Assessing the E-Commerce Impact on Packaging
There are few industries that have not been impacted by the rise of digitization and the connectivity the internet has brought to the forefront. The retail landscape however, has seen a particularly dramatic shift as the convenience of e-commerce continues to garner market share. Because consumers are increasingly interacting with brands and products online before they physically possess a product, the rise of e-commerce has significantly impacted the way these products are packaged.
With graphic design, functionality, and sustainability all at the forefront of packaging, the transition from brick-and-mortar retail to an online marketplace has given brands and package printers plenty to think about when assessing these new realities.
According to Ron Sasine, principal of retail packaging strategy firm Hudson Windsor, the transportation of a package has become a top priority for brands that rely on e-commerce channels.
“We’ve seen a number of companies that have redesigned their primary packaging to be more useful and easier to manage inside the e-commerce world,” he says. “They have put a serious amount of work into re-imagining their packaging so that it transits better without all of the extra shelf appeal.”
Design in a Digital World
With online ordering now a significant part of the consumer experience, brands and retailers are facing a need for increased durability in their packaging. For example, Sasine explains that in e-commerce, the number of touchpoints a package experiences significantly increases as it travels to a consumer’s address.
“In the new world, there will be many times where a product has to get touched by an individual, because it’s now getting repackaged into a box,” he says. “That box is now getting put onto a truck individually. All of those things require additional handling, and if people are not careful, they’re going to send the same packaging they’re currently using into some of these high touch environments and they’re going to find out that they’ve had packaging failure.”
For brands looking to enter the world of e-commerce, Sasine recommends first conducting an assessment of all of the touchpoints a package will encounter as a result of shifting to an e-commerce format.
“Analyze the number of touches you have today, figure out how it’s going to change, and then start testing your current packaging for a higher level of handling,” Sasine says.
Another way in which brands, retailers, and converters are rethinking packaging for e-commerce is in its sustainability attributes. For example, Brian Techter, director of packaging design and engineering for RR Donnelley, explains that when it comes to e-commerce, it’s important to assess the full life cycle of a package, as well as its end-of-life.
“It’s important to understand what the life cycle of that package looks like, and be able to design a package that optimizes that entire life cycle, whether it’s right sized containers for shipping, or how that gets used or distributed,” he says. “When getting into an instance where plastic or foam is needed, it’s just about making sure it’s designed and engineered in an intuitive way so that the end user knows exactly how to recycle or dispose of that packaging.”
Another design element that the combination of online ordering and the latest in package printing equipment can provide brands in an e-commerce environment is late-stage customization, Sasine explains.
“Late stage customization is designed to create the packaging material very late in the process so that it is uniquely suited to what is being shipped … [providing] a whole host of different options where the dimensionality of the project to be shipped is determined by algorithm,” Sasine says. “That then informs a piece of machinery to cut, trim, or re-dimension a package to fit that outgoing product.”
For RR Donnelley, digital printing capabilities are key to providing customization attributes for e-commerce packaging. A key differentiator in e-commerce is that unlike brick-and-mortar, brands and retailers can pinpoint precisely who is purchasing a product, and can tailor that package toward that specific consumer.
“For us, it’s about building our solution around digital capabilities,” Patrick O’Keefe, senior VP, business development for packaging solutions at RR Donnelly, says. “You can have digital printing that can either personalize or customize the package itself.”
Techter explains that personalization options can vary, and sometimes brands will opt for a separate printed product to be placed into a package. Collaborating with brands, he says, can help determine the right type of customization for the final package.
“Maybe there’s a letter, a welcome card, something that gets thrown into the box, or a shipping label being applied,” he says. “But there’s also the late-stage customization of the actual printing of the box itself … it’s really being able to understand those different options of late-stage customization, and working with the brand and customer to be able to incorporate that into the packaging.”