Due to the increasing popularity of online shopping, the market for e-commerce packaging is expected to reach a CAGR of 14.59% during the forecast period 2019 – 2024, according to market researchers Mordor Intelligence. With hundreds of packaging professionals in attendance, E-PACK Europe is the first cross industry conference in the continent to focus on how the packaging industry can fulfil the growing demands of the e-commerce market. With digitalisation proliferating throughout all industries, we spoke to members of the E-PACK team to learn how packaging is being affected by the shift towards e-commerce and what the future holds for the market.


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Deborah Williams: What makes a particular piece of e-commerce packaging good?

John Nelson: As with any piece of packaging, the core function is to protect the goods during transit and as e-commerce typically has more touchpoints to conventional retailing, this is even more important. This is true especially as consumers are less brand loyal in online shopping. If they have one bad experience with a product arriving damaged, it is much easier for them to switch to an alternative seller.

Without a physical retail environment, packaging is more important to the overall brand experience. There are no visual cues like in-store advertising, sales staff or the shop itself to help transmit brand values, so the onus goes onto the packaging itself to carry this information. For that reason, you are seeing diversification in e-commerce packs – people investing in graphics, both inside and outside the box and innovative designs.

DW: What companies do you think are doing innovative things within the e-commerce packaging market?

JN: In the bulk packaging segment, the move to pack-on-demand for corrugated and the wider use of padded mailers from Amazon is very significant – if only because of its dominant role in the Western market place. There are certain segments that have more onus to use innovation in graphics or pack design than others – personal care, cosmetics, fashion, consumer electronic devices (especially smartphones) are some of the more prominent.

Here there is a trend to ‘experience packaging’ where opening the box in a fun and interesting way is seen as adding to the value perception of the product itself.

The other major trend in e-commerce packaging – and packaging generally – is sustainability. There is a desire to move away from plastics and especially plastic protective elements like EPS peanuts or foam padding, towards easier packaging components made from pulp materials that are easier to recycle at home.

DW: Many companies such as Amazon have been called out for their excessive use of packaging. With sustainability being a big trend within the overall packaging sector, how is and how can e-commerce packaging become more sustainable, while keeping its overall efficiency and durability specifications?

JN: Amazon has indeed been criticised for excessive packaging and has looked to counter this, mostly through its frustration-free packaging guidelines. These now include rules for sustainability in design and material selection. Across the sector there is interest in replacing plastics and generally minimising the volume of packs and additional protective or fill elements.

It is understandable that consumers get this negative reaction when they are presented with a lot of excess material once the delivery is made. It should be borne in mind though that protection of goods under shipment also contributes a lot to cutting overall carbon emissions. The CO2 equivalent to a paperback book, for example, is equal to driving 1-2 miles in a delivery van. So the overall impact on the environment of downgrading these elements is not necessarily positive if there are any returns due to a damaged product.

DW: What other trends or particular sectors within e-commerce packaging are currently shaping the market?

JN: Cosmetics and personal care is one I would highlight, especially as there is more of an emphasis on personalised beauty. This involves tailoring a product to the end-user that fits in naturally with an online sales model where the buyer can upload or discuss details of their hair colour, skin colour etc., prior to buying.

There was a move in the first days of e-commerce retailing for ‘no-nonsense’ utility brands, like Dollar Shave Club, which captured a big section of the market. While there is still scope in some areas, many of the big success stories from this first generation have now been bought up by bigger personal care brands.

Interestingly, in a lot of sectors big brands are now seeing the opportunity to launch sites that sell direct-to-consumers – i.e. they’re not going via a third-party with its own brick-and-mortar stores. This is potentially attractive for the brand as they can make a direct relationship with the consumer and then leverage this with follow-on promotional ideas. For the latter the packaging can play a direct role too. For example, links to the brand website or individual short-run promotional codes can be printed on the e-commerce packaging.

DW: What are the main challenges companies may have when producing e-commerce packaging?

JN: The challenge is how to project brand values through the packaging, especially in a sales channel where brand loyalty is weaker. Innovation can really help, but the challenge is to keep giving the customer something new and exciting over time to retain that engagement.

DW: What does the future of e-commerce packaging look like?

JN: There will be strong growth in this sales channel for nearly all sectors. The latest Smithers research on this topic shows that a market with a global value of $37.8bn in 2019 will rise to be nearly $63.3bn in 2023. This is equivalent to a year-on-year growth rate of 14% – about four times higher than the overall growth in the global packaging market.

It is giving packaging converters, material suppliers and printers great scope to innovate and add value-adding products to their portfolio that brand owners are willing to pay a premium for.

DW: As an e-commerce packaging event, how does E-PACK Europe plan to further develop the e-commerce packaging sector?

Emma Newton: E-PACK Europe 2020 will cover the full landscape of the evolving e-commerce packaging market. The event provides a platform to discuss technical challenges for the e-commerce packaging industry in terms of functional designs and protection, innovative and cost-effective packaging solutions, new business opportunities, case studies from leading brands and retailers, advancements in materials and technology, and more.

The conference agenda will be packed with first-hand experiences and case studies from leading brands and retailers, packaging manufacturers, third-party logistics companies and more. So this will provide attendees with in-depth insights, experiences and best practices to help them succeed in the packaging for e-commerce sphere.

The event will also look at hot issues, such as sustainability, new innovative technologies and future opportunities, with presentations centred around these subjects to encourage open and honest discussions about how the sector can address and/or best utilise them.

DW: E-PACK has an impressive panel of packaging industry experts on its 2020 Advisory Board, such as DS Smith, Pernod Ricard and Amcor. What is the main aim of the board and what have you learned about e-commerce packaging through the utilisation of the board?

EN: The board is assisting Smithers with curating a 2020 conference agenda that will continue to provide delegates will presentations and insights into the most important issues, challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.

Through the Advisory Board members, we’ve learnt a great deal about what is important to the industry and what attendees are looking to hear about at the event and especially, how what they learn/discover can help them succeed in this sector.

DW: What can attendees expect from next year’s E-PACK Europe 2020 event?

EN: Attendees can expect to meet and network with over 200+ packaging for e-commerce professionals from across the value chain, and they can expect to receive in-depth insights and first-hand experiences from leading experts in the field.

The inaugural 2019 programme covered topics from omnichannel, design and innovation, sustainability and future outlooks, through to brand and retailer case studies, new innovative technologies transforming the supply chain and new materials, and the 2020 programme is shaping up to be even bigger and better.

DW: What is the most important lesson you would want the e-commerce packaging sector to know?

Adam Page: Keep up to date on the latest trends and developments as this is a very fast-moving part of the packaging industry. There are big opportunities, but also threats on the horizon too.