Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Ecommerce and packaging innovation

By Sujan Shah, CEO, Rocaba Packaging Limited and Carrier Bag Shop

Previously a race to the bottom in terms of cost, Covid-19 sparked a new approach to ecommerce packaging with retailers, as well as food and drink providers, forced to re-look at their requirements. This included whether they had the right supply chains in place to cater to more home deliveries and possible border closures, plus, an increased focus on the choice of paper or plastic packaging in line with new environmental and sustainability expectations from customers.

A recent survey we conducted with customers, many of whom are independent retailers or food and hospitality providers, found that the pandemic has sparked much greater interest from consumers in the environmental and sustainability credentials of the products they buy. 40% of businesses told us there had been a heightened interest from consumers in this area and, as a result, many are now actively assessing the sustainability of their packaging and products.

In addition to the focus on environmental impact, and considering the length of time we have now lived under Covid restrictions, we have also seen many businesses reconsidering the opportunity to use their packaging as a marketing tool. From branded ecommerce pouches, which would have been rarely seen before the pandemic, to investing more in the experience of home delivery with luxury boxes designed to replicate the in-store or restaurant customer experience, packaging has taken on new importance over the last 12-months.

So will we see a return to low cost as the determining factor for ecommerce packaging as shops and restaurants continue to open up? Aside from the well-documented high-street closures over the last year, it is undoubtably true that both shopping habits and customer demand has shifted irreversibly.

Packaging innovation

Almost all organisations have had to pivot their operations and quickly adapt to one of the hardest trading environments in memory. As mentioned previously, one of the most innovative sectors we have seen during Covid19 has been food and drink. With pubs, restaurants and cafes not knowing if they’re opening or closing at any given time, many have had to find new ways of maintaining sales in the form of take away and delivery options. 

We have seen a huge increase in branded recyclable and reusable packaging across the hospitality sector. Food quality is at the centre of these companies’ interests, and yet, branding the packaging and the role of standing out to new customers has seen a major boost. The food and drinks industry will undoubtably feel the long-term effects of the pandemic more than others; whether customers are ordering more take away and delivery options or looking for alternatives to single-use cutlery, this trade is not only in the process of developing exciting branding, but also innovating the style of packaging itself. 

For example, we are currently working with a craft beer brand which previously supplied entirely to pubs and restaurants. Due to heavily reduced demand, it pivoted to supply direct to consumers and currently requires specialised unique and personalised packaging which reflects the brand value. For this product, ecommerce packaging represents 10% of the total product value, something that would have been unheard off in the pre-pandemic environment.

But food and drink is not alone in showing its ability to flex and innovate. The beauty industry has had to focus on winning new customers in a remote world. With sustainability at the forefront of many customers’ minds, companies are looking at reusable or refillable packaging to attract attention. Indeed, in a 2020 global survey by Accenture it found that since the start of the pandemic, 60% of consumers were making purchase decisions based on environmental or sustainability reasons, so ESG and corporate responsibility for ensuring products are sustainable and ethical is no longer an added extra for most sectors.

The future

Branding that was once delivered in-store must now move online. Aligning the online to the in-store brand experience has become crucial to ensuring both customer retention and, ultimately the return of physical visits when time and the lifting of lockdown allows.

With ecommerce expected to continue as the main sales channel for retailers for many months to come, we expect more buyers to be looking at alternative packaging and delivery options for their customers. Price will clearly still play a role, but with consumer behaviour shifting, possibly for the long-term in a post-pandemic world, careful consideration must be given to how we communicate brand and values to customers.