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The importance of packaging in the eCommerce delivery experience

importance of packaging in e commerce logistics

The importance of packaging in the eCommerce delivery experience

One way to try and stem mankind’s impact on the world around us is to blockade the streets of national capitals, park pink yachts outside the House of Parliament, or even vote Green. Or each of us can take some simple, practical steps to change our behaviour to have a small, but significant impact.

Increasingly, this is just what many shoppers are doing today: choosing green alternatives for delivery, many are also increasingly looking at the packaging found on goods and delivery alongside this.
In fact, the attitude towards packaging and its environmental impact has changed dramatically. A recent survey by parent company Whistl finds that 75% of adult UK shoppers want less packaging on their eCommerce deliveries, as well as to use more environmentally-friendly packing materials on the packaging they do use.
While the research, surprisingly, also found that millennials are actually less keen, the study does reveal that they are more open minded and willing to pay the most for eco-friendly packaging at £1.19 per package compared to just 47p extra by the over 65s. Resistance to paying extra is lowest in London and the South East and highest in Northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
While, on the face of it, this may look somewhat onerous to eCommerce companies and distributors, it does actually provide something of an opportunity.
Where the ‘greenness’ of delivery companies is starting to become a deciding factor for some consumers in how and with whom they shop, so too is packaging likely to become a key differentiator – and if people are willing to pay extra for it, then it can become something good that can be done without damage to the bottom line.
However, we aren’t there yet. According to Whistl, the UK public still does not think about parcel packaging when placing an order, with 58% considering it to be an afterthought or not at all. In fact, Although too much packaging is the third biggest frustration after cost and delays when buying online, 58% are unlikely to do anything or do not care about the volume of packaging.
Commenting on the results, Melanie Darvall, Director of Marketing and communications at Whistl says: “These results show that although some consumers do care about the environmental impact of their packaging the cost of delivery and secure product packaging are the most important factors influencing UK online shoppers.”
She continues: “However, businesses should think about minimising the amount of packaging sent to a consumer and ensuring that it can be recycled kerbside could boost how satisfied your customer will be once their item has been delivered.”

What does it mean in practice?

The simplest way to look at what packaging means to consumers is that they want less of it and, of the packaging that they do get, can be easily recycled. While packaging isn’t – currently – top of reasons why a shopper chooses a particular retailer, Whistl finds that two thirds of them do think minimising the amount of parcel packaging used and using environmentally friendly packaging is important when they place an order.
Many retailers, brands and wholesalers will see this as a problem: many don’t want to spend money redesigning and rethinking something as basic as packaging. However, while there is an element of truth to this, rethinking packaging need not be a huge headache and can result in increased sales, if done right.
According to Teresa Del Re, NE Head of Marketing and Innovation at packaging company DS Smith, improving the sustainability credentials of packaging does not necessarily mean a complete overhaul of the existing design.
“Simple swaps or small tweaks can make a significant difference,” she says. “For example, swapping black plastic to clear plastic means that packaging can be easily recycled at the curb side. Similarly, reducing the number of different materials used can also have a real impact as eCommerce packaging often incorporates plastic, cardboard, film and twist ties or glue. This means that even if consumers want to recycle, it relies on them spending considerable time and effort separating out the materials and checking if the individual components can be recycled in their area. “And eCommerce brands have a crucial role to play in achieving these targets, she believes, and should be seeking to encourage and promote recycling through using just one type of recyclable material for their eCommerce packaging.
Another way around this is to completely rethink how things are packaged entirely. Not only can sustainable packaging be used, but where in the process of production and delivery the goods are actually put in to the packaging.
According to Joe Farrell, VP of international operations at global eCommerce solutions company PFS: “Sustainable and innovative packaging solutions can be used not only to reduce packaging waste but also to provide packaging that effectively protects a product. New packaging initiatives such as distributed packaging models eliminate a number of packaging steps in the supply chain. The raw product is sent directly from the manufacturer in bulk to the fulfilment centre, and then repackaged into its inner carton before being put away.
“This,” he says, “allows brands to save money from the initial shipping to the fulfilment centre, reduce waste, and ensure the product arrives with the customer in the best condition possible.”
The final piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most simple: get the size of the package right. Reducing air and void fill uses less material in the packaging, stops the need for cushioning material – which may or may not be recyclable – and saves of packaging costs. As ever, it’s the little things that count.

What eco-packaging options are available?

So what can retailers and shippers do in practice? In a word, the issue comes down to plastic. While the packaging industry has worked hard over the past few years to increase the use of recyclable paper and cardboard in its packaging, plastic still poses a problem.
Single use plastics are, thankfully, becoming increasingly rare, but even materials such as Polythene – which can be recycled to make more Polythene – requires energy. It also causes problems when mixed in with recyclables such as paper and card packaging.
The simple answer is to switch to cardboard – ideally recycled cardboard. Increasingly we are seeing replacements for items like bubblewrap with geami paper; jiffy bags with 100 recycled paper bags; air cushions with paper void fills.
But all this is perhaps overthinking the problem. According to packaging specialist Del Re at DS Smith: “When designing any packaging, the suitability of corrugated should always be considered. Corrugated and paper packaging can be easily recycled – in fact, it is the most recycled material in the world. Approximately 82% of all paper and cardboard packaging is currently recycled in the UK – the highest recycling rate of any material stream – compared to nearly 50% of plastic.”
Others are looking to be more left-field. Online wine retailer Garçon Wines has made a USP of using only recyclable materials for its wine deliveries. It uses two of the 10 bottles ordered to fill the voids around the other eight to minimise on packaging. But it has gone one better than that: It has developed 100% recyclable flat wine bottles.
The flat bottles are made from 100% recyclable PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), which is tough, shatter-proof and doesn’t interfere with the contents. They also look really cool and make for a reason why you may choose Garçon over other suppliers.
This is packaging innovation at its best and possibly the best exemplar of how packaging can be used to not only help the environment, but also influence shopper behaviour.


Ecommerce is a highly competitive business and anything that can give an etailer the edge is being snapped up. As Whistl found in its research, shoppers are starting to see packaging as one of those differentiators – looking for less packaging and packaging that can be recycled.
On the face of it, this could mean a massive rethink for business, but in reality there are some really simple alternatives that can be used to make packaging appropriate and recyclable.
This alone can be a differentiator, but as we have seen, some brands are taking this further still and turning it into a real talking point. Flat wine bottles take up less shipping space, need less packaging and look awesome. Applying this thinking to all packaging should be an imperative for all etailers, shippers and brands.

Watch this video to find out how Parcelhub’s proactive tracking support helps this £30 million turnover manufacturer, importer and online retailer increase delivery performance:



About Parcelhub – Part of the Whistl Group

Save time and money. Increase delivery performance. Enhance customer experience.
Parcelhub is a bespoke and proactive multi-carrier delivery management solution. Flexible and scalable, its services integrate seamlessly with Linnworks, providing hundreds of multi-channel retailers, global brands and wholesalers with one access point to 20+ carriers and 600+ services.
Distributing more than 6 million parcels on its own carrier contracts every year, Parcelhub’s free multi-carrier shipping software grants hundreds of national and global businesses access to ‘pooled volume’ discounted rates from its carefully selected range of carrier partners, including Hermes, Yodel DPD, DHL, UPS, DX, Parcelforce, CollectPlus, SkyNet, ArrowXL, Interpost, Panther Logistics, Direct Link and Palletforce. Dedicated proactive parcel management comes as standard.
cross border shipping solutions for ecommerce retailersParcelhub is part of the Whistl Group. Whistl is the leading delivery management company enabling customers to get their letters, leaflets or parcels to customers efficiently and cost effectively both in the UK and internationally. It is headquartered in Marlow with 8 depots and 2 fulfilment centres across the UK handling 3.8bn items a year. The company is privately held with over 1,500 employees and a turnover in excess of £600m. It has grown significantly over the years and is now expanding its presence in the eCommerce sector offering fulfilment services to customers through a seamless experience from first click to final delivery.

Paul Skeldon

Contributing Editor at Parcelhub - Part of the Whistl Group

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