Coping with peak packaging demand
Why Black Friday packaging is critical to your business success
Black Friday packaging should be a central part of your seasonal sales strategy. eCommerce packaging can provide an unforgettable experience for customers, fostering brand loyalty. Retail packaging can grab consumer attention. It can help minimise packing and fulfilment times. And, of course, protect products in transit.
These benefits are why thoroughly planning and preparing your packaging for the annual Black Friday event, which falls on 24 November this year, is crucial.
This guide highlights why it is a mistake to overlook how vital Black Friday packaging can be, how to avoid the common pitfalls associated with increased demand, and how to leverage packaging as a competitive advantage.
Split into 15 actionable tips and considerations, it covers:
- How your packaging can affect your fulfilment times.
- Ways to prepare for increased demand.
- The experience that packaging can provide your customers.
- And much more besides.
What is Black Friday?
Black Friday happens on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. It began as a way to entice shoppers into starting their Christmas shopping – effectively an unofficial launch to the festive season.
However, the “Black Friday” phrase did not become widespread until the 1960s. Some claim that it refers to the fact that it is the day that retailers “move into the black” and start making a profit for the year. Others claim it is related to the markdowns on prices.
Whatever the origin of Black Friday, its influence has spread beyond the US. Over the last ten years, it has transformed the retail calendar in the UK and most other regions. Black Friday has since overtaken Boxing Day and Cyber Monday as the most significant shopping day of the year (although Amazon Prime Day is now also a contender when considering deals and overall sales volumes).
And whilst consumers are likely to still head to bricks-and-mortar stores on the day itself, online sales have seen the most significant growth since the event became established in the UK. However, this shift to eCommerce can pose difficulties for many businesses, not least in terms of their packaging requirements.
Black Friday facts and figures
Several statistics highlight just how much of a significant event Black Friday has become. For example:
- Consumers spent approximately £8.71 billion in 2022 – a drop of 7.45% compared with sales of £9.42 billion in 2021.
- Of this, consumers spent £3.9 billion in physical retail stores, with £4.81 billion spent through online channels.
- The average purchase value rose from £108.10 in 2021 to £125.43 in 2022.
- An average UK consumer spends just under £850 online over a year.
- However, the average spend over Black Friday was £275 per shopper.
- Other sources suggest the typical black Friday shopper purchases two products, with an average value of just over £80 each.
- More than 60% of Black Friday shoppers use the event to purchase Christmas gifts.
Besides the figures detailing the spending habits of UK consumers, there are also some revealing statistics on the role packaging can play in Black Friday success:
- 8% of all products shipped on Black Friday arrive damaged.
- Of these, around 30% are so severely damaged as to be unusable.
- 40% believe that damage is the courier’s fault, whilst 15% believe poorly sized packaging was the main factor.
The sheer scale of Black Friday – which falls on 24 November this year – puts an understandable strain on all aspects of your business. Manufacturing. Admin. Advertising and Marketing. Supply Chain. Shipping and returns. Increased sales and promotional activity impact all of this.
So, with the focus for most businesses likely to be meeting the Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas seasonal demand, it is easy for your Black Friday packaging (and the associated processes) to be ignored or neglected.
But, with some planning, creative thinking, and working with the right packaging company, your Black Friday Packaging can become a surprisingly significant competitive advantage.
How to prepare
Steps to take for a successful Black Friday
Regardless of the extent to which your business plans to partake in Black Friday discounts and promotions, you are still likely to see increased demand in the run-up to Christmas.
So, to mitigate the challenges (and exploit the opportunities) that your business is likely to see regarding your Black Friday packaging, you should consider the following points:
- General organisation and preparation.
- Packaging stock levels.
- Fulfilment processes and packing times.
- Staffing levels and training.
- Avoiding excessive packaging.
- Transit protection.
- Ensuring a positive customer experience (unboxing).
- Usability of your packaging.
- Recyclability and sustainability.
- Potential for special edition packaging.
- Brand continuity and consistency.
- Omni channel (on and offline) packaging.
- Christmas preparation.
- Gaining a competitive advantage.
- Exceeding customer expectations.
General organisation and preparation
Considering your Black Friday packaging well in advance
It may seem obvious, yet trips many businesses up – preparation is absolutely critical for your Black Friday promotions.
Many retailers start preparations as early as July to maximise exposure, sales and profitability.
You should know which products are to be discounted or promoted, the sales forecasts, the additional stock holding you may have, and how this all impacts your packaging requirements.
It is also essential to consider that Black Friday immediately leads into the Christmas period and then the January sales – both of which could also place strain on your operations. Planning is essential.
Packaging stock levels
Ensuring adequate stock holding and availability across your packaging inventory
Whilst this could sit under general preparation, ensuring adequate packaging stock levels is so critical that it deserves special consideration.
Put simply, if you do not have enough packaging to ship your Black Friday (and Christmas) orders, you miss out on significant sales. You may even lose some potential customers forever. Even a delay of a few days can see customers cancelling orders.
Historical figures can help you predict what packaging stock levels you may need.
And don’t focus on just your cardboard packaging. You should also have enough void fill, tapes, labels and other secondary packaging.
Fulfilment processes/packing times
Streamlining picking and packing processes to avoid customer disappointment
Successful Black Friday promotions put a massive strain on a business’ packaging and create significant disruption throughout their operations.
Delays in shipping orders can be disastrous – with consumers expecting delivery within 1 to 2 days on average. Failing to hit promised delivery times can cause cancelled orders or result in losing repeat business.
Preventing these problems is where the correct warehousing and picking bin setups are crucial. The option for temporary pick walls and stacking pick bins on aisle ends can also help to mitigate increases in stock and order volumes.
Similarly, you can help your packing staff with easy-to-assemble boxes, as well as using suitable packaging that helps to minimise the required void fill. Both of these can help reduce fulfilment times.
Staff and training
Having the people-power to cope with increased activity
Considering your staffing requirements is equally as critical as your fulfilment processes, whether this involves bringing in temporary staff, offering more overtime opportunities, or taking steps to retain your existing team.
However, staffing can be difficult at the best of times, whilst continuing high job vacancies make recruitment particularly difficult at present. Emile Naus, partner at consultancy firm BearingPoint and formerly head of logistics strategy at Marks & Spencer, is quoted as saying:
You need more people in warehouses but for a very short amount of time. You either bring them in early and train them and they’re standing around doing nothing, or you bring them in late and they don’t know what they’re doing, they make mistakes and that has an impact on consumers.
As such, it is crucial that you have a well-trained, focused workforce. But you must also provide the right environment to maximise your staff’s efficiency.
Avoid excessive packaging
Reduce environmental impact, transit costs, and customer frustration
Another benefit of well-trained and engaged staff is that they are more likely to use the correct packaging.
Gone are the days when customers unquestioningly accepted unnecessarily big cardboard parcels stuffed with protective bubble wrap containing tiny purchases. Instead, appropriately sized boxes made from recyclable materials paired with visual and brand appeal are a ‘must’ for retaining customer loyalty.
But oversized packs cause numerous problems for your business.
It means increased shipping costs (you pay to ship empty space). It can mean using excessive void fill, such as papers or foam pellets, etc. (which costs money). It can annoy customers who have to dispose of the excess packaging. It can even gain negative publicity through social media (or press coverage in extreme cases). And all of these points are in addition to the environmental impact.
During the busy Black Friday period, it is easy for staff to select the wrong box. Ensure you properly train your workforce (and they have enough stock of the correct boxes) to avoid this problem.
Don't forget the primary purpose of your packaging
The potential for damaged products and customer returns across Black Friday and Christmas are hugely significant. With the increased online activity of consumers, this problem is likely to grow, too.
An eCommerce order can have as many as 50 different touchpoints before it reaches the end consumer. In turn, it means 50 potential opportunities for the package to be mishandled and damaged before reaching its destination.
This journey for eCommerce packaging is in stark contrast to an estimated ten touch points for products ending up in traditional retail stores.
As such, it is critical that your packaging can withstand the rigours of the delivery network. To do so, you should work with a packaging designer who can advise on the optimum packaging material, design and size.
Testing, both theoretical and physical, can also be priceless.
By neglecting your packaging’s primary function – to protect its contents – you also risk increased product damage, customer returns (and the associated costs), and negative coverage and sentiment about your brand and products.
A positive customer experience (unboxing)
Surprise and delight your customers when they receive their orders
Whilst protecting products in transit is the primary objective for your Black Friday packaging (and indeed all packaging), the bar has been raised significantly in recent years.
A product arriving undamaged is now viewed simply as the base level of expectation – par for the course.
In the age of social media and YouTube coverage, there has been an explosion in unboxing packaging and accompanying videos.
The feeling that your customers get when opening their order – surprise, delight, excitement – can turn them into brand advocates (as well as gaining your business crucial word-of-mouth recommendations).
As such, your packaging should aim to go above and beyond. Make your customers feel valued, communicate your brand message and cement your business in their minds by showing care and attention to detail.
Frustration free packaging
As with not focusing on customer experience, poor quality Black Friday packaging can have a longer-term impact on your business success.
Whilst no one underestimates the short-term pain of replacing or refunding a damaged item, more than a quarter of consumers would not order again from a business that supplies goods in poorly designed packaging.
Putting this into the context of increased Black Friday activity, there is the potential for thousands of pounds of business lost not only in returns but also in lost brand loyalty and repeated orders.
Regardless of the unboxing experience your packaging provides, if it arrives damaged, looks scruffy, or is even difficult and frustrating to open, it counts for nothing.
Recyclability and sustainability
Growing demand amongst consumers to limit environmental impacts
Sustainability remains an important consideration for consumers. Almost 1 in 5 (19%) would not continue to buy from a retailer that did not use sustainable packaging.
For eCommerce businesses to lose a fifth of their potential market due to using the wrong packaging is incredibly significant.
Using recyclable and biodegradable materials such as cardboard and paper should be implemented wherever possible. Adding printed recycling symbols and logos is viewed positively by consumers, too, as is being part of a scheme (e.g. using FSC-certified packaging).
Of course, using correctly sized packaging can also help reduce CO2 emissions and minimise environmental impact.
With consumers receiving ever-increasing amounts of packaging thanks to the switch to eCommerce, it is essential that your Black Friday packaging is the right size, plus quick and easy to recycle.
Special edition packaging
Packaging developed specifically for the festive sales period
If Black Friday is your most important sales event of the year, then it may be worth considering limited-edition packaging to match.
The obvious choice is to use eCommerce or retail boxes with black print, although there are many different branding ideas that you may wish to consider.
Whilst there is a cost involved, special edition packaging can enhance the unboxing experience, potentially winning new customers and helping to retain existing ones. It can also help you stand out from the competition, potentially assisting with brand recognition and recall.
Consistent appearance and experience for consumers
Whether or not you are considering special packaging for your Black Friday or Christmas promotions, ensuring consistency of branding and experience is vital for retaining customers.
Suppose your packaging does not match the experience of your online shop, retail store or even what they expected based on your brand positioning. In that case, it can mean difficulty retaining customers and repeat business. This is particularly true for Gen Z and millennial consumers.
Your packaging should represent and reflect your place within the market and complement your bricks-and-mortar stores and online experiences.
Consider online and offline
Does your packaging drive sales in retail stores?
Although the trend toward eCommerce is undeniable – and arguably accelerating – it has highlighted how the traditional distinctions between online and offline retailing are becoming more blurred. Click-and-collect services and in-store returns are a further reflection of this.
So, whilst much of the focus for brands partaking in Black Friday is their eCommerce activities, consumers will still spend over £3 billion in retail stores.
Of course, retail packaging provides several different challenges (and opportunities) to eCommerce boxes.
Your retail packs should help capture consumer attention in typically crowded bricks-and-mortar stores, where brands are vying for attention. It should still reflect your market positioning and tie in with consumers’ other touch points with your business, including online properties.
And remember that visiting retail stores can be an important experience, such as taking children to view toys or shopping for special Christmas gifts.
Considering limited edition packaging is again a good idea, although options such as sleeves or labels that can enhance existing product packaging are a great, lower-cost option.
A proper omnichannel strategy ties all of this together, with your online and offline packaging complementing each other.
Using lessons learnt for Christmas and beyond
It is crucial to learn from both your mistakes and your successes.
For example, your Black Friday sales figures may show which product lines are in demand and which are struggling to achieve the desired sales. This data may influence future promotions, pricing, product development and the packaging required in the future.
Similarly, can you see patterns in terms of product returns – with certain products seeming to be more affected by damage during transit (which would require a different approach to your packaging)?
You can apply these lessons immediately to any Christmas promotions or January sales activity you may be running, but you should also consider them for subsequent years. It is never too early to start planning for next year!
Leverage your Black Friday packaging opportunity
The bottom line is that your Black Friday packaging can provide a competitive advantage if you get it right. The benefit is even more important when set against the discounting (and subsequently slim margins) that characterises the trading across this period.
By minimising the cost and brand damage of returns, fostering loyalty amongst consumers and maximising the efficiency of your packing, supply chain and even retail operations, you can see significant long-term benefits to your business.
Exceed customer expectations
The most important consideration for your Black Friday packaging
And finally, all of the points detailed in this guide should work towards the same goal. Exceeding your customers’ expectations.
Sales periods such as Black Friday are your crucial opportunity to convert first-time buyers into long-term customers while keeping existing customers happy.
Whilst the processes in your warehouse, packaging costs, and brand positioning are all of critical importance, winning and retaining customers is the lifeblood of your business.
Ensure your packaging doesn’t give them a reason to shop with a competitor.
Make sure your packaging is up to the Black Friday surge
If your online store, marketing, product selection and pricing are all on point, chances are you should see a surge in demand on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the festive period beyond.
If you experience improved sales, ensure you don’t let your customers down through poor packaging that doesn’t protect in transit, slows down fulfilment times, or is just plain hard to open.
And pay attention to the unboxing experience. You should aim to surprise and delight your customers.
Need help with any of this? If so, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. At GWP, we have extensive experience creating Black Friday packaging that protects your products, grabs consumer attention, and exceeds your customers’ expectations.