The last mile: How e-commerce is putting pressure on packaging

Today, in an on-demand marketplace increasingly served by e-commerce, last-mile delivery is becoming increasingly important. With consumer relationships and brand loyalty harder to build, but more crucial than ever, the efficiency of the delivery and the experience of the shopper can have a massive bearing on how a brand is perceived.

The ‘last mile’ is a term used to refer to the movement of goods from a transportation hub to their final delivery destination. In many cases, delivery will be the first-time consumer and brand interact. It’s for this reason that some of the world’s biggest online retailers have identified the ‘last mile’ as a key differentiator.

For those of us in the packaging industry, the challenge then is to find innovative solutions for this important part of the supply process.

At DS Smith, we embrace the challenge that the ‘last mile’ presents, and we’re committed to developing cost-effective packaging that meets the requirements of the supply chain, retailer and shopper.

The demands and stress placed on packages today are greater than they’ve ever been. This is something that has increased exponentially given the rise of online retailing. For example, it is estimated that there are up to 50 ‘touch-points’ in the omnichannel supply cycle – 50 individual occurrences in which a package is handled, whether it be by a person or machine, so before a package even reaches the last mile it has probably been through a lot of stress and strain.

Each of those touch-points can pose unique risks, possibly compromising the integrity of the packaging, the product, and potentially, in the eyes of the consumer, the brand.

As a result, it’s important to us that our packaging is both structurally sound and more adaptable than ever before. At DS Smith, we’ve developed a pioneering new testing system, DISCS™, which replicates the rigours and stress that packages endure in the e-commerce supply cycle. Named after the different testing stages (Drop, Impact, Shock, Crush, Shake), our patented system consists of five pieces of equipment, each replicating a different part of the product journey and the most severe damage a package can receive.

Our engineers have devised the technology based on insight from both customers and the logistics industry, designing tests which accurately recreate the stresses and strains of the e-commerce supply chain. There are three test levels for customers to choose from, depending on whether a package is delivered straight to customer first time, delivered and returned or delivered with three failed attempts and then returned.

These tests provide real-world results and allow us to be confident that our packages are of the required strength, so that they are able to protect our customers’ products on the journey from the supplier – whatever the transit type, whatever the duration.

The e-commerce industry is showing no signs of slowing down, and as it continues to grow, so too will the need to find ever more inventive packaging options. The best way to do this is by confronting the issues faced by the shopper, and using this insight to develop innovative solutions. When it comes to packaging, it's important that retailers continue to invest in their technological capabilities, so that they can give themselves the best possible chance of optimising their supply chains and maximise profits.