How to find the ‘Sweet Spot’ for your e-commerce packaging?

Whilst there are greater complexities in the e-commerce life cycle and an increased number of touch points compared to Bricks & Mortar, with the right tools, knowledge, expertise and innovation methods, your packaging ‘Sweet Spot’ can be found.

Corrugated cardboard and the first box designs were created over 100 years ago for the Bricks & Mortar supply cycle, long before the internet was created. This means that there is not only a great history to learn from, but there have also been many developments throughout this time period. All of this has led to the creation of great innovations, whilst also providing a clear method for measuring and testing the performance of these designs. In contrast, e-commerce packaging could be described as still in its adolescence when compared with this longer established channel, yet considerably more complex with a greater number of touch points and still evolving at a rapid pace. We have arrived at the point where end users expect to be able to purchase when, where and how they want, which has created many different channels or methods of delivery and a battle for who will dominate the future final mile.

In the early days of e-commerce, packaging designs could be described as adapted Bricks & Mortar solutions, whereas now, there is much more focus on e-commerce specific designs and materials. Although the designs have started to change in line with customer demand, the end users’ expectations have grown as quickly, if not faster. Originally providing protection and delivering on time would have resulted in a satisfied customer; next was the introduction of inside print, followed by the unboxing experience; now the latest focus points of connectivity, sustainability and inclusive designs. So, with all these changes and rapid growth, how can you create packaging solutions that really work for e-commerce?

Unlike Bricks & Mortar, everything for e-commerce needs to be invented or reinvented, as there are not the guidelines or learnings to follow. Previously when designing for e-commerce, it was a blind process, sending parcels off with a courier to test their capabilities, not knowing if someone would receive it and be able to provide the critical feedback required. Some of the key issues was not only understanding at which touch points had the problems occurred, but also why two of the same parcels had completely different levels of damage? Without knowing what caused this, you could be solving issues which were not there in the first place and missing something vital. Therefore, DS Smith developed a full suite of e-commerce tools, support material and workshop methodology, along with investing in two DISCS™ testing laboratories, so that we can provide end-to-end solutions covering all these existing and evolving customer demands.

This understanding starts to highlight how difficult it is to create a solution for the e-commerce supply cycle and even more so for the buzzword ‘Omni-Channel’, which sets both channels negative and positives in opposition to each other. All good designs have limitations, this maybe material, size or manufacturing tolerances; however, by putting all these focus points in one place you can clearly see the problems caused by concentrating on one area in too much detail.

Taking your customers’ needs and understanding what drives them, you can start to use this Sweet Spot template to observe how it will affect other areas of your packaging solution.

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It is vital to understand that this packaging solution could be the first point of contact with your brand, meaning e-commerce packaging more than ever needs to harmonise with your instore experience or brand strategy. Put yourself in the place of your customer, imagine purchasing a luxury brand of handbag in store, how the staff made you feel, the way the product was wrapped, presented and above all, how you felt about the experience? Now you purchase the same product online, this time it arrives at your home in a crushed and dented white shipper box, dirty from the journey with black scuff marks. Then you open the box to reveal your handbag sliding around inside, 50% of the pack is empty with no void fill, you feel like your order was not important and processed in a hurry. Would you buy from this brand again, all because the packaging was not suitable? Think about the different experiences and how people sometimes assume that buying online is the more price competitive option; however, the packaging required and courier costs can soon add up. How do you add value and create a great shopper experience at the same time, without adding significant costs?

Hitting the ‘Sweet Spot’ when creating a new e-commerce pack design is based on the balancing of six critical focal points. The importance of each focal point will be led by your customers or end user needs, expectations, and aligned with your brand strategy. If your brand is focused on sustainability, then this could be the main area of focus and a performance solution developed using minimal fibre. Your product however could be heavy and requires further protection, whilst a customer unboxing experience is not so critical, so your ‘Sweet Spot’ would have different focal points and target area. This method allows you to hit the ‘Sweet Spot’ for your brand and customers, focusing your attention on what is important to them when developing new packaging innovations for either a specific product, or even your whole packaging suite. Each brand and even different products within the same brand have unique requirements or needs, but it is also vital to understand the issues that can be created when focusing heavily in a single area and the negative impact this can have in another focal point. Hence why the need for balance and compromise in some areas, which does not necessarily allow for the development of a ‘Perfect Pack’, but a great design that excels in each of the chosen innovation focal points.

Gavin Mounce, e-commerce Design manager at DS Smith Packaging.

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