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Festive Packaging & Business Preparation for Christmas

Last Updated 12th October 2021
Posted In: Efficiency & Productivity | Guides & Advice

Festive Packaging Tips

Tactics, ideas, and other considerations to ensure your festive packaging is up to the task

Let’s cut to the chase. At the time of writing, Christmas is less than 100 days away. And with the nights drawing in and attention turning to the upcoming Black Friday (for retailers and ecommerce sellers anyway) it is important that your business preparation for Christmas is well underway.

But what role can your packaging play in this?

Frequently neglected – or in some cases ignored altogether – your packaging can pay a huge part in your success during the festive period. And this isn’t just your printed, retail packaging – it applies to your transit, postal and ecommerce fulfilment boxes too.

This guide provides a 25-point (see what we did there) checklist on what to consider if your festive packaging is to help your business get set for Christmas.

It is broken down to cover:

  • The planning you should be undertaking
  • How packaging ties in with all aspects of your business
  • The key interaction between staff and your business success
  • And much else besides

Please continue reading below, or use the table of contents to jump straight to your area of interest.

Quick Reference / Contents

01: Introduction

Consumer activity in the run up to Christmas

Although many businesses – and, in particular, larger retailers and ecommerce sellers – will focus on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this can be a mistake. As although these are typically the busiest 2 days of the year (although Amazon Prime Day is fast catching up), the extended run up to Christmas is consistently the busiest in terms of overall sales (which is reflected in these Christmas packaging facts).

And it must not be forgotten that whilst some Christmas shopping for gifts will take place on Black Friday, a large percentage of items purchased are for the individual buying them (particularly large items such as TVs, fridges etc, as well as fashion / clothing).

Festive packaging
The run up to Christmas will likely be the busiest of the trading year - eclipsing Black Friday

Christmas, in contrast, sees consumers buying gifts for family and friends – meaning they are purchasing multiple items rather than one off (often impulse) purchases.

In fact, data from The Telegraph suggests that the average British family will spend as much as £800 on Christmas presents. This is why December is consistently the month that records the highest sales figures each year.

The bottom line?

It is absolutely crucial that your business is ready to take advantage of the huge increase in sales volume during this period.

How will Christmas look in 2021?

However, there is every chance that 2021, like 2020 before it, will not be a typical festive season.

Some people argue that with the UK having accumulated savings of as much as £130 billion during COVID-19 lock downs last year (and a Christmas limited by restrictions in 2020), this year is likely to see a huge spending spree not seen before.

There are many analysts however that are concerned that this Christmas will have the opposite problem.

Simon Geale, executive vice president at Proxima, a procurement consultancy working with retailers and brands including John Lewis, Wilko and Burberry, is quoted in the i Newspaper as saying:

In 2020 there was quite a lot of stock because retailers had been closed but not a lot of [consumer] confidence… In 2021 there is pent-up cash but not the stock.

Whilst the initial challenges posed by driver shortages, low stocks and high demand is most likely to affect Black Friday events (with many retailers reported to be shunning the event this year) the likelihood is that there will be a knock-on effect for Christmas too.

The short answer is that no-one really knows how it will play out this year. But this is all the more reason to be as prepared as possible for all eventualities.

Promotional packaging
2021 consumer behaviour and demand is difficult to predict in 2021 - due to ongoing concerns and restrictions caused by COVID-19

02: Christmas Packaging

How your packaging supplies can help you maximise sales and success this Christmas

Bearing this in mind, it means there is a huge number of factors for businesses to consider when planning, and successfully executing strategies, related to a successful festive period.

But how can you Christmas packaging (and packaging in general) help with this? And how does it fit into your overall plans?

Well, the remainder of this guide provides a checklist of 25 points that must be considered if you want your packaging to not only meet increased demand, but to help drive sales and customer satisfaction as well.

These have been split into a number of categories and topics, including the following:

Planning

  • Awareness of timings / planning
  • Competitor analysis
  • Stock levels / JIT
  • Cost considerations

Promotional

  • Key delivery / promotional dates
  • Brand awareness
  • Promotional packs

Packaging Supplies / Products

  • Transit damage
  • Ensuring packaging fits product
  • Avoidance of overpacking
  • Ensuring packs are easy to open
  • Unboxing experience
  • Recyclability
  • Returns
  • Sundries

Staff

  • Staff training (including temps)
  • Staff efficiency (packing)
  • Packing bay setup
  • Order picking / fulfilment
  • Holidays and staff absences
  • Staff safety (COVID-19)
  • Reward team

Logistics

  • Handling extra stock
  • Managing transport requirements
  • Returns policy

Please continue reading for further details covering each of these points / considerations in turn.

03: Planning

When and how to plan Christmas packaging

Many will argue that the best time to start planning for Christmas is December 27th. Whilst this is unlikely to be possible if you are reading this (at the time of writing at least), the next best option is today (or as soon as you reasonably can).

If you have been in business for longer than 12 months, you should have some historical data on the products and promotions that saw increased sales during previous Christmases. This data is hugely important.

It allows you to see when packaging usage began to increase, which lines were most commonly used, what secondary packaging (such as tapes, void fill etc.) was required and – crucially – the typical increase you are likely to see.

Whilst last year (2020) was somewhat of an anomaly due to the Coronavirus pandemic, using previously gathered data can help you make educated decisions on exactly what packaging you are going to need.

festive packaging preparation
Ideally, you should begin planning your festive packaging requirements and processes as soon as possible

Competitor analysis

Whilst the data you collected in previous years is invaluable, it is also important to consider what competitors are doing.

Will they be launching their sales events early? Will they have success with customised packaging, two for one offers, free shipping etc.? All of this will not only affect their packaging requirements, but potentially also your own (if for example you are losing sales due to being undercut on price, or outperformed in terms of marketing and awareness).

Remember what successes you had with your own promotions, how quickly you saw the impact of these, and also allow some leeway in case you see opportunities that arise due to your competitors actions (or if you need to respond to their sales tactics).

Stock levels / JIT

Of course, both of these points will lead to you determining how much extra packaging you are likely to need for the festive period.

But where does all of this extra packaging go? Especially as you are holding more stock, too?

It is important to consider how to optimise space in your warehouse to accommodate the extra packaging you will be holding (these bitesize tips can help with warehouse efficiency), but there are other options.

For example, if your packaging supplier offers a “Just in Time” service (JIT) then it is important to speak with them regarding changes in volume you are expecting to see during the run up to Christmas. A service such as this also helps you to minimise space requirements in your own warehouse.

And finally, regardless of whether you have a JIT agreement in place or not, lead times for cardboard boxes are significantly longer than in previous years (due mainly to material shortages). Make sure you plan ahead to avoid being left without any (or unsuitable) packaging for your requirements.

Christmas packaging stock levels
Taking advantage of a "Just in Time" service can help you manage your packaging stocks

Costs

The final part of your planning should also look at costs and cashflow. Whilst using more packaging obviously means you are selling more products, the months leading up to Christmas can see costs increase (as you start to build up packaging and product inventory).

Another factor to bear in mind is that the cost of corrugated packaging has risen significantly this year – largely due to the widely reported shortages of cardboard material. Bear this in mind if you are using previous year’s figures to calculate your likely spend on packaging for the Christmas period.

Make sure your business is prepared for this, and that your finances are able to handle the upfront costs of a successful trading period.

04: Promotional

Key delivery / promotional dates

It is obviously important to have your packaging in place before your sales start to ramp up. But when is this?

Whilst there are well known landmarks in the run up to Christmas (Black Friday and Cyber Monday being two we have already mentioned), when exactly do your sales really take off? Do you see a steady increase, or a sudden surge? When do your various marketing campaigns or advertisements go live? What impact do these have?

As detailed before, looking at your historical data can help here. But is important that all elements of your business are joined up. It is no use going live with a promotion (especially if it turns out to drive significant sales volumes) if you don’t have the capacity or packaging to fulfil the increase in orders.

Christmas ecommerce
Key dates for sales volume peaks - including Cyber Monday and other promotional events - should be factored into your planning

Awareness

Whilst this will largely be the focus of your marketing campaigns, it is wise to consider how your packaging can help increase awareness of your brand and products during the Christmas sales period.

Particularly important in retail environments (where your packaging must grab consumer attention), even your ecommerce packs can be used to start tempting to customers with upcoming seasonal offers.

This also feeds back to all areas of your business being fully aware of key dates and expected peaks in demand.

Promotional packs

The design and style of any promotional and or festive packaging you are using for the Christmas period is usually what garners the most attention. But this shouldn’t be at the expense of the points listed here (and particularly in the next section).

Saying that, special seasonal or Christmas packs are a key tool to drive impulse purchases in store, grab attention, add value, and delight your retail and ecommerce customers alike.

Consideration must be taken however to not under or over purchase promotional packs. This has the potential to limit successful campaigns, or see a large amount of cost wasted on packaging that cannot be used after the promotional period. As such, it is often wise to consider generic packs that can potentially be used the following Christmas, or to customise existing packs with sleeves, stickers or other items that are less costly.

05: Packaging Performance

Preventing transit damage

Whilst this may sound blindingly obvious, you must ensure that your packaging (including special festive packs) is up to facing the rigours of the transport and courier networks you are using.

Your packs must be able to withstand being dropped, crushed, moisture (i.e. getting left out in bad weather) and general mishandling – particularly with the increase in deliveries over Christmas and the driver shortages currently being experienced.

Make sure you use appropriately sized boxes, protective inserts and / or void fill, and that your packaging is of a suitable quality in the first place (cheap packaging is typically a false economy when factoring in returns and refunds).

festive packaging transit damage
Will your festive packaging be able to withstand the handling / conditions it is likely to face?

Ensure packaging fits your product(s)

One of the key ways that products are damaged in transit is for them to be rattling around inside of large outer packs, or for multiple items to be knocking into each other.

One fix for this is to include void fill, but this can quickly become expensive if your boxes are too large for the products being shipped in them.

Equally, for retail applications, whilst large packs can often be eye catching in store, the disappointment that follows when the smaller than expected contents are revealed can harm consumer loyalty and affect repeat purchases.

Avoid overpacking

Similarly to the above, and when thinking about online orders in particular, many people will have experience of receiving small products in ridiculously oversized packs. Yet this is still highlighted as one of the biggest annoyances by consumers.

With a huge influx of boxes and packaging during the Christmas period, consumers do not want the additional hassle of disposing excess void fill, large amounts of cardboard, and especially items that can only go in the bin (such as air sacks, bubble wrap etc.).

As well as the annoyance factor, it also looks (and is) bad for the environment, increases transport costs, and can lead to the need for rearranging deliveries if you are out (and the product itself would have fitted through the letterbox were it not for the packaging).

Packs are easy to open

Another gripe for many consumers is packs that are nigh on impossible to open.

Whilst it is important that your packaging protects your products on their way to the retail outlet or consumers delivery address, frustration at not being able to get into the exciting new purchase can reflect badly on your brand and products.

There are numerous options to resolve this however, including tear strips and clever locking mechanisms that can improve the unboxing experience.

Unboxing experience

Speaking of unboxing, the experience that you provide to your customers can add some real magic to your brand and products.

At the very least you should be considering internal print on your ecommerce packaging, but you can go much further than this.

You could consider packaging inserts to display the products upon opening, recessed foam for luxury appearance and feel, or even to develop the pack so it can be retained for storage of the products on an ongoing basis.

All of this – when used alongside your company branding and / or a seasonal theme, can delight your customers and drive loyalty moving forward.

ecommerce unboxing experience
Attention should be paid to the unboxing experience that your festive ecommerce packaging provides

Recyclability

Having already touched on how consumers dislike receiving packaging that is oversized for the products within, this can be exacerbated further if the packs are not easy to recycle (or have to be split into component parts before doing so).

Consumers of all ages and demographics are now demanding much more sustainable packaging and products, with this being a key focus at Christmas (which is viewed by many as extremely wasteful and excessive).

Positioning your brand as being environmentally friendly will almost certainly harm sales in the long run, whereas showing your concern for sustainability – for example using FSC certified packaging – can be a real plus for many customers.

Returns

It happens. Even with the best will in the world, products can arrive damaged, not be exactly what the customer was looking for, or even be completely different from what they actually ordered (hopefully only on rare occasions!).

Whilst many businesses now have robust returns policies in place, it is often overlooked that the products will usually be sent back in their original packaging. But can this survive another trip through the transport network?

If not, you may end up with a large number of damaged items that will no longer be fit for sale, resulting in significant costs to your business (and undoing the gains you may have made over the festive period).

Sundries

One area that of often overlooked when considering packaging requirements is that of secondary packaging and sundries (i.e. tapes, void fill, labels, document wallets etc.).

It is surprisingly common for businesses to have sourced plenty of boxes for the festive rush, only to run out of tapes or void fill (both of which can have disastrous effects on how well your packaging performs in transit – especially if you are using any available substitute you can source at the last minute).

Ensure that all of your packaging supplies are purchased in suitable volumes for your forecasted sales performance.

Christmas packaging planning
It is essential that sundries and secondary items - such as tapes, void fill and labels - are not forgotten when planning your festive packaging

06: Staff

Staff training (including temps)

How your staff use your packaging can have a huge impact on its success.

Selecting the right sizes. Using the correct void fill. Packing the products correctly. Even knowing where to find supplies if they run out.

Put simply, comprehensive training for your staff helps your packaging operations run as smoothly as possible.

It is also important for any temporary staff that you employ to benefit from at least some basic training too – something which is often overlooked.

Staff efficiency (packing)

Following staff training, you can also assess how efficiently your items are being packed. Making gains in efficiency before the rush of orders can help the entire process be much more successful.

It is worth considering packaging that can aid your staff too. For example, crash lock boxes can be used to eliminate taped closures (vastly speeding up packing times). If tape has to be used, is a gummed or self-adhesive tape quicker? Could self-locking boxes with tamper evident labels be used?

All of this should be considered well before the Christmas rush highlights any inefficiencies in your packing processes.

Organising packing bays
Making sure your packing bays - and wider environment - is optimised to improve efficiency / productivity

Packing bays

Similarly to the way your packaging is used / packed, you should also consider the environment in which you are asking your employees to work.

Well thought out packing bays – with all of the items required at hand – can make packing times significantly quicker. Having extra supplies stored nearby (rather than on the other side of your warehouse) can also help here, as can a comfortable environment that does not cause excessive fatigue.

Order picking / fulfilment

Taking efficiency of your packing a step further, the organisation of your stock – and how they are housed in picking bins – can have a massive impact on how quickly you can process orders.

Whilst not strictly packaging, making use of stacking pick bins, pick walls and other similar storage can help better organise stock and minimise the time spent retrieving items ready to be shipped. And the addition of temporary picking bins can be useful for adding extra storage capacity for peak season.

Saying that, successful order picking is a topic all of its own. If this is an area you feel you can improve, you may find this guide on tactics to improve your picking performance useful

Holidays / staff absences

It is understandable that people will want to spend time with family and friends at Christmas and so, despite this being the busiest time of the year, your business may well face shortages of staff.

What is critical however is that those responsible for packaging – be that ordering it, monitoring stock levels, selecting the right lines, quality checking etc., are not out for periods of time that can affect the success of your operations. Or, if they are, that colleagues are sufficiently trained to be able to pick up these tasks.

Staff safety (COVID-19)

Another factor relating to staff is that of their safety in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Whilst the ongoing situation has the potential to severely limit staff numbers (through illness or if isolating), there are steps you can take at your business to mitigate the changes of any potential outbreaks.

For example, ensure that packing bays are a suitable distance apart. Erect safety screens if required. Try to limit the number of people who handle packaging and products too. And, of course, follow all of the relevant safety guidelines and rules.

Losing large numbers of staff could have severe consequences in terms of fulfilment times and customer satisfaction, no matter how well-oiled your packaging processes are.

Staff safety screens
Staff safety screens can help maintain safety for your packing teams, and minimise absences

Reward your team

And finally, don’t forget to reward your picking and packing staff.

Setting sensible, achievable targets can help motivate employees, and lead to surprising gains in productivity. Couple this with activities that can boost morale (such as free food / drinks, Christmas events, competitions etc.) can all motivate employees to work harder and more accurately.

A happy workforce is a productive workforce.

07: Logistics

Handling extra stock

As mentioned right at the beginning of this guide, an increase in orders around the Christmas period will also mean a requirement for handling and storing more stock. Both products and packaging.

One way to mitigate the challenge of this is to use temporary picking bins. These can be manufactured from material such as Correx® or even cardboard, and positioned on aisle ends and other areas where you have spare floorspace. These can then be used to house additional stock, or even allow you to reorganise your inventory so that popular items are quicker to pick.

Order picking bins
Use of order picking bins - either permanent or temporary - can significantly improve fulfillment times

Managing transport requirements

Transport is likely to be in short supply this year. Which is why it is important to maximise the efficiency of it wherever possible.

This includes using packs that are size optimised for transport (i.e. avoiding sending oversized packs which take up unnecessary space), or even considering standard sizes such as Royal Mail PIP boxes (which can help minimise costs).

It will also be important to manage customer expectations with regards to delays, and ensure that your picking and packing is not a factor in causing extended fulfilment times.

Returns policies

And finally, although we have already discussed your returns policy, another factor to consider is how to handle the amount of your own packaging that may be returned to you.

Can this be reused for additional deliveries? Where will it be stored? Will damaged or even just tatty looking boxes just need to be recycled?

Basically, it is important to have an end-to-end strategy for your packaging supplies, all the way through your supply chain… and back again!

In Summary

Don’t let your festive packaging impact our success this Christmas

Put simply, there are a huge number of factors to consider regarding your business preparations for Christmas, even when just focusing on packaging alone.

And whilst it may be cutting it fine, if you are struggling to source your festive boxes, promotional packs, retail packaging, ecommerce supplies or even point of sale stands, please contact us at GWP to see how we can help.

And from all of us here, we wish you a merry (and busy) Christmas (trading period), and a happy new year!

Further Reading...

About the Author

David Mason, GWP Packaging

David Mason

Sales Director | GWP Packaging

David is Sales Director for GWP Packaging, having originally joined the company (then Great Western Packaging) back in 1990. [Read full bio…]

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