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COMMENT: Ensuring a sustainable customer experience with green packaging

By Alistair Ezzy, packaging specialist, supply chain management, Paragon

Consumers are demanding higher levels of sustainability from brands than ever before, with upcoming research from Paragon revealing that 73% believe companies could do a lot more when it comes to sustainability.

Paragon’s data also found that 32% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product based on sustainability factors, and Deloitte supports this with a survey uncovering that 34% went as far as choosing to stop purchasing from certain brands due to sustainability concerns over the past year.

Retailers should therefore assess every touchpoint they have with their customers to ensure sustainability is prioritised at each step of the customer journey, from purchase to delivery. Sustainable, recyclable packaging is fundamental to this shift.

First impressions count

Ecommerce retail continues to increase at a staggering rate, and is forecast by Morgan Stanley to be worth $5.4 trillion globally by 2026.

When it comes to online shopping, the first physical touchpoint consumers have with brands is when they are handed their parcel by a postal worker, and the saying goes that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Packaging is the best opportunity to make that first impression count. Demonstrating a genuine commitment to the sustainability, as well as the functional and aesthetic experience of your brand, starts right there.

It’s common to see posts on social media calling out brands that have shipped items in boxes far too large and filled with plastic padding to take up the extra space.

This could be detrimental for retailers as consumers cited reduced packaging as the most important sustainability initiative in Paragon’s research. Sustainability is such an emotive subject that we’re even seeing positive callouts for brands that are doing the right thing.

But achieving sustainability improvements is complex. If brands want to make authentic claims, the levels of scrutiny and rigor needed before they do must not be underestimated.

For example, the carbon footprint of a packaging product is easy to reduce by minimising the material used, but the knock-on effects can result in damaged products, repeat deliveries and returns. This drives waste and carbon intensity upwards and ruins the customer experience.

Conversely, your supply chain carbon intensity grows if you’re shipping highly protective but bulky products from source. Understanding the full lifecycle of your packaging products is the only way to back up your claims and avoid accusations of greenwashing.

It’s a delicate balancing act, especially when you add in the demands of your marketing and operations teams, to make your packaging pleasing and functional. But the benefits of getting it right are significant and long-lasting because it will enhance your brand’s reputation and encourage repeat purchases from customers with aligned values.

Making a sustainable choice

There are innovative solutions that can help retailers achieve high levels of sustainability and product protection at once. These impact resistant mailers incorporate a mix of innovative materials, such as durable padded interiors and robust, protective exteriors, without the need for single-use plastic.

If you look at the full lifecycle of a product, you start to balance where it’s made alongside its costs and shipping efficiency. By choosing packaging manufactured in the country of use, retailers can reduce their carbon footprint as well as their supply chain risks.

There are also innovative products that minimise shipping costs by adding bulk through manufacturing processes that can be carried out close to the point of use, essentially minimising the inefficiency of shipping air within the supply chain.

Another consideration is how easily consumers can recycle and reuse the packaging they’re being sent. Many items that claim to be made from recyclable materials are often hard to recycle in practice, because they first need to be deconstructed or, as with plastic bags, require customers to drop them off at a separate location.

This is why it’s so important for retailers to adopt packaging that is recyclable and can be placed into household recycling bins. If the items can be reused through thoughtful design, then that’s an even greater opportunity to reduce carbon impact.

Removing any barrier to recycling or reuse will improve the sustainability of the packaging by enabling it to be turned into something else, while also contributing towards a more positive customer experience and improved perceptions of the brand.

With belts tightening and consumers becoming stricter with their spending, if retailers want to increase customer loyalty, they must meet the demand for sustainability.

Using the right expertise and tools to understand the full lifecycle of your packaging products will achieve that carbon reduction alongside cost control, or even cost reductions. And getting the balance right will not only ensure that the items being delivered arrive in one piece, but it will also help brands reach their own net-zero targets and maximise revenue by keeping their customers on side.

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