Forty-three million Brits shopped online in 2015, with UK consumers set to spend around £60bn online this year.
While the figures continue to rise, there is further potential for e-commerce in the UK but how are packaging companies competing for business from the brands in an already competitive marketplace?

Specialty packaging manufacturer Parkside understands the fast paced commercial world and is embracing this successful e-retail channel. Steve McCormick, new product development director at Parkside, examines what is the best package design to facilitate online shopping and home delivery.

When designing e-commerce packaging a number of criteria need to be addressed by the brand and packer. The packs need to be durable, appropriately sized, protect the contents and present the goods effectively. Of course, consumers are also today acutely aware of the sustainability credentials of the products and packaging they are buying.

Mr McCormick said: "One of the primary jobs of any package is to protect the product. E-commerce packages must be designed to be durable enough to withstand the supply chain involved in delivering the product to the consumer’s doorstep."

According to Package InSight, a packaging research and design company, 87.7% of people surveyed had received packaging containing a damaged item in the recent past. When asked how this influenced the likelihood of them purchasing from the same supplier again, 58% reported that they would be ‘somewhat unlikely’ to purchase from the retailer again.

Flexible packaging products, such as bubble packaging, air pillows and void fill, are continuing to dominate the packaging e-commerce market. This is due to their cost efficiency and ability to package a wide variety of goods. Other protective packaging solutions include foam and rigid technologies.

Consumers are becoming more comfortable with online shopping and are enjoying the convenience it can bring. However, there are growing concerns around the amount of packaging used. Many consumers find packs inappropriately sized relative to the contents and parcels containing too much void fill are a common complaint.

Mr McCormick adds: "Parkside has developed a revolutionary protective packaging solution which uses less packaging material than other products on the market. Rockpocket™ is a flexible laminated bag that contains polystyrene beads between its outer film layers. A vacuum extraction pump is applied to the pack to evacuate the air between the pack layers. Once evacuated a solid pack is formed that will protect goods from damage during transit.

"Rockpocket offers the ideal solution for online retailers who want to ensure their customers receive items in perfect condition. The packs are available in multiple sizes and create a protective packaging around any shape of item. Rockpocket offers a lightweight and compact solution for the transportation of high value, delicate items.

"Rockpocket is a ‘one pack fits all’ solution, requiring no additional void fill materials and eliminates the need to over-pack products in order to achieve a high level of protection. Packaging waste is reduced significantly as a result.

"For environmentally sensitive brands and consumers, the ground-breaking pack can be reused. This further reduces the amount of packaging waste being generated. The outer film is also manufactured from recyclable material and the pack itself is made from up to 90 per cent air, reducing transportation weight and the associated carbon footprint and costs.

"To enhance its environmental credentials, Parkside is developing a Rockpocket pack that will be made from 100% compostable materials, enabling the packaging to compost at the end of its service life."

Brands understand the importance of their packaging in the online retail world. They also recognise that the ‘moment of truth’ of many of today’s e-commerce packs is disappointing. Packaging is a valuable opportunity to provide online customers with a unique brand experience.

According to a recent survey from Dotcom Distribution, which focuses on the importance of the ‘unboxing experience’, four out of ten consumers would share an image of an online delivery via social media. The act of online recommendation can drive loyalty from customers and promote brand awareness.

Mr McCormick added: "Rockpocket can help brands to enhance their image and build their brand as the design of the pack is totally versatile. Packs can include bespoke high-definition graphics, embedded images for further consumer engagement and advertising as required. The branding and packing efficiency opportunities that Rockpocket offers are significant and a number of online retailers are currently exploring it for their next-generation packaging solutions.

"Nearly three in ten people now claim to be shopping online on a monthly basis, driven by growing levels of convenience and consumer lifestyle changes. However, online shoppers will become more demanding and brands and retailers that develop a truly seamless multichannel service will be best placed to serve customer expectations and maximise the potential of their online business."