First-of-its-kind E-commerce Packaging Test Will Help Reduce Direct-to-consumer Shipment Damage

The International Safe Transit Association (ISTA), the leading industry developer of pre-shipment performance testing standards for packaged products, today released a new testing protocol that will allow companies to simulate the many hazards encountered when product orders are shipped directly to consumers through the e-commerce retailer fulfillment systems employed by companies like Amazon.com, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, The Home Depot and more.

The new testing protocol, called ISTA 3L, is a generalized e-commerce retailer fulfillment test developed and approved through ISTA’s American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited standards development process. The development process, led by the ISTA Standards Council, leveraged the combining of data from relevant testing protocols and laboratory results, observational data collected within multiple retailer fulfillment locations and broad industry feedback.

The test provides stakeholders across the supply chain an opportunity to anticipate, design, and prepare for the impacts of transit hazards (vibration, shock, compression, temperature and humidity) on packaged products in direct-to-consumer shipments. This is especially essential for home delivery as damage in transit will ultimately be received by the customer, negatively impacting consumer experience and brand equity. Damage in transit is also a worst-case sustainability outcome since both the product and package become waste. This is estimated to be five to 30 times more than the environmental impact of packaging, depending on the product. Damage prevention also reduces unnecessary extra shipments due to returns and replacements.

E-commerce sales account for 22% of total retail sales and are forecasted to reach $5.4 trillion this year, according to Morgan StanleyAccenture projects a 169% increase in e-commerce purchases from new or low-frequency online shoppers post-pandemic and expects a majority of those consumers to continue doing so in the future. In 2021, there were 159 billion parcels shipped worldwide (about 5,000 parcels shipped every second), and that number is projected to rise to 256 billion parcels by 2027, according to Pitney Bowes.

“We are witnessing a business paradigm shift towards the digital economy,” said A.J. Gruber, ISTA president and CEO. “While some of this shift was accelerated due to the pandemic, it’s also driven by other factors like investment into unified commerce platforms and logistics to support them, the rise in spending power for Generation Z, and increased global access to technology like connected mobile devices.”

With a focus towards speed, retailers have continued to invest in their delivery chain logistics. Amazon now delivers over 70% of its own packages. Target recently announced it will invest $100 million to add six new package-sorting centers in a push to expand its next-day delivery capabilities. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Home Depot are hoping to capitalize on their large store networks to compete with Amazon and get product to shoppers’ homes in quick fashion. Many large retailers are now pulling inventory from in-store environments and shipping them to consumers doors.

“This massive shift in the retail supply chain journey means that companies need to do more to ensure a positive experience for the end customer,” said Eric Hiser, ISTA vice president for standards and certification. “Product damage during the shipping process ultimately impacts brand perception, sustainability efforts and the bottom line.”

During transport, every touch point (places where a package changes over to another entity to move) increases risks of product damage. Traditional brick-and-mortar retail has seven to nine touch points on average. The e-commerce supply chain disrupts this traditional journey, resulting in longer transit legs and more touches for packaged products as they travel to their ultimate destination: the doorstep of a consumer. Direct shipments to the consumer often involve 20 or more touch points, creating new design hurdles for many product and packaging designers.

“The new ISTA 3L testing protocol will help e-commerce retailers and their partners across the supply chain in understanding and simulating the hazards experienced with shipping products directly to customers,” said Chris Phan, ISTA Standards Council Chair and Packaging Technical Program Manager with Meta. “The 3L testing protocol is conducted in a laboratory and tests the package performance during vertical and horizontal compressions, vibrations, and varying height drops.”

Since 2019, ISTA has invested nearly $2 million into research to better understand the hazards found in the transport of products around the world, including studies in India, Europe, China, the U.S. and spans across sea, rail, full-truckloads, and parcel. There are currently 22 ISTA testing standards covering different applications, package types, distribution modes and products.

ISTA’s more than 1,100 corporate members are located in 45 countries and includes over 650 certified testing labs, 400 leading brand owners, 300 packaging suppliers, and 300 research and academic institutions and students.

For more information about the new ISTA 3L testing protocol for e-commerce retailers, visit ista.org.

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