As anyone with any kind of social media account can tell you, unboxing experiences are not created equal. Photos and videos of the good, the bad, and the ugly are posted for the entire world to see. Yet these images represent just a fraction of the folks who are interacting with brands across the globe every day via boxes and other kinds of shipping cartons.
In the early days of small parcel shipping, back when Sealed Air’s Bubble Wrap was invented, packaging materials were utilitarian and unboxing expectations were pretty fundamental.
Fast forward 50 years and there’s now an avalanche of boxes, bags, and bundles arriving at consumers’ homes compared to the previous trickle. With the increase in shipments has come an increase in package expectations. Damage to a package can turn an e-commerce shopper against a brand or retailer in a hot second. Research conducted for Sealed Air revealed eight percent of shoppers would completely end a relationship with a retailer after receiving a package from the company in poor condition.
At a time when consumers have practically unlimited choices for where to place their festive shopping orders, and heightened expectations for what a satisfactory at-home delivery experience should be, retailers cannot afford these kinds of costly mistakes from the temporary labour force.
European consumers are expected to spend more over the festive period than ever before. Just in the UK alone, forecasts show more than £78bn will be spent online between November and December 2017 as consumers take advantage of the convenience of online shopping.
As pressure mounts to satisfy the demands of online shoppers and eclipse competitors, retailers can’t afford to disappoint customers. Here are some basic packaging practices that will improve the unboxing experience.
1. The simplest way to please an online consumer is to get the package size right. This issue should not be overlooked. People get peeved when the outer and inner boxes are massively mismatched. It’s a common practice that occurs just as frequently with major, high-end companies as it does with small, independent shops and there are many reasons for the practice. It’s mainly a fulfilment issue based on limited warehouse storage space for multiple box sizes and training for the packers, but those facts don’t matter to the person who opens the box.
2. Avoid packaging material overkill. Companies continue to use too much inside packaging materials. The biggest culprit and the material that’s dreaded the most by recipients is the ubiquitous packing peanut. These polystyrene foam squiggles are majorly messy and hard to contain as well as difficult to recycle. Inflatable air pillows do as good a job or better than the peanuts and don’t come with any of the hassles. Many air pillows can be created on-demand to fit the box and its containments, and are recyclable at store drop-off centers that accept plastic grocery bags.
3. Deliver an in-store experience out of the box. Just because someone buys something online doesn’t mean she is ready to give up the bells and whistles that come from brick-and-mortar merchandising. Special types of secondary packaging with plastic film suspension and retention features can complement a product's appearance by combining protection with presentation, while creating an off-the-retail-shelf effect. Neurological tests conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on behalf of Sealed Air showed that this particular type of packaging stimulated 25 to 50% more brain activity at the parietal midline, which is the part of the brain that processes sensory inputs and is thought to store positive brand associations. In October, Amazon announced it was looking for an additional 20,000 seasonal workers in the UK to deal with the increased seasonal demand.
While open jobs at fulfilment warehouses might be a boon to consumer sentiment and spending, a troubling question looms: Do we have enough workers to fill all those jobs?
Getting enough workers in the door every day is a challenge, especially when they have their choice of similar jobs, sometimes at neighbouring fulfilment centres or warehouses. This quandary has seen some retailers offering raises in base pay that far exceed the market standard. But, once you’ve hired them, you’ve also got to train them, which can be a costly investment because of high turnover rates faced by warehousing and logistics operations.
This may be one of the reasons why in the US, Walmart recently made the surprising choice to sit out the holiday hiring bonanza this year and instead double down on existing (and trained) employees by offering lucrative overtime hours in its retail stores and fulfilment centres.
Labour is almost always the greatest source of cost in a retail fulfilment operation, with shipping costs and damage losses coming in a close second. Labour is also the source of most of the wasteful mistakes such as overpacking (using excess packaging material which increases supply costs), under-protecting (using too little material which drives up damage rates), box selection errors (using corrugated boxes that are too big for the items inside and incurring a higher shipping rate), and order errors (mistakes resulting in returned products which require more labour to process and re-send).
There is, however, a shockingly simple source of relief: smarter packaging systems. These innovations can turn even temporary hires into efficient assets for retailers, and cut down on training time:
· Automated systems that dispense the correct amount of packaging material
· Systems that create packaging on demand at the touch of a button
· Boxes that are right-sized to fit the items, which result in reduced shipping costs
· Interactive apps that instruct new hires on the best way to pack an item with minimal waste and maximum speed.
By Ken Chrisman (pictured), President, Sealed Air Product Care