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Unboxing Trends: how consumers viewed ecommerce packaging in 2021

Last Updated 10th January 2022
Posted In: Brand Positioning | Guides & Advice

Results of Extensive Unboxing Survey Analysed

Assessing consumers views on ecommerce packaging and unboxing trends in 2021

Ecommerce is now indisputably big business – both in the UK and across the world. But with more and more companies having to adapt to shoppers increasingly moving online, there is a growing focus on the role that packaging plays in the customer experience.

Often referred to as ecommerce unboxing or product unboxing, it is now common for packaging to be the first physical interaction that a consumer will have with a brand.

But what are the ecommerce packaging and unboxing trends being seen as we move from 2021 into 2022?

Macfarlane unboxing survey 2021
The Macfarlane Packaging annual unboxing survey has highlighted some interesting trends in UK ecommerce

Well, this article looks at the results of a recent unboxing survey conducted by Macfarlane Packaging – with the statistics and accompanying analysis providing some unique insight into the current state of play in the UK ecommerce sector.

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

Quick Reference / Contents

About the Survey

What did the unboxing survey look to uncover?

The statistics analysed in this article are taken from Macfarlane Packaging’s 6th annual unboxing survey.

Over 600 UK consumers responded to the 2021 survey, and the statistics generated provide a unique snapshot of how the UK population views the ecommerce packaging they receive.

It also highlights their typical shopping habits, how the unboxing experience influences their buying decisions, and how they expect their online shopping activity to change moving forward. This year, the survey also focused on how important sustainable packaging is to consumers.

Packaging reviewed by survey respondents came from a wide range of sectors including fashion, food and drink, home and garden, health and beauty, and several other categories that have seen strong growth in online sales.

You can see full details of the survey – and download a free report – by visiting the Macfarlane Packaging website.

Analysing the figures to make sense of UK consumers unboxing experiences

Results from the unboxing survey have given us an interesting insight into how UK consumers view ecommerce packaging being used by retailers. Plus, they highlight how businesses can improve their packaging in the future.

Findings also suggest that some key packaging requirements may frequently be overlooked by retailers.

Our analysis of the unboxing trends / statistics has been broken down into the following areas:

  • UK consumers online shopping habits
  • Delivery choices
  • Brand experience
  • Product protection (in transit)
  • Environmental perception and demands

So, without further ado, here’s our analysis of the data generated by the unboxing survey.

01: Online Shopping Habits

How were consumers shopping in 2021?

It makes sense to start with looking at how shoppers’ habits are evolving. With the strong shift to ecommerce continuing, this has only accelerated against the backdrop of COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for much of the past 12 months.

88% spend more time shopping online since pandemic

With closures of retail outlets, requirements for social distancing, mask wearing and other restrictions, it is perhaps unsurprising that online shopping has increased by such a large degree. It would also suggest that those who enjoyed the traditional shopping experience previously, may remain wary of returning following the economy reopening.

This highlights an incredible opportunity for retailers to reach consumers who are new to shopping online.

online shopping habits
88% of consumers questioned in the survey said they spend more time shopping online than before the pandemic

64% said this pattern of shopping is now permanent

Consumers are being won over by the choice, price, availability, and convenience of shopping online.

Where this may change moving forward is if the high street can adapt, to provide something beyond the purely transactional. This could include service levels that can’t be replicated online, expert knowledge, or injecting more theatre and excitement into the shopping experience.

Either way, the underlying growth in online sales (that started long before the pandemic) is here to stay.

30% expect online shopping to increase in future

Almost a third of those surveyed also expected their online shopping to increase in the future.

This makes it clear just how important ecommerce packaging will become to businesses selling online. Packaging needs to be seen as a valuable marketing tool that drives brand loyalty, as well as a commodity product that provides protection in transit.

02: Delivery

What delivery methods do shoppers prefer?

Consumers like choice. As the internet retail industry has expanded, so have the ways in which people can choose to receive their shopping.

Online shoppers can choose from home delivery (of varying speeds – including same day in many cases) as well as services such as click and collect, and delivery lockers.

But what were consumers preferences in 2021?

96% favoured home delivery over click and collect

Nearly all respondents indicated that they prefer to receive their goods at home (or at work) rather than venture out to pick up items from nearby stores.

This highlights just how important a business’ ecommerce packaging is, and the need to balance protection during transit (all the way through to the “last mile”) as well as positive customer experience.

This could also mean that for certain goods, the use of letterbox packs (i.e. that can be delivered without the requirement for the “sorry we missed you” card) could grow in importance.

ecommerce deliveries
Over half of UK consumers cite convenience as the key reason they would select home delivery of their ecommerce orders

55% selected home delivery for convenience

When questioned on why they prefer home delivery, just over half indicated it was because of the convenience that it offered.

However, there may potentially be some other factors at play here.

During lockdown, huge numbers of people had to work from home, and many still do so. This makes it much easier to receive goods at home and eliminates the potential hassle of missed deliveries.

It could also reflect consumers still being reluctant to visit retail stores unless they have to. Or it could simply be that their habits have changed (i.e. previously they would have been out visiting nearby stores, making click and collect easier than waiting at home for a delivery).

Either way, it seems home delivery is the option of choice for online consumers when considering the current landscape.

40% chose home delivery because it was free

Another factor is that in many cases, home delivery is simply the cheapest option (being free in many cases).

And even though click and collect services are frequently free as well, the preference for home delivery when all else is equal also reflects the convenience of this service.

03: Brand Experience

Are online sellers using their packaging as a selling tool?

One of the most important factors when considering ecommerce packaging for a business, is how it is an extension of your brand.

With consumers looking for relief from coronavirus restrictions, there’s an expectation to be excited by new purchases (a key driver behind the rise in the popularity of unboxing videos). Ensuring a great unboxing experience can help improve brand differentiation, can help to drive sales, and can build rapport with customers.

Half said their unboxing experience was underwhelming

Disappointingly, half of all respondents said that their unboxing experience was underwhelming.

This could potentially be for any number of reasons. This may (or may not) include cost saving measures, lack of awareness of the benefits amongst newer online retailers, poor customer research / profiling, or even consumers expectations having risen as ecommerce becomes the default shopping method.

Regardless of the reasons, it indicates that for many there is huge scope and potential to improve their ecommerce packaging.

unboxing trends 2021
The results of the survey would suggest that online retailers have considerable scope for improving the experience provided by their packaging

1 in 3's unboxing experience didn't encourage them to purchase from retailer again

This statistic indicates just how powerful a good ecommerce unboxing experience can be. Numerous businesses are potentially losing out on further sales and loyal customers, simply due to not giving their packaging – and the unboxing experience – the attention it deserves.

It certainly shows that many ecommerce businesses have room for improvement.

There was an increase in consumers receiving unbranded packaging (45% vs 32% in 2020)

This final point also highlights what a missed opportunity ecommerce packaging is for many retailers.

Even simple branding on boxes can help strengthen a business’ recall amongst consumers. High quality graphics – particularly on the inside surfaces of a pack – can significantly enhance the unboxing experience.

Judging from these survey results, it would be surprising if this is an area that does not see increased attention over the next 12 months.

04: Product Protection (in transit)

The crucial role of ecommerce packaging

Whilst branding and the overall unboxing experience is important, the most essential function of packaging is to provide protection.

Fancy graphics, luxury inserts, personalised notes and high-quality boxes won’t matter to consumers if their purchases arrive damaged.

So, are online retailers putting form before function when it comes to their packaging?

The receipt of damaged goods increased from 5% to 9%

This first statistic would indicate that yes, too many businesses are not paying enough attention to the key role of packaging – which is to protect items on their way to the consumer.

In reality, other factors, such as spikes in demand, could be the true driver behind this increase in damaged deliveries.

The massive increase in online orders – and the strain it is placing on packers as well as couriers – means packing might not be as consistent. Parcels may also be handled less carefully than in quieter times. This all results in a situation where goods are more likely to get damaged.

transit damage packaging
Items are more frequently being received damaged than previous years, with a number of potential reasons for this

Material shortages could have played a role here too, with businesses forced to use material grades or even stock boxes that are not completed suited to their contents.

Either way the message is clear – it is critical for businesses to continually monitor damages and returns and adjust packaging specifications when needed. This can help reduce costs, drive customer loyalty, and minimise the environmental impact of increased carbon emissions created by reverse logistics.

14% of orders arrive with too much packaging (an improvement vs. 16% last year)

A bugbear of so many consumers – and one which even tends to attract media coverage in extreme cases – is retailers using too much packaging (some examples of this type of packaging fail can be seen here).

This can also impact brand perception and the overall unboxing experience.

Many retailers choose to have a small range of boxes to pack everything. And whilst this can help reduce costs when it comes to economies of scale, the savings may actually be negated by the need for other packaging materials or courier expenses. The wrong size box can result in needing extra void fill, and increased delivery costs, on top of losing repeat business from customers.

Whilst it is a difficult balance to strike (and one GWP can help with if you are having difficulties here), the improving statistics show that online retailers are making strides to address this.

excessive ecommerce packaging
Despite being a well know grievance of consumers, as much as 14% of ecommerce orders are shipped with excessive packaging

05: Environmental Perception / Demands

How much importance did consumers place on sustainability in 2021?

Last – but certainly not least – the unboxing survey uncovered some interesting statistics on shoppers’ views regarding the sustainability of the packaging they receive when ordering online.

With more focus being placed on sustainability by consumers and the media, it highlights that a business’ reputation can be significantly impacted by how environmentally friendly their packaging is.

73% of consumers indicate packaging received was recyclable

There has been a 10% increase in retailers using recyclable packaging when looking at year on year figures. Compared to 2019 there has been a huge 34% jump.

Clearly, online sellers are responding to the desires of their customers and the need to do the right thing for the planet.

eco-friendly-ecommerce-packaging
There has been a 10% increase in online retailers using recyclable packaging compared with last years figures

14% unsure how to recycle packaging, as it is not labelled with clear instructions

Whilst 97% of those surveyed would follow recycling instructions where possible, 14% said they have difficulties doing so. This is because the ecommerce packaging they receive does not include clear recycling instructions.

Yet clear labelling and use of recycling logos is an easy win for retailers. It will make the lives of their customers easier and help highlight their environmental credentials too. This can create a positive impression of their brand and benefit the planet.

Almost 1 in 5 (19%) would not continue to buy from a retailer that did not use sustainable packaging

For ecommerce retailers to lose almost 20% of their market – simply because their packaging is not sustainable – is too large a figure to overlook.

And with this figure likely to grow, ecommerce businesses could benefit from a strategy to improve their longer-term sales through becoming more environmentally friendly (for example using FSC certified packaging).

The unboxing experience and performance of packaging doesn’t have to come at the expense of sustainability and shouldn’t be an “opt-in” anymore. In fact, it should be a key consideration for both the packaging itself, and how it functions throughout the supply chain.

Ultimately, packaging manufacturers and brands need to work together to take responsibility for the packaging being used.

ecommerce packaging waste
With consumers more focused on waste and recycling than ever before, as many as 1 in 5 would no longer shop with sellers that do not use sustainable packaging

In Summary

How unboxing trends can affect your business

If there is a single take away from these statistics, it is that ecommerce packaging and the unboxing experience it provides will only grow in importance.

It is clear that packaging can influence a business’ success. This includes customer satisfaction, return rates, brand perception, future shopping habits and, of course, environmental impact. Ensuring that your business’ ecommerce packaging is not only fit for purpose – but also delights your customers – is crucial.

If you require any help with your ecommerce packaging, order picking, or how you handle your ecommerce fulfilment in general, then GWP will be happy to help.

You can contact our team of experts on 01793 754 444 or by emailing info@gwp.co.uk

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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