Shopping for the Perfect eCommerce Packaging

By Tania Montesi, Global eCommerce Manager at H.B. Fuller

“Since a growing percentage of purchases arrive at the consumer’s doorstep, companies must ensure their packaging protects the contents and their brand image, while providing an environmentally friendly way to dispose of the packaging waste.”

In 2020, global eCommerce was estimated to grow 18 percent, only one point more than in 2019, but the pandemic accelerated demand as consumers chose shopping online over shopping at brick-and-mortar retailers. This was due to many reasons – to comply with lockdowns, overcome restrictive shops’ opening hours, or simply limit exposure to others. In the United States alone, 7.4 million new online buyers started purchasing essential items online. This has become the “new normal,” as studies indicate that 66 percent of new online buyers will continue online ordering post-COVID-19.

Those changes in consumer habits have greatly affected the global packaging market, which was valued at close to $50 billion in 2020. The influx of eCommerce usage has brought countless types of packaging to the market. The most common, making up 80 percent of packaging, is corrugated because it is cost-effective, versatile, lightweight and functional. However, there is a rise in demand for alternatives. For example, protective mailers are growing in popularity because they protect the contents of the package and also are cost-efficient. These mailers are primarily used for books, apparel, electronic goods, and personal care products.

Which markets are growing?

To better assess which alternative packaging to choose, we must understand the top growing eCcommerce market segments. Three eCommerce segments that experienced substantial growth in 2020 were online grocery shopping, cosmetics and personal care, and flower delivery.

  1. Grocery

The fastest growing eCommerce category is food and beverage, which grew by an estimated 58.5 percent. Last year, consumers began to choose online grocery shopping at an increased rate in as concerns about COVID-19 transmission and circulation restrictions took effect. They prioritized the purchase of essential items, including non-perishable and perishable goods. While consumers had traditionally been cautious of having fresh produce and other perishable goods delivered, their concern for health and safety while out in public prevailed.

Today, Walmart (55 percent) and Amazon (40 percent) hold the greatest market share in online grocery shopping, although Amazon’s share is growing at a much faster rate, gaining 33.5 percent from July 2020 to present. Will this trend continue? As restaurants reopen, 64 percent of consumers in the United States continue to order groceries online and cook from home.

  1. Personal care and beauty

This was the second fastest growing eCommerce category with 32.4 percent growth. The personal care and beauty eCommerce market was already set to grow rapidly, but the pandemic accelerated this pattern. Personal care and beauty items, such as toilet paper, soaps and hand sanitizers, were identified by consumers as essential items and were delivered to their homes.

  1. Online flower delivery

While people stayed home, unable to celebrate life events with their loved ones due to restrictions on travel and gathering, demand for online flower delivery increased. In addition to life events, such as birthdays and anniversaries, bouquets became a way to celebrate the everyday. Flower deliveries became a contactless way for consumers to let others know they were in their thoughts.

Spot the eCommerce packaging trends

Today’s consumers are more aware of planet resources finitude and conscious of the affect their purchasing has on the environment. These indicators are causing brands to make sustainability commitments, which has a direct effect on the new generations of eCommerce packaging.

According to a custom consumer survey of 600 Millennials and Gen Z consumers in Europe by H.B. Fuller, “reduce excess packaging” is a number one or two priority for sustainable packaging initiatives. We have all received a small item in an oversized box, surrounded by air pillows or paper dunnage – or worse – a box inside of another box. This is not sustainable, nor do consumers approve of this packaging method. Plus, it’s not cost-effective because it uses more than one single packaging to ship a product and freight costs are higher.

Brand companies and online retailers are looking at fit-for-purpose, or right size, packaging options. They are either carrying different packaging sizes to better accommodate the items or investing in equipment that scans the item and create a custom packaging for it. In either case, they also are looking to lightweighting, or only using the absolute necessary packaging materials needed and consuming fewer resources.

Since a growing percentage of purchases arrive at the consumer’s doorstep, companies must ensure their packaging protects the contents and their brand image, while providing an environmentally friendly way to dispose of the packaging waste. It sounds like a tall order, but it’s possible as recent advancements in sustainable e-commerce packaging solutions strive for smaller ecological footprint and facilitate the circularity in the industry. One thing is certain: with some brand companies launching ready-to-ship packaging and eliminating the need for secondary or tertiary packaging, others need to catch up or they risk being left in the cart.

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