The growth of internet retailing in recent years has been well-documented. It has become so much a part of our daily lives that it is easy to forget that it is still a relatively-new concept – those of a certain age may even remember that Amazon was first established in the 1990s as an online bookstore.
Amazon’s success since then has demonstrated the potential for e-commerce in just about every sector. Today, almost anything can be purchased at the click of a mouse. However, this has brought its own challenges, particularly in terms of how goods are despatched, with frequent complaints about excessive or unnecessary packaging. This has become even more critical in our more environmentally-conscious world with the focus on the need to reduce waste as well as the carbon emissions associated with so many deliveries each day.
Somewhat ironically, while plastic is a material that has suffered more than most in the packaging and the environment debate, it is one that is most suited to the needs of the e-commerce sector. It is light weight, so transporting it has less carbon impact than products made of heavier materials (and importantly plastic packaging is also low carbon in its manufacture), yet durable enough to withstand the rigours of the postal or courier delivery systems. The availability of additional sustainable material options, such as Sugarcane biopolymer and post-consumer recycled plastic, and the ability to lightweight a pack without compromising its overall functionality can further enhance its sustainability profile.
THE OPENING EXPERIENCE
Plastic also has the flexibility to be produced in many different shapes and sizes, so a pack solution can be found for the precise amount of product needing to be packed, and items such as bottles and jars can be selected to fit snugly into whatever box size is required, for example to facilitate letter box deliveries.
These benefits have provided great opportunities for e-commerce in markets such as personal care and cosmetics. In particular, plastics light weight and variety of pack sizes are ideal for a sector with such a huge variety of products and formulations. What’s more, the latest advanced manufacturing techniques and decoration options mean that the finished plastic pack can deliver the same type of premium quality look and feel as more traditional packaging materials – a vital factor in a sector where image is everything.
High impact decoration is also essential for e-commerce packaging for another reason. The buying experience in a retail outlet is personal and interactive – there is a chance to discuss your requirements with a salesperson, your purchase will often be carefully wrapped and presented to you. By contrast, the online shopping process is more isolated and sterile – selecting goods on a screen, paying and having nothing to show from it immediately.
That is why many online retailers are seeking to develop an ‘opening experience’ when their goods are delivered – using the packaging as part of this to generate some excitement to the process, which helps to reassure the consumer that this was a purchase well-made. Equally important, a robust and well-made pack will ensure that the product arrives in perfect condition. Damaged or leaking packs will very quickly tarnish brand image.
One of the best examples of how far e-commerce has come and how packaging can play a crucial role in opening up new markets is the award-winning postal wine bottle from Garçon Wines, which RPC M&H helped to develop. Significantly, as well as representing a revolution in wine retailing, logistics and delivery, it is also a prime example of sustainable design.
The bottle conforms to the traditional Bordeaux wine bottle shape and is made from 100% recycled PET and also fully recyclable. It is 87% lighter and 40% spatially smaller than the usual wine bottle, hugely reducing emissions from the wine supply chain.
At the same time, the recycled material is significantly lighter than glass and tough enough to withstand the postal system, and the unique design means the packaging can fit securely and conveniently through a standard sized letterbox. This ensures no missed deliveries which ultimately delivers further reductions in CO2 emissions.
Garçon Wines has now taken this concept to the next level with the introduction of a case that fits 10 of its bottles where there would be room for only four regular ones. The case holds eight bottles vertically, with two more slotting horizontally into the space around the bottlenecks, virtually eliminating empty airspace. The need for an effective transit case was inherent in the original bottle design, making sure the height and width would let them fit together.
The wine bottle ideally encapsulates some of the key features that online retailers need to look for in their e-commerce packaging – dimensions suitable for postal boxes, strong and durable construction, fully leak-tested and designed with sustainability in mind. E-commerce remains a market full of opportunities and plastic is ideally placed to help maximise this potential.