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2023 Macfarlane unboxing survey – what it means for your packaging

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Matt Dobson: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Guides and Advice xx 31179

Packaging survey results

How consumer feedback on packaging can help your business.

If your business uses any type of packaging, then the recent Macfarlane Unboxing survey results should interest you.

The Macfarlane unboxing survey is the UK’s largest annual survey for packaging. In its 8th consecutive year, the results provide detailed information that allows retailers to improve their packaging. Feedback covers transit damage, consumer habits, and sustainability. Over 1,000 consumers took part in 2023.

This guide analyses the results of the unboxing survey and provides insight on how you can apply the findings to your business, including:

  • How changing consumer habits may influence your packaging.
  • Ways in which branding is evolving.
  • Striking the balance between costs and sustainability.
Young person using a mobile phone
The Macfarlane unboxing survey is the UK’s largest annual survey for packaging.



The 2023 Macfarlane unboxing survey.

The latest Macfarlane unboxing survey saw over 1,000 consumers participate in 2023. This years’ survey took place between July and August, with Macfarlane Packaging revealing the results in October.

Consumers reported their experience with the packaging they received from businesses in various markets and sectors. Those heavily represented included fashion (25% of respondents), food and drink (15%), home and garden (14%) and health and beauty (17%).

The packaging used by companies in these sectors – particularly eCommerce, postal and transit packaging – came under particular scrutiny.

To download the full report, visit the Macfarlane Packaging website.

Macfarlane The Unboxing Survey Guide
The annual Macfarlane unboxing survey guide provides valuable insights to businesses.

Topics covered in the survey

The questions in the survey provided some insightful information about consumer feedback on packaging.

The statistics highlighted changing consumer opinions on packaging and the factors influencing consumer perceptions of packaging. The findings also suggest how businesses could optimise packaging for cost reduction as consumers prioritise their finances.

Similarly, the steps taken by retailers towards more sustainable packaging to attract eco-conscious consumers also featured highly. However, this was set against the challenges of balancing cost and sustainability in packaging.

The results

Key facts and figures at a glance.

The 2023 Macfarlane Packaging unboxing survey generated numerous interesting statistics and figures. The key findings include:

  • 66% of respondents spend more time shopping online, with 23% saying that they expect to spend even more time shopping online in the future.
  • 95% of consumers choose home delivery over click-and-collect or lockers when purchasing online.
  • Businesses continue to reduce overpacking, with only 14% of consumers reporting too much packaging (an impressive drop of 66% from 2016).
  • Parcels that arrived damaged have dropped year-on-year to 6%, a 40% reduction since the first consumer survey in 2016.
  • 55% of consumers want retailers to keep sustainable packaging as a top priority, whilst 81% reported that the packaging they received was easy to recycle
  • 20% of consumers indicated they would not continue buying from a business unless the packaging were sustainable.
  • 66% would return reusable packaging if businesses made it easy for them to do so.
  • Branding on packaging has increased significantly since the unboxing survey was first conducted, from 39% in 2016 to 57% in 2023.

Consumer behaviour

How are shoppers behaving?

Before looking specifically at packaging, it is helpful to first consider changing consumer habits.

2023 has seen significant increases in inflation and cost of living, which has impacted both consumers and businesses.

Despite the initial internet retail revenue having seen negative growth at the beginning of 2023, the Macfarlane unboxing survey suggests that 66% of consumers spend more time shopping online. A further 23% said that they would expect to spend more time shopping online in the future.

These responses indicate that continuing inflation in 2024 is likely to be a key driver for people shopping online and finding the best deal.

As such, your business should place increased emphasis on your eCommerce packaging. With 95% of consumers opting for home delivery, transit protection, sustainability, and unboxing experience will directly influence consumer satisfaction into next year.

A woman unboxing her package
Consumer feedback from the survey will enable businesses to choose better packaging for the future.

Damage and returns

Is packaging doing its job during delivery?

So, with a continued increase in eCommerce and online shopping, what does this mean for the packaging businesses use to ship these orders?

One of the more notable results from the Macfarlane unboxing survey revealed that for 2023, parcels that arrived damaged to consumers have dropped year-on-year to 6%. This figure represents a 40% drop since the first survey in 2016.

Surprisingly, businesses have achieved this improvement despite a reduction in overpacking. In 2023, only 14% of consumers cited this as a problem – a significant drop of 66% from 2016.

Although clearly improving, businesses must consider how packaging performs during shipping. Everything from the design, material, void fill, and the expected conditions and handling during transit are all essential for shipping damage to continue decreasing year-on-year.

Someone holding a damaged parcel.
Damages during transit will see an increase in the number of returns.

Returns process

One of the key insights from the survey is that “first-time” deliveries are crucial. With 6% (around 1 in every 200) arriving damaged, retailers could avoid a significant proportion of this without the additional handling incurred by missed deliveries.

For better delivery rates, businesses should, where possible, use packaging that can fit through letterboxes. This option isn’t always viable for larger items, so extra care must be taken when choosing suitable packaging for your product.

Businesses should consider a smooth returns process along with packaging to support this. Consumers are more likely to opt for the business again if a solid supporting process for returns exists.


Consumers still consider sustainability a top priority.

Sustainability remains a top concern for consumers. 20% of those surveyed even went as far as to say they would not buy from retailers using unsustainable packaging.

Interestingly, 81% of consumers found the packaging they received was easy to recycle. However, a further 10% have noticed that packages lack clear recycling instructions.

The findings suggest that sustainability is likely to remain important moving into 2024. Businesses should also pay attention to ensuring packs are easy to recycle, include appropriate and clear recycling instructions, and take the opportunity to highlight their sustainability credentials.

A box with sustainable filling
Opting for sustainable void fills is a great way to keep consumers happy. Alternatively optimising your packaging will remove the costs all together.

Consumer demands regarding sustainability

Over half – 55% – of consumers also believe businesses should prioritise sustainable packaging. However, the Macfarlane unboxing survey also highlighted an additional 42% of consumers who see sustainability as important only if it doesn’t significantly increase costs.

As such, businesses must prioritise the balance between cost and sustainability. Failing to do so could mean retailers may lose customers on cost or environmental factors. Multiple strategies, including packaging size optimisation, reducing void fill, and material substitutions, can all help.

Returnable packaging and circular economy

There is some evidence that consumers now have a greater understanding of the difference between circular and linear economies, including for packaging.

Supporting this, the Macfarlane Packaging unboxing survey suggests that 87% of consumers are willing to return reusable packaging to retailers. 66% indicate they would return packaging if the business covered the return cost.

Businesses, therefore, potentially have the opportunity to adopt a returnable packaging strategy for 2024 and beyond. While doing so has its own challenges, including management of packaging inventory, upfront cost implications, and even data protection, it remains a significant opportunity.

Extended producer responsibilities

Alongside the survey’s findings regarding sustainability, it is essential that businesses also consider upcoming Government changes.

Extended Producer Responsibility regulations (EPR) have introduced a new reporting process and fees which aim to drive businesses to adopt less harmful packaging materials. Ultimately, it will shift the cost of waste management from consumers to the responsible packaging producers who put packaging into the UK market.

This legislation holds producers accountable for their products’ entire life cycle, emphasising design for the environment, enhancing waste collection and recycling infrastructure, and imposing financial responsibility.

Challenges such as implementation costs persist. But, the long-term benefits, including reduced environmental impact and increased corporate sustainability, underscore the necessity of embracing EPR. It is a call to action for collaboration between governments, industries, and consumers to foster a circular economy and create a more sustainable and resilient future.

Packages on a conveyer belt.
Keeping accurate reports of your packaging will help you with your EPR report, manage costs and support sustainability practices.


Is cost a key driver for consumers during high inflation?

Costs are becoming increasingly important, with many consumers facing high inflationary pressures. As already detailed, the survey results reflect these concerns by highlighting the delicate balance between sustainability and price (42% of consumers think eco-friendly packaging should be a priority without raising costs).

Similarly, increased costs have resulted in decreased loyalty towards brands among consumers, as they look for the best deals instead. As many as 56% of shoppers report making swaps to save money.

People exchanging a parcel.
Costs around packaging can be affected other areas in your business and areas outside of your control.

What does this mean for businesses?

As with 2023, the economic challenges will likely continue into 2024. However, this is also an opportunity for businesses to innovate in terms of packaging materials, processes, and general approach.

Strategies concerned with optimising packaging can result in cost savings and sustainability benefits (sizing, CO2, material use etc.).

Additionally, correctly sized and optimised packs have helped to reduce excess packaging. Besides eliminating a particular bugbear of consumers, this benefit also helps businesses save costs on unnecessary extras such as void fill and other secondary packaging.


Using your packaging to improve customer experience.

The final point to consider is the role your packaging plays in customer experience (and, in turn, brand perception).

According to the Macfarlane Packaging unboxing results, branding on packaging has increased significantly since the survey was first conducted – from 39% in 2016 to 57% in 2023.

The need to attract consumer attention and improve retention and loyalty through improved unboxing experiences has seen businesses look towards eye-catching designs, easier opening processes, and recycling labels.

There does remain an opportunity around sustainability for printing, whereby the report showed that 10% of packages lack clear recycling instructions.

A packaging design and mock-up.
Optimising design and considering your branding can help boost customer satisfaction.


Leveraging the Macfarlane unboxing survey results at your business.

Forecasting the future is inherently challenging, even with the valuable insights the Macfarlane Packaging unboxing survey provides.

Amid the upcoming challenges for the packaging industry in 2024, there are also some significant opportunities for businesses. Continual evolution, adaptation, and innovation regarding packaging costs, performance, and sustainability can help meet and exceed customer expectations.

The potential outcome lies in achieving packaging solutions that are not only more sustainable but also efficiently optimised, and cost-effective for your business.

If having read the results of the Macfarlane unboxing survey, your business wants to improve its packaging, please get in touch with one of our packaging experts here at GWP.

Further reading

About the Author

Matt Dobson, GWP Group Marketing Manager

Matt Dobson

Marketing Manager | GWP Group

Matt has worked in the packaging industry for approximately 11 years, having joined GWP Group as Marketing Executive in 2012. [Read full bio]

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