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There are four critical questions that need to be urgently addressed by ecommerce businesses if they are to keep consumers on-board and fulfilment cost-efficient, writes Jo Bradley, business development manager at Sparck Technologies

1. What can retailers do to limit over-sized packaging and to stop shipping air? 
For ecommerce businesses with high order volumes, this is an issue that really needs to be solved. But how? They can’t have packers manually cutting boxes down to size – far too slow and messy, and the result may be a box that fails in delivery, let alone if it’s re-used for a return, as many are. There are limits to the number of different-sized preforms a packing station can cope with. And, particularly if there are multiple items in one box, packers, who may be inexperienced, or casual staff, have to guess which size is just big enough to accommodate a jumble of different shapes.

However, there is a solution that will greatly improve packing line productivity and maximise transport utilisation, while minimising the monetary and environmental cost of materials and that will give the consumer a consistent, positive brand experience.

The CVP Everest and CVP Impack automated packaging solutions from Sparck Technologies create ‘right-size’ boxes in seconds by scanning and measuring the goods – single or multi-item orders – cutting and erecting the box, sealing, weighing, and labelling, all in one seamless process.  

With the CVP Impack, one perator can pack up to 500 parcels an hour; with the CVP Everest, two operators can pack 1,100 an hour. Typically, this replaces up to 20 manual packing stations.

On average, right-sizing packages cuts parcel volumes by 50% – significantly reducing freight charges – and saves up to 30% on material costs.

2. Consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, does packaging have a role to play in cleaning up ecommerce? 
Every box is a brand ambassador. That means every ecommerce package that goes out speaks loudly about your brand. But are you sending the right message?

Surveys show that up to half of consumers rate grossly oversized packages among the things they really don’t like about Internet shopping. And if you don’t believe surveys, just look on social media. ‘Unboxing’ is a ‘thing’ on Instagram and the like. There are estimates that there are at least 74 million unboxing videos across the social media channels. Many of these, of course, are entirely positive, but what social media really feeds on is the epic fail, and gross mismatches between box and product rate highly.

While consumers may not be up to speed on the intricacies of Dimensional or Volumetric Weight as applied to shipping rates, or realise that the average shipped box contains 60% air, consumers intrinsically know that shipping fresh air has a significant financial, as well as a high environmental, cost. Consumers are increasingly aware, even anxious, about the negative impact of wasteful shipping practices on air quality and bigger than necessary boxes mean more vehicles on the road, more congestion, more particulates and more CO2.

In one survey, 77% of consumers said they believe that the packaging a brand uses reflects its environmental values – and by implication, its other values as well. Loading consumers with excessive and unnecessary volumes of packaging isn’t just annoying – it’s seen as lazy, irresponsible and uncaring – not a good brand look for an e-tailer, manufacturer or carrier.

Sparck Technology’s high-speed, automated ‘right-size’ packaging systems ensure that each and every box is perfectly sized for the order, whether it be for single or multiple items – making every box created a perfect brand ambassador.

3. How key are technological developments in making ecommerce packaging the right fit?
The availability of low-Capex, flexible automation is changing the dynamics of ecommerce fulfilment, removing the common constraints of labour availability, costs and capacity issues. Within the packing area advanced automated fit-to-size packaging systems, like Spark’s CVP Everest and CVP Impack, offer scale to cope with peak and the flexibility to cater for a wide variety of order profiles. In the case of 3pls, this flexibility can be extended across several clients. 

Automated fit-to-size packaging systems not only offer the efficiencies of high-volume throughput, low labour content (replacing up to 20 packing desks), improved material use and facilitate better transport utilisation, they also provide the essential flexibility to future-proof fulfilment.

Such systems are cost-effective from throughputs of just 800 boxes a day, making them accessible to small and medium sized businesses, as well as larger companies and 3PLs. The benefits are many, from faster processing speeds, accuracy and consistency to huge flexibility in its capacity to cope with widely varying order profiles, across single or multiple item orders, that may range from a t-shirt up to a vacuum cleaner or anything in between. Importantly, this agility is available at immense speed, allowing businesses to hit throughput targets at peak without the usual concerns over labour availability, sickness or quality issues.

4. Protecting goods in transit is one of the primary functions of packaging, how have advancements in packaging limited product damage?
Creating a snug fit around products in transit reduces the risk of breakages and removes the need for void-fillers such as paper shred, polystyrene or bubble-wrap – all of which are irritating for customers, wasteful on costs, and not particularly sustainable. Importantly, not only are consumers delighted to receive a product that arrives in perfect condition, ecommerce businesses achieve a significant saving in terms of fewer returns due to breakages, with all the advantages that brings in terms of extra costs for replacement items, extra administration, return and re-delivery logistics and let’s not forget, the cost of disappointed customers and their disinclination to re-order in future.

More information on Sparck Technologies’s advanced right-size packaging systems can be found at www.sparcktechnologies.com