – then there is the environmental impact, and the impact on product and transport costs. Likewise its size and shape help to make transport and storing easier. But where do you start? What is the most important aspect to consider when it comes to retail packaging? Head of e-commerce & logistics packaging at Antalis Packaging Andrew Smedley believes that as “the average dot-com order having multiple touch points, each having a potential impact on an item’s packaging, it is impossible to single out just one aspect of packaging to focus attention on.” A warehouse and logistics manager will be “under pressure to reduce costs while increasing output and also maintaining quality control,” says Smedley. “Nine times out of ten, packaging is the last thing businesses will even consider when faced with these pressures.” However, he finds that the “most critical aspect here is to address the process holistically.” This would entail reviewing “the entire packaging process from start to finish to simplify, streamline and accelerate operations, at minimal cost, and without compromising on the customer’s user experience as the packaging itself is fit-for-purpose.” Head of retail packaging at Macfarlane Rachel Fellows also agrees that a holistic approach is required when it comes to retail packaging. She says that there “many areas to consider in packaging including speed of fulfilment, suitability for the product, protection and damage reduction and sustainability of materials. It’s important to consider how all these elements come together to ensure the customer has a positive brand experience. Whether it is personalised packaging or an easy open feature, creating an unforgettable unboxing experience is essential to encourage loyalty.” Smedley explains that the growth of e-commerce and changing shopping culture has placed the UK as the third largest e-market in the world with a thirst for a fast and easy online shopping experience. “But competition is fierce,” he says. “As such, we now have e-retailers striving harder to win sales by offering free returns, or ‘order by X for next day delivery,’ all which create huge pressures on logistics. To facilitate this, retail packaging processes need to be smooth, rapid and reliable – and the packaging itself needs to allow for the safe return of any unwanted items.” “The rate of online shopping has grown immensely over the past few years,” agrees Fellows, “and customers want to receive their parcels faster and cheaper while also receiving an unforgettable ‘unboxing’ experience.” And as more and more businesses are driven online, they “need to find new ways to get their brand message out there,” adds Smedley. Therefore, retailers need their packaging to “deliver a user experience appropriate to the brand and product being purchased,” he says. This then pushes us to assess the importance of packaging design. “Packaging design is pivotal, especially for those businesses exploring ways to wow their customers through practical, innovative and visually-striking packaging,” states Smedley. Konrad Kwiatkowski, marketing manager and co-founder at Packhelp builds on this, explaining that “it’s all about creating a design that matches the ethos and style of the brand without being over-engineered. The ‘unboxing experience’ is becoming more important and brands must also consider how ‘Instagrammable’ their packaging is as part of the visual mix.” He recommends achieving “a design that will be remembered” by creating packaging that is eye-catching, durable and easy to open while acting as “an extension of your brand, prompting an emotion from the customer.” Likewise, Smedley points out that “bespoke pack design also offers quicker packing speeds, better protection, as well as ensuring packaging can be easily returned.” “Personalisation has also become more present,” adds Kwiatkowski. “Custom boxes that include the recipient’s name or perhaps a nod to some seasonal aspect are a great marketing touch point. Furthermore, printing personalised boxes isn’t as expensive as it once was, meaning brands can become more inventive and use packaging to engage with the customer and stand out from the crowd.” “Not only is branding and personalised packaging important but packaging that can be reused for returns saves customers time, money and effort,” says Fellows. “Design in packaging is becoming more innovative and creative to give maximum impact to the customer, differentiating by delighting! The right design can also yield great savings on storage and transport too.” Smedley also points out that bespoke designs “can not only help retailers to boost those all-important sales by cashing in on the trend for all things personalised but can also be key to overcoming significant logistical challenges. For instance, personalising packaging such as boxes and cushioning solutions is seen as increasingly essential to making that memorable first impression. At the same time, bespoke pack design also offers quicker packing speeds, better protection, as well as ensuring packaging can be easily returned.” Packing design can also help companies to save on costs in their supply chain, something which is crucial to any operation. “Cost is without doubt the biggest obstacle facing the retail packaging industry,” says Smedley. And adhering to correct packaging sized can help reduce operational costs. Adjuno business development manager Alan Gunner notes that the due to the growing e-commerce market, “retailers are now battling the vast quantity of returned items that must be handled throughout the supply chain, expanding the waste management implications two-fold. Far too many companies are restricted by the sheer diversity of packaging types and sizes received by suppliers, hindering their ability to reduce waste and costs.” Therefore, explains Gunner, by ensuring that “every package is the correct size, retailers will be able to maximise the number of conveyable products to increase product density, reduce the risk of product damage and optimise orders for shipment.” Packing size and design is also a major issue to customers. Fellows explains that ensuring that your packaging is “suitable for the size and shape of products is becoming increasingly important to customers. Not only does the right size package reduce damages, transport costs and packaging waste, it reduces frustration with customers.” If an item isn’t packaged correctly, the goods could arrive damaged, adds Smedley. And if oversized or ill-fitting packaging is uses, the customer will have masses of packaging to dispose of. “It’s a poor user experience either way,” he concludes. “The challenges for the industry are to package items in a way that isn’t wasteful and to address customers’ misconceptions about green packaging and logistics.” This is especially important as “customers are now demanding more eco-friendly solutions whether it is recyclable packaging or environmentally friendly void fill,” observes Fellows. “It is important for brands to reduce the environmental impact of packaging while ensuring this does not undermine its primary purpose of guaranteeing that the product is completely protected throughout the logistics chain.” Kwiatkowski agrees that environmental issues in packaging has become a hot topic,” especially since the EU is “to ban plastic bags by the end of 2020 which has given brands a much-needed push when it comes to exploring options around recycling and non-toxic alternatives.” Therefore, when designing packaging it is key to understand what consumers consider important and to prioritise those considerations. Woodway UK marketing manager Amy Jenkinson explains that Woodway UK’s online survey tool Packrate found that environmental factors are increasing in importance for consumers. The results show that 78 per cent of customers place importance on the quantity and recyclability of packing and that 74 per cent value environmentally friendly packaging. “The circular economy trend and environmental considerations are becoming more dominant factors for consumers when buying a product, thus heavily impacting brand image,” says Kite Packaging managing partner Jake Kirk. He explains that “regardless of size or status, businesses are now under a monumental pressure to perform ecologically – including the minimisation of plastic pollution.” And in order for this “transformation to happen, organisations and companies nationwide need to come together under a shared commitment to act and every party has to adhere to the change ahead.” Kirk recommends “implementing paper-based packaging alternatives which offer a recyclable service to businesses and consumers. He explains that by “using protective packaging manufactured from a paper-based, renewable source, companies can remove the need for single-use plastic while also enforcing an environmentally friendly work ethic among the manufacturing sectors and supply chain. Paper-based solutions can still provide the necessary protection for stock but with one major difference – the biodegradable properties.” However, “with retail packaging facing unprecedented media attention highlighting plastic waste in the environment, the sustainability credentials of a package must be taken into account, preferably at design stage,” suggests Jenkinson. “With online sales continuing to accelerate, this needs to be considered for both primary and transit packaging. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of what their goods are packaged in and any perceived waste can reflect badly on the brand.” And although “the fight against poor customer facing packaging is highly visible,” adds Gunner, “retailers need to focus just as much on the quality and consistency of the packaging used by their suppliers as they do themselves, to really reassure their customers that they’re adopting sustainable practices.” Kirk concludes: “Overall, this whole process of collaboration is particularly potent when working to achieve new environmental business models. The new models need to be accessible, so by working cohesively, organisations in society can identify and adopt the necessary, new ethics and regulations that are needed and apply them in practice.”

This feature first appeared in the August issue of Logistics Manager.

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