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Ecommerce Shipping: The crucial role played by packaging

Jay Daggar: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Guides and Advice | Transit Protection xx 31631

Ecommerce Transit Packaging

The role that your ecommerce packaging plays in successful order fulfilment

Ecommerce shipping has been the focus for a large number of companies, and rightly so.

From Amazon planning to use drones to deliver online orders and various businesses now offering same day delivery, securing a sale can often hinge on the delivery and shipping options available at the online checkout.

But not all companies offer good – or even acceptable – shipping options.

It is a familiar scenario, being stuck at home waiting for a parcel to arrive. Having to take time of work. Or returning home to find a “sorry we missed you” card pushed through the door, meaning you have to go and collect your items (negating the convenience of online shopping).

Waiting for ecommerce delivery
Amazon has shifted consumer expectations of ecommerce delivery - make sure your packaging doesn't affect their satisfaction

In fact, due to poor experience, many would prefer to still collect their items once they have ordered online, seeing the rise in click and collect services offered by many large retailers.

But regardless of your customers’ expectations, it is important to consider the role that your packaging will play in your ecommerce shipping, and how it can directly impact your business success.

Quick Reference / Contents

01: Why is Shipping so Important?

Importance a successful delivery strategy

But before highlighting the crucial role that packaging plays in ecommerce shipping, it is important to also emphasise just how important a successful delivery strategy is to any ecommerce business.

Firstly, a recent study by Ipsos has indicated that around 90% of those surveyed expected to receive online orders within a week.

This may seem blindingly obvious however, with a large percentage of those surveyed likely to expect their orders much quicker than this (and particularly those using Amazon Prime – promising next day delivery and even same day on many items).

The study does also go on to indicate that over half would expect the estimated delivery to be accurate to within 3 hours, and that 40% would be willing to pay extra for delivery at the time that suits them most.

Arguably more significant is that in a number of other studies, around 40% of online shoppers would be deterred from making a purchase if the delivery times were deemed too slow.

Going back to the study by Ipsos, the main take-away is that 57% of consumers believe that current delivery options offered by online retailers are not satisfactory.

The role of ecommerce packaging in shipping success

So whilst this may be all well and good, it can of course be argued that the highlighted problems and dissatisfaction can be attributed to courier services (and the strain admittedly being placed on them).

And this is true. Selecting and paying for a reliable shipping provider is hugely critical to ecommerce success.

But what is often overlooked is that the ecommerce packaging you use can also place a strain on your fulfilment and delivery times. Getting this element of your operations right can give you a strong foundation for achieving customer satisfaction through prompt, efficient delivery.

Get it wrong, and may be near impossible to recover the situation.

02: 8 Ways Packaging Affects Success

Eight ways your packaging can affect ecommerce shipping success

As a result, the following points should be considered when looking at both your ecommerce packaging and the fulfilment times you can and /or aim to offer…

  • Assembly times of your packaging
  • Packing times
  • Void fill requirements
  • Custom sizes and volumetric shipping
  • Protection in transit
  • Overall inventory size / management
  • Returns (facilitating and reducing)
  • Warehouse setup / picking bins

Please continue reading below for further details on how to mitigate the issues and maximise the potential benefits posed by these 8 considerations.

03: Assembly

Assembly times of your packaging

First on the list is a point that is frequently overlooked when it comes to ecommerce delivery – that of how long it takes to assemble your packaging.

Whilst assembling a box may not take long in isolation – perhaps 20 to 30 seconds if it is a standard design that is taped – if you send out hundreds of orders of a day this can quickly add up to a lot of time focusing on this one aspect.

The obvious impact that this has on your fulfilment is that it slows it down. This makes offering those short delivery times more difficult.

Minimise packing times
Packaging that is slow to assemble and pack results in lower productivity, and can have a knock on effect with delivery times

One solution is to use pre-assembled boxes (although these take up a lot of space – which itself incurs a cost), to have a designated box assembler (with the associated labour costs), or, lastly, to utilise easy assemble boxes.

Designs such as those with a crash lock base can be erected simply by pulling the corners apart, saving a vast amount of time. It also reduces secondary packaging, mainly tape, and can help reduce RSI injuries too.

04: Packing Times

Key factor affecting ecommerce fulfilment

Similarly to the above, the actual time it takes to pack your orders can affect your ability to offer satisfactory fulfilment times.

Whilst the box assembly is arguably a part of this, adding the required secondary packaging (e.g. void fill), labels, decorative elements, inserts and fliers, the products themselves and then sealing / labelling can take a surprisingly long time.

But how can this be minimised through packaging?

Firstly, eliminating or at least minimising void fill by using custom sized ecommerce boxes can help, as can printing certain information directly onto the box (for example returns and customer help info) can prevent the need for the additional process of adding additional paperwork etc.

Whilst these may seem like small gains individually, they can soon add up over time.

05: Void Fill Requirements

Impact on cost and packing times

Talking of void fill, it can have other impacts on your ecommerce shipping besides slowing down packing times.

If you are using too much void fill it indicates that you may be using packaging which is too large. This will almost certainly be costing you money.

Secondly, there is the cost of the void fill itself, and this coupled with the increased shipping costs can make it tempting to pass these costs onto your customers (or alternatively erodes your profit margin).

This can be a mistake however, as offering free shipping has been shown to increase average order values by as much as 30%.

But either way, void fill can be an unnecessary cost.

Finally, void fill is additional packaging for your customers to dispose of, which can prove annoying and also does nothing for your environmental credentials.

06: Correct Sizing

Custom sizes and volumetric shipping

One way to avoid excessive void fill is to make use of custom ecommerce packaging.

Not only does this reduce the cost incurred through having to source secondary packaging, but it is also likely to reduce your overall shipping costs too. This is because of the shift to volumetric shipping charges, which mean you can effectively be paying extra to ship fresh air (or void fill).

Any savings that you make with regards to custom sized packaging can be used to offer faster delivery times to your customers.

A note of caution however is that if your orders are extremely varied in size, it can prove prohibitive to have a vast array of custom sized boxes, as this then does not allow you take advantage of economies of scale whilst sourcing your ecommerce boxes.

07: Inventory

Overall packaging inventory size / management

Going back to the point raised about custom packaging, it is crucial to get your inventory of packaging products just right.

If your inventory is too large it can mean that not only are not paying the best prices for your cartons (as you are buying smaller volumes of a larger range), but that it is most likely slowing down your fulfilment too.

It will be harder to find the correct box, harder to monitor stock levels and generally prove more difficult to manage.

Ecommerce packaging inventory
If you have a complicated ecommerce packaging inventory, it can mean staff take longer to select the required boxes

The opposite extreme however – an inventory with too few sizes, will see you incurring additional shipping costs and using too much void fill through nearly always sending boxes that are too big.

As with most things, finding a suitable balance for your business is critical.

08: Protection

Safety of goods during transit

Saying that, it is important to remember that the primary function of your packaging is to allow for successful shipping of your online orders.

Whilst speed is arguably one the criteria that defines success, protection in transit is equally important.

It is no use to get damaged items delivered extremely quickly, as they will simply be returned.

This would mean your customers getting a replacement even later than if the first delivery (even if slower) arrived undamaged, but even that is assuming that they ask for a replacement and don’t simply ask for a refund.

Ultimately, this causes additional hassle for both you and your customer, as well as written off stock that becomes unsellable or vastly devalued.

09: Returns (facilitating and reducing)

Minimising costs / labour associated with returns

Besides reducing transit damage to help minimise returns caused by broken items, your packaging can help with returns in other ways too.

For this to work however, you have to accept that there will always be a specific level of returns that you need to process. So rather than making this difficult for your customers (and potentially losing future sales as a result), your box can include returns instructions, or can even be used for sending items back.

Many ecommerce businesses find that even their best customers will frequently return items, so it is important to ensure that whole process is handled smoothly and efficiently.

And whilst this may not fall under the strict definition of ecommerce shipping success, the returned item will still need to travel through the same courier and delivery networks as getting your orders out in the first place.

10: Warehouse Setup / Picking Bins

Steps to reduce picking times

All of this however is only one art of the puzzle.

Besides quick packing times, a good courier that offers a fast service and ecommerce boxes that prevent damage and minimise returns, all aspects of your fulfilment processes must be run smoothly.

Order picking bins
Think beyond the box (or outside if you prefer the cliche) and consider other forms of packaging that can enhance your efficiency

This includes everything from how you pick your orders, to the types of picking bins and racking that you use in your warehouse or storage facility.

It is really important to take a holistic view of your picking and packing operation, as problems in one area can hamper success further down the process.

Get it right and you can offer your customers the fast delivery times they are increasingly demanding.

In Summary

The crucial role of packaging in ecommerce shipping

Whilst your ecommerce packaging should undoubtedly be about so much more than just helping to offer quick delivery times (with branding, product protection, ease of use, cost effectiveness and the environment being just five additional considerations), its role in streamlined fulfilment should not be ignored.

And with consumers wanting their orders delivered in ever shorter time-frames, can your business really afford to not focus on the success of your ecommerce shipping?

Further Reading...

About the Author

Jay Daggar, GWP Packaging Sales Manager

Jay Daggar

Sales Manager | GWP Packaging

Jay joined GWP Packaging in mid-2008 before becoming Sales Manager in 2011, meaning he has worked for GWP for over 10 years. [Read full bio…]

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