Putting the ‘Pop’ in Packaging: How has e-commerce changed the industry?

The unrelenting rise of e-commerce and a new age of global trading are pushing supply chains to improve their efficiencies. As online retailers seek to out-run the competition themselves, they are turning to their logistics operations to give them the edge. Mirella Andriano finds out more.


Bubble wrap

In the last two years, lead times for a whole swathe of operators have been reduced from two to three days to less than 24 hours. Stability in the marketplace is no more. According to PwC, growth within the online retail market is moving at a rapid pace of 15% annually, signalling that protective packaging solutions are more important than ever.

Mirella Andriano, European business manager at Sealed Air, takes a look at the meteoric rise of bubble wrap and takes a wider view of the importance of keeping packaging innovative.

The Digital Age: bubble wrap stays at the top of its game

Packaging will have to continue to be innovative if it is to prevail in the digital age. With innovation, packaging can act as a stimulant throughout the supply chain, giving operations a competitive edge and boosting productivity, providing a proven impact on the bottom line.

"The packaging sector should ensure customer satisfaction sits alongside innovation at the forefront of their agenda as quality is everything."

It is innovation that has kept bubble wrap at the top of its packaging game. The packaging, which is over 50 years old, has been added to the lining of envelopes leading to the development of a whole host of protective mailers. This simple but highly effective application of the bubble technology makes it quicker and easier for retailers to pack and ship products.

The History: where it all began

Bubble wrap has retained its popularity with retailers and consumers since its invention and is even proven to make people happy appearing in Bupa's Britons' Top 50 Simple Pleasures list. The packaging we love to pop has an unlikely beginning.

In 1957, two engineers, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, decided they wanted to create a new type of textured wallpaper. They experimented with shower curtains, sealing two together which trapped a layer of air bubbles between the surfaces. Although the wallpaper never took off, the creation sparked a eureka moment, inspiring the creation of a protective product which features in nearly all our packaging solutions today - bubble wrap.

Since then it has continued to reinvent itself through innovation to stay as a globally recognised packaging solution and has diversified and adapted with retailers' needs throughout its decades on the market. The size of bubbles have been made both bigger and smaller, to enable greater versatility in protection as market demands have changed over the years.

Satisfaction and Innovation : customer satisfaction

Quality within packaging is also now key to ensuring happy customers in the e-retail age. The packaging sector should ensure customer satisfaction sits alongside innovation at the forefront of their agenda as quality is everything. Price elasticity means that new manufacturers have entered the market with cheaper alternatives with cheaper production costs that produce lower quality bubbles. This has led to market commoditisation, with retailer's sometimes selecting bubbles based purely on the lowest available price.

While this can initially look good on balance sheets, it can cost retailers in the long-term as the bubbles offer lesser protection, meaning retailers over-compensate during packing by using higher volumes of packaging which increases material and transportation costs.

"Part of the consumer experience also has to be maximising protection."

Packaging innovations are not solely being used to boost production capacities. Brand owners also want the packaging experience for the consumer to reflect their brand and promote retention. With e-commerce on the rise, more outlets mean more competition for consumers. Brands want to look good and provide efficiency; the right packaging can provide this - in e-commerce, packaging is the face of the brand.

Protecting Products : how to maximise protection

Part of the consumer experience also has to be maximising protection. This results in reduced returns, lower costs and pristine packaging which can have a hugely positive impact on the whole brand experience, particularly in e-commerce.

Exceptional products are no longer enough. Consumers judge brands on the corporate social responsibility now too. A renewed cynicism amongst consumers has taken hold following the economic downturn, and brand owners are in a consistent battle to win the hearts and minds of consumers.

The environmental voices in the industry are shouting louder, and manufacturers are responding with a greater range of environmentally-friendly packaging solutions. Having a cyclic view of the supply chain is crucial in being sustainable and it is of no benefit if an environmentally-friendly packaging is selected if it is larger, needs more transit and increases fuel consumption.

Whilst the current environment isn't conducive to analysis of where the pressure points are in a supply chain, it's crucial these are assessed now. Audits will often show that small total expenditure costs, such as packaging, can have a significant impact on efficiency, productivity and profitability.