Meeting the e-tail challenge - safe delivery

Packaging Professional magazine
15 Jul 2013

With the UK online sales market now second only to the USA, it is not surprising that even the most traditional retail businesses are tapping into the e-tail market.

The Internet age has seen as many retailers boom as it has perish. Over the last decade, the rise of successful e-tailers – whether new start-ups relying solely on online trade or existing companies looking to keep pace with an increasingly tech-savvy market – have triggered a surge in demand for mail-order packaging. With more and more companies going online each year, this trend looks set to continue.

A key issue for all companies looking to move online, regardless of their size, is the logistics surrounding customer purchases. An important element of this is ensuring products arrive with customers in pristine condition, and packaging plays a key role in ensuring this. At Duo UK, we work with many major online retailers – including ASOS,, JD Williams and F&F Clothing (Tesco) – to design a bespoke range of packaging that meets their individual requirements, which vary depending on the nature of goods sold as well as their respective markets.

We carried out an independent survey to ascertain which consumer perceptions of mail-order packaging are common to every market, and it produced some interesting results. The survey revealed that 95% of online customers say poor quality or damaged postal packaging would negatively affect their view of the goods received, a third said they would view the company as unprofessional and 20% would be less likely to place a second order. These statistics are startling enough, but for brands such as ASOS that have a young customer base (the average customer age for ASOS is 22), packaging has an even more important role to play. Almost two thirds of 18–24 year olds admit they are more likely to return goods if the packaging is poor quality or damaged, and one in five would automatically assume the goods are also poor quality.

One area where packaging is seen to positively influence consumer behaviour is gift purchases. Almost 40% of consumers say they would be more likely to send a gift straight to the recipient if they knew it would be attractively packaged, with men 11% more likely to be swayed than women. Nearly 50% of under-35s said the quality of the packaging used would influence their decision.

The statistics back up what we already know – that packaging aesthetics is incredibly important. As such, we have invested in a team of in-house experts that either create a design on behalf of a client or, if a design has already been produced, ensures that it is print ready. The latter is particularly important as, while many clients have excellent in-house designers, they can be unfamiliar with some of the particular characteristics of packaging materials such as polyethylene. For example, one of our clients recently decided to align the colour palette for its stores, website and packaging to ensure consistency at each touch point. Although the chosen colour could be replicated across all platforms, the lightness of it meant that opacity was difficult to achieve on the mailing bags. This led us to explore a range of options to ensure the mailing bag was not only suitable for postal distribution, but achieved the all-important desired look, while keeping within budget.

Reviewing the system
In addition to consumer perception, logistical and cost considerations should also be in the forefront of any online retailer’s mind. The first step to creating packaging that addresses each of these three areas is to carry out a packaging audit. The emphasis of this may vary depending on a client’s priorities, but areas that would generally be examined include:

  • This review process formed the broad basis of our approach with ASOS. The first step was to carry out a detailed end-of-line audit, while bearing in mind that a priority for ASOS was to ensure that its packaging was as environmentally friendly as possible for it to maintain its zero-carbon status. As well as being a serious commitment for ASOS, zero carbon and environmental friendliness have been shown to be important to consumers. When questioned, consumers rated the environmental messages on packaging as the second most important piece of information for retailers to include, rating it less important than practicalities such as contact details but well ahead of branding, imagery and social media information.
  • Establishing the average order basket size enabled the development of a bespoke packaging range to fit with the company’s average customer buying habits. As well as streamlining costs, it allowed packers to use best-fit bags, which improves presentation and reduces the volume of material used, thereby helping the company achieve its environmental targets. ASOS mailing bags are manufactured using a polyethylene blend, which offers high strength properties at a low micron, protecting the goods during transit while keeping raw material use low.  
  • Ensuring the ink coverage was less than 10% of the total surface area of the packaging was another tactic to reduce environmental impact. This also maximises the value of scrap polyethylene and ensures a high quality recycled pellet that can be used to manufacture new polyethylene packaging products. Polyethylene is a sustainable resource and can be recycled in the UK. We use closed-loop recycling, which boosts the quality of scrap and, therefore, helps brands reduce their landfill tax liability.

Fragile goods
A particular challenge for ASOS is the shipping of delicate items including jewellery, silk and lace fabrics, and awkward-shaped goods. Polyethylene’s resistance to the worst of British weather makes it the material of choice to protect many of these items, although suitable steps must be taken to protect breakable goods.

The mailing bag sealing process plays an important role in protecting fragile goods. In addition to the weather conditions they are exposed to, mailing bags can also be handled by as many as six pairs of hands between the warehouse and the customer, so the quality of the seal is critical. Clients often assume there will be an industry standard solution to the technical challenge of glue adhesion, however, glue is very much a bespoke product, as variations in thicknesses, ink coverage and material blends all affect cohesion. As such, we invest significant amounts in R&D to develop bespoke blends of glue specifically for mailing bags, all of which enable 10-second glue strip adhesion regardless of a client’s individual materials specification. Accommodating ASOS’s international mailing requirements required adapting the sealing system to reduce the size of the mailing bag lip and increase the size of the glue line. These measures make it far harder to insert additional items into packages after they are sealed, meaning packages are less likely to be delayed at customs.

Another important consideration for retailers shipping internationally is parcel volume, as overseas shipping is charged for by volume rather than weight. This is where best-fit packaging comes into play, helping to minimise both volume and packaging waste.

Well thought-out, bespoke packaging can make a vital contribution to a brand’s success. With revenue from online channels set to grow in importance for many retailers, it will become increasingly important for companies to adopt this kind of holistic approach to packaging. Whether it’s meeting and exceeding customer expectations, minimising costs, creating a seamless logistical operation or meeting environmental responsibilities, high-performance packaging has a significant part to play in e-tail’s future.

For further information, contact David Brimelow 01612 035 767.