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EDITORIAL: What comes next for ecommerce packaging?

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Easy to ship, easy to return, easy to recycle – packaging has to be a lot of things. Add in the requirement for a personalised consumer experience, and the need to look good enough to appear on a video feed, packaging has to be many things to catch shoppers attention. 

This is only going to expand further as the share of ecommerce spend continues to rise. Technology will play a crucial role here, whether it is the addition of QR codes to make packaging smarter, or the use of 3D printing to make packaging fit products – the adoption of innovative software and hardware will change future design of ecommerce packaging, the DeliveryX Packaging 2023 Report stressed.

QR codes
Widely adopted during the various Covid-19 lockdowns, QR codes have the power to contactlessly link to sites filled with information. Placed on packaging they initiate communication between brands and their consumer, they can provide various product details to shoppers but also take them to engaging content. 

Packaging QR Codes serve as a valuable medium for sharing all kinds of information with consumers at every stage of the consumer buying journey.

There are two types of these pixelated squares – static and dynamic. Static QR codes perform a limited range of functions including displaying plain text, directing users to a specific URL, and are unchangeable once placed on packaging. 

Dynamic QR Codes are editable, and provide retailers with data-based insights into how the packaging is used. They can also allow the introduction of media-rich features into packaging design. PDFs, product manuals, instruction videos and social media content can all be accessed through these dynamic codes.

Furthermore, dynamic QR codes can also be used within the wider supply chain to track items, identify issues and, in turn, power retailers to make informed decisions. 

Adding QR codes to packing to make it smarter has benefits for the consumers, retailers and wider supply chain, and it could also help with the sustainability of packaging. 

3D printing of packaging
One way to ensure packaging, and the ecommerce shipping process, is sustainable as possible is to make sure there is no wasted space or shipped air. Manufacturers of packaging material have once again looked to innovative solutions to try and deal with this problem. 

Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is being deployed by brands including L’Oréal and carrier FedEx to limit waste, reduce production time and help with sustainability goals.

Using AM technology firstly streamlines the prototyping of new packaging designs before enabling brands to offer personalised and custom packaging. Could more retailers follow L’Oréal’s strategy and invest in 3D printing technology?

Returnable packaging
Reducing waste and single-use plastics will continue to be a focus for the packaging industry, but could there also be a shift away from single-use packaging? Consumers are being encouraged to recycle and reuse, this could also be a valid option for packaging itself.Reusable Transit Packaging is designed to be strong, long-lasting, and environmentally friendly. They can be flattened, which makes them simple to carry and store and improves the efficiency of warehouse operations. There have been suggestions that such packaging could be used for up to 10 years.

As consumers move towards circular shopping and rental models, retailers could do something similar. Renting packaging could be used to optimise ecommerce delivery and the returns process.

The future of packaging may not be about creating something new but adapting it to keep up with consumer demand – whether that is adding further information tools or switching to a more circular offering.  

This feature first appeared in the digital-first DeliveryX Packaging 2023 report. Access the full report for an exclusive interview with meal-kit company HelloFresh; case studies on Boohoo, H&M and L’Occitane’s new approach to packaging; and a look at how the UK Top500 retailers are changing their packaging for the good of the planet.

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