New opportunities in e-commerce packaging

Sujan Shah, CEO, Rocaba Packaging Limited and Carrier Bag Shop, examines the packaging trends emerging in retail and e-commerce due to COVID-19.

a gift wrapped up with a bow

Think back to November 2019 – online orders were up, but there was still demand for the experience of in-store shopping. Window shopping, browsing department stores, gift wrapping special items, picking up those last-minute offers from different brands – all of these played into the marketing mix despite the convenience of having items sent directly to your home.

Skip forward a year to Christmas 2020, and it’s clear COVID-19 has changed the landscape entirely. Retail and hospitality have been hit the hardest, with all having to find new ways to engage with customers, maintain brand loyalty and ensure all possible sales opportunities are secured during a challenging time.

We work with both large corporate and independent retailers, and until now, e-commerce packaging has been a race to the bottom. Marketers in these organisations were not looking to differentiate how their products reached customers at home. Instead, it was about providing a functional service as cheaply as possible.

In today’s environment, we are seeing an altogether different tactic from retailers and marketers. Many are now looking at how they can differentiate and stand out through the delivery and packaging opportunities that e-commerce can offer.

Change in demand

With the second lockdown in full swing and Christmas around the corner, we are seeing a major shift in how some organisations are looking at e-commerce packaging.

In previous years, courier packaging was simply a means to an end but in 2020, we are seeing more demand for branded options and interest in making e-commerce packaging part of the experience for customers.

For instance, hotels and restaurants are adapting to life under lockdown with special offers and deliveries to their customers at home. For many, higher prices for what is usually a service-based product now have to be justified in other ways and packaging is a great way of substituting the service or experience element of their product.

As a good example, we are currently working with a craft beer brand which supplies to pubs and restaurants. Due to heavily reduced demand it has pivoted to supply direct to consumers and currently requires specialised unique and personalised packaging which reflects the brand value. For this product, e-commerce packaging represents 10% of the total product value, something that would have been unheard off in the pre-pandemic environment.

Short- or long-term change?

Since the Spring, we have seen many organisations adjusting their approach to and budgets for e-commerce packaging. Is this just for now? Or will the trend carry on in a post-COVID world? For all companies, issues surrounding cost, convenience and performance are at the forefront of their minds.

Product and brand value are key components for businesses when choosing a packaging method, and COVID-19 has not changed this. The quality of packaging says a lot about a brand, and whether that customer returns. Moving forward, sustainability, hygiene, and consumer experience must be the focus of any business with a means of protecting and engaging customers.

Opportunities in e-commerce packaging

So where social media marketing was the main business opportunity to market special offers and engage with new customers, in a lockdown e-commerce packaging has and will continue to provide a new and key connection between brands and their customers. Packaging not only optimises the products, but it can put the brand right back into the spotlight for that customer. Not only this, but we are seeing marketeers considering delivery methods as core to the brand experience.

And with e-commerce sales taking new importance for retailers in the current environment, marketers are considering other uses for the packaging, such as including printed marketing material or offer vouchers within the box which the customer receives.

If lockdown has taught us anything it’s to reconsider packaging as part of the marketing mix, and especially the potential for e-commerce packaging and approach as marketeers think of new ways to either establish or reinforce brand loyalty.

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