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GUEST COMMENT Cutting custom requirements isn’t the answer to cutting costs

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Louise O’Brien, managing director of Greyhound Box writes: Having a conversation about business without mentioning the cost-of-living crisis is rather like eating a sugary donut without licking your lips. Challenging at the best of times, if not impossible. We’ve read the headline-making suggestions from politicians for how we can counteract the spikes – ‘reusing your old tea bags’ and ‘taking shorter showers’ a couple of my favourites. What’s being proposed to the retail sector?

Louise O’Brien, managing director of Greyhound Box

Where are retailers looking to cut spend?
Not too dissimilar to what the public is being told to do, the first port of call for businesses are looking for areas to cut spending. From materials to personnel to energy (particularly so, given our own electricity costs have gone up by approximately 250%), it’s a natural process.

And in terms of retailers specifically? Well, they tend to jump straight to packaging. Namely, reverting to stockpiling off-the-shelf boxes to transport their valuable goods from the production line to the shop floor.

Though up-front, bulk-buying appears to be cheaper than many other options, and most products still reach their intended destinations, there’s a number of hidden costs. With weighty sustainability agendas and soaring competition to attract – and retain – a loyal customer base, it’s no longer a case of out of sight. Can your business afford to take the risk?

Why packaging is retail’s best friend
Let’s take it back to basics for a moment and remember the different ways that packaging serves retail. It plays an integral role behind-the-scenes – protecting materials before they reach the production lines, allowing goods to be moved along supply chains, and safely storing shelf-ready products in warehouses.

Once items reach the shop floor, their packaging becomes arguably more influential than the product itself. At least at point of sale – the quality of the box, its textures, branding, colours, and overall aesthetic are all working to ensure your product stands out from its competitors, enticing customers for a closer look.

So… how ‘strategic’ really does that make the decision to ditch the packaging that acts as the metaphorical sales person? Surely, it stands that sales will be affected if you the custom design and packaging engineering you’ve spent months curating is suddenly replaced with a one-size-fits-all model? So much for proofing those all-important bottom lines.

Can sustainable solutions sustain the cost crisis?
None of us have a magic wand to wave to make the cost crisis disappear. And there’s not really that many ‘short-term’ fixes that really stand up in the long run. (Need I remind you ‘re already onto our third Prime Minister of the year.) It’s ironic that just as sustainable packaging was really getting off the ground and onto shop shelves, the cost business is forcing retailers to consider their own U-turns. Out with the recycled paper filling – it’s costing us, and we can’t have that! – and back in with the not-so-fantastic plastic bubble wrap that’s costing the Earth.

The extent of tightened public purse-strings on environmentally-conscious shopping isn’t yet clear. We probably won’t know until we’re into the full throes of peak. But what we do know is this – sustainable shopping behaviours among consumers have continued to increase this year, with Deloitte reporting 64% of consumers have limited their consumption of single-use plastic. And when asked what’s ‘important’ when considering a purchase, 31% answered products that use ‘minimal or recyclable/ compostable/ biodegradable packaging’. Yes, the initial costs to support a more sustainable initiative tend to be higher than their counterparts. But the long-term savings – to the planet, and to your business – are far greater.

The impacts of inconsiderate packaging
When was the last time a modestly-sized package arrived on your doorstep with your latest online order, only for you to:

  1. Open it
  2. Rifle through layer upon layer of never-ending filling to source the product
  3. Exclaim, “ALL of that, for this tiny thing?!’ (or words to that effect)?

The point remains that inconsiderately-sized packaging is irritating. Wasteful. And increasingly offensive, a feeling enhanced when it turns out the delicate item you spent good money on is slightly damaged – or completely broken – thanks to a lack of care or detail over its protection.

It’s a really simple example. But that’s why it works – it’s one we can all relate to. Now scale that up across an entire business, say a furniture retailer. The festive season always serves the home furnishings sector some comfortable financials, with substantial discounts driving sales as one year ends and another one begins. With lead times of weeks, if not months, the last things customers want to find upon delivery of their new sofas, mirrors, or shelving units is damage. Especially when it – and the returns, replacements, and reputational costs to the retailer – could be so easily avoided.

Fit-for-purpose packaging
One-size does not fit all. A box too big gives your product too much room to roll around in. A box too small leaves your item strained, and the structure of the packaging open to compromise. The shapes and sizes vary, but one thing’s for sure – packaging must be fit- for-purpose. And bespoke fittings are key. As simple as padding that lines the box to protect products from knives and cutters. As complex as unique corner protectors to prevent damage on edges of fragile items with intricate designs. As standard as corrugated divisions to keep products in place during transit, lessening chance of collision – and breakage.

In yet another peak season riddled with challenges and change, we’re all feeling vulnerable. But it’s the choices we make now that’ll determine how we weather the Storm.

Louise O’Brien is managing director of supplier of corrugated cases Greyhound Box.

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