The e-commerce market has demonstrated strong growth in recent years, and to say its increasing prevalence is shaping packaging innovation like never before would be an understatement.  

Thanks to rapid advancements in digital commerce, distribution and print, packaging is arguably more footloose and fancy-free than ever before. Designers are empowered to create more distinct and creative packaging owing to the proliferation of smart devices that soak up all the once-mandatory information that previously stood in the way. They are truly benefiting from the power of a blank canvas. 

As a result, the race to establish and cultivate partnerships with producers that can manufacture packaging that is good for business, desired by the consumer, and good for the planet is one that very few can refuse to run. 

Did anyone ever doubt the importance of packaging in the digital realm or suggest it would become more paired back, bland or even a means to an end? When it comes to influencing customers’ purchase decisions, packaging will always be in the mix. And with e-commerce in full flight, the shackles are well and truly off, to the point where some observers say e-commerce packaging is almost as important as the product itself! 

So, with packaging well and truly front of mind, the need to invest in and create packaging that is shared and talked about on the merits of its design and that replicates that emotional connection in an otherwise virtual journey, what is stopping us from going all out? 

First never follows 

In a rapidly growing market saturated by competitors, businesses ready to adapt and adopt new innovations and capitalise on trends will be successful.

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By GlobalData

When you combine stringent regulatory requirements with the rightly ambitious packaging goals of e-tailers, not to mention the ever-increasing consumer demand for sustainable packaging options, packaging projects are becoming a much more complex but potentially rewarding terrain to navigate. 

Then there’s the digital age that continues to spur innovation in e-commerce packaging, with businesses of all shapes and sizes exploring and even trialling new materials, designs and technologies. 

The focus of brands has shifted towards being more efficient and sustainable with considerably more emphasis on customer experience. This closer alignment with the customer’s top priorities hasn’t happened overnight, but one of the key takeaways from a learning curve that got very steep, very quickly, in recent years is that first or fast-mover advantage can be huge!  

Packaging remains a golden opportunity to exceed your customer’s expectations. No longer is the product exclusive in consumers’ purchasing decisions; instead, eco-credentials, interactivity, and personalisation are increasingly coming to the fore – and so much of this plays out in product packaging. 

As the bar continues to be nudged higher, innovation will be key, and opportunities to connect and collaborate with industry leaders, innovators, and suppliers will become more crucial. One event at the epicentre of all this progress is Packaging Innovations & Empack, a chance to dive into dedicated networking sessions and exchange ideas and insights with movers and shakers in the e-commerce space. 

You only have to take a glimpse at a select few of the top brands attending: Tesco, Nestle, and Amazon, to see just how highly the two-day flagship exhibition is regarded. It has fast become the bellwether for the following 12-18 months of packaging project innovation. 

An industry rising to many challenges 

Today’s e-commerce environment, where virtually any product can be sold online, throws up an incredible diversity of challenges and requirements. From easy and reliable processing and safe and secure transportation to sustainable logistics and delivering an outstanding consumer experience, the push and pull of who thinks what works best can quickly lead to bewilderment. 

The fact that e-commerce packaging has morphed from unpackaging a bland, regular box to successful brands looking to up their creative game tells you all you need to know. Who would have thought the battle to win and retain customers would occur inside cardboard boxes? 

Online retailers have quickly realised that they must understand what the customer cares about most to increase sales or maintain their current customers. It’s imperative from the offset to consider all the elements that ensure customers feel valued and get what they want from their experience. 

Any significant consideration will likely lead brands to understand how critical it is to delight consumers with optimised e-commerce packaging. And when you consider that customers are not depending on you; rather, you are dependent on them, those who fail to listen by-and-large pay the price. 

The problem is that it is tricky to envision success when it comes to packaging. It is even tougher to articulate your vision beforehand in a boardroom. But the fear of being left behind has cemented its place on many a business agenda – as a discussion point, at least. 

The digital realm 

Among non-negotiables like protecting the product, enhancing a customer’s experience demands increased attention. It is no longer just about the functional aspect of preserving the product throughout the e-commerce supply chain – it’s about creating anticipation, excitement, and satisfaction as the product reaches the consumer. As a result, more and more emphasis is being placed on the unboxing experience. 

As digital screens and channels proliferate beyond recognition, most brands forget that their packaging is their most powerful media. Packaging that goes viral and gets shared  

It also helps create a distinct and easily recognisable identity, communicates the value of a product, provides important information and sets consumer expectations of a product. 

Analysts estimate that social commerce could be a $11.1 trillion market by 2030, so meeting customers anytime, anywhere has quickly become a reality. You only have to look at TikTok’s new e-commerce platform, TikTok Shop, and how it enables creators to sign on to sell products directly from the platform to witness first-hand the ratcheting up of pressure to nail the unboxing experience.  

Packaging’s role has evolved so much that we’ve even moved beyond unboxing. Videos of brands packing boxes have become a ‘thing’. Unboxing and boxing satisfy consumer curiosity and create the level of emotional connection that many brands chase. 

Return of the pack 

With the market for e-commerce goods changing drastically and growing faster than ever before, so too are the packaging methods and the customers’ values. E-commerce websites have become a prevalent choice for purchasing goods due to their convenience, which includes direct-to-home delivery and easy product searching. The popularity of social media and user-generated content have made them powerful tools, providing a platform for discovery, customer engagement and brand building. 

However, alongside a rapidly growing e-commerce industry comes increased waste production and the logistical requirements for the millions of packages transported to customers regularly. 

As a result, packaging that easily integrates reverse logistics helps with retention, minimises shipping costs, eliminates complexity and streamlines operations, is highly sought after. 

The only constant is change. But understanding these changes is paramount. And that’s where checking in on the progress of over 400 exhibitors at February’s Packaging Innovations & Empack can prove invaluable.  

Packaging will always need to be crafted to leave a lasting impression on consumers, and there are so many new ways to alter people’s perception of a brand and spark dialogue. That’s why it’s increasingly important to partner with a packaging supplier who can design tailored solutions that work in the supply chain and provide sustainable and fit-for-purpose packaging solutions. 

About the author: Naomi Stewart is marketing manager for Easyfairs.