Sustainable Packaging is Changing E-Commerce Strategies Going into 2024

Sustainability influences how customers assess the value of products.

It’s been widely reported that consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. In fact, according to statistics from Trivium’s Buying Green Report for 2023, 82% of respondents overall would be willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. That number rises to 90% among 18–24-year-olds, a critical demographic for brands that are growing their e-commerce business.

The quality of packaging materials can also have a strong influence on how customers view their purchases. In the age of e-commerce, the box that a product is shipped in becomes the first box that customers will see when they receive deliveries at their homes. All brands should consider how the total unboxing moment can influence customer impressions of their purchases. That includes luxury brands who are shipping directly to customers while aiming to maintain their high standards for packaging. Building a sense of recognition that feeds into the excitement of a new purchase is a powerful tool that these brands understand well.

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Sustainability can be a key part of a brand’s identity.

Sustainability has become part of the brand story for many e-commerce businesses. Customers want to know that their favorite companies are doing their part for the climate and the environment, sourcing their materials ethically and sustainably, and protecting the planet for the next generation.

Even parts of the supply chain that are not end-customer facing will impact the sustainability footprint of the organization. Using large amounts of plastic to ship goods from a manufacturing center to a distributor can still create a negative impact on a brand’s sustainability performance, influenced by the circularity of packaging materials and the GHG emissions of shipping.

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Which features are e-commerce brands looking for in 2024 related to their packaging?

It’s expected that e-commerce will continue to grow in importance, with EMERGEN Research predicting a CAGR of 14% from the period of 2023 to 2032, and a revenue forecast to 2032 of USD 53.27 Trillion. To secure their part of this growth, e-commerce brands must continue to pay attention to execution in their packaging while balancing costs with consumer concerns related to quality and sustainability. Here are some of the core areas where they will be challenged in 2024.

Right-sizing packaging is expected as a sign that brands care about the products being shipped.

A form-fitted box without excess void is key to the presentation of the unboxing moment. It’s also important for verifying that products are being treated with the regard that they deserve. Packaging that presents a large amount of void wastes money through increased use of materials, and an increase in volumetric, also known as dimensional or DIM weight making larger packages cost more to ship. Finally, oversized packaging takes a toll on the environment through the creation of more GHG emissions to ship the same items, taking up unnecessary room in transport.

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Easy unboxing is an important element of the customer experience.

Boxes that do not feature a tear-strip or other means of easy opening may need to be opened with a cutting tool or simply torn open. Boxes that are sealed with tape can also present a risk of product loss as they are not tamper-evident. A tear-strip feature improves the unboxing process for customers by making it simple to open their packages with a clear process that doesn’t require tools.

Packaging should facilitate an easy returns process.

When packaging is damaged during opening, it can make it difficult for customers to send back items that they would like to return. This inconvenience can impact how likely they are to buy from a brand in the future. On the other hand, a positive returns process can improve the goodwill customers feel for a brand.

There is another practical reason why e-commerce brands should take an active interest in packaging that facilitates returns. The practice of “bracketing” refers to shoppers who purchase the same items in multiple sizes or colors to decide which is right for them before returning the rest. Facilitating an easier returns process can help fight some of the inventory loss associated with bracketing, and in the best-case scenario, convince consumers that they don’t need to worry about getting the wrong size if they order products one at a time. Of course, it’s impossible to avoid all returns, especially during peak season such as around the holidays.

Product protection is always going to be a critical consideration, in particular for high-value e-commerce orders.

One of the key considerations when shipping goods to consumers is that the products arrive undamaged. This becomes even more critical when high-value luxury items are what is being shipped. As brands explore ways to make their packaging more sustainable, they must also be attentive to the vulnerabilities of their products and address them. For example flat bottom drops can be devastating for fragile items that are insufficiently protected, while other items, such as hardcover books are less susceptible to damage from a flat fall but will require protection around their corners.

Paper is an ideal protective material that can replace plastic as a sustainable alternative for dunnage, cushioning, and wrapping, providing exceptional protection while remaining an easily recyclable, circular material. Ranpak’s paper packaging solutions help to Deliver a Better World® by replacing common plastic air pillows, foams, and bubble sheets with 100% recyclable paper.

Learn more about the differences between paper and plastic

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