Bleak Black Friday: DS Smith study highlights inadequacy of e-commerce packaging

Bleak Black Friday: DS Smith study highlights inadequacy of e-commerce packaging

23 Nov 2018 --- Approximately US$831 million worth of damaged goods will be delivered this Black Friday due to inadequate packaging, according to estimations made by DS Smith. That equates to almost 1 in every 10 products purchased. New research conducted by the supplier reveals that 75 percent of online shoppers have received a damaged product in the last 12 months, with a third of affected products damaged to the extent that they cannot be used. PackagingInsights speaks to Greg Dawson, Director of Corporate Affairs at DS Smith, about the issue and how the supplier’s e-commerce testing hub – DISCS – is seeking to improve pack durability.

“E-commerce is a very fast-paced environment and has changed significantly over the last five years or so. As a whole, packaging performance in e-commerce is far from optimized: it hasn’t caught up with the rapid movement of the industry,” Dawson says.

“Whereas normal retail distribution only involves four or five touch points, within the e-commerce cycle there can be up to fifty, which contributes to a vastly increased risk of product damage.”

Click to EnlargeDISCS in action“The huge range of products available online, as opposed to in-store, makes it difficult to provide appropriately-sized boxes to fit particular items and there is often far too much empty space within packaging – which also increases the likeliness they will become damaged,” he explains.

DS Smith estimate that three-quarters of Black Friday shoppers in the UK are planning to use the the event to buy Christmas presents this year, while others are seeking to buy birthday gifts or something for themselves.

Of those products which arrive damaged, categories most affected are homeware/kitchenware (23.68 percent), electronic goods/technology (15.29 percent), followed by other, which includes books, toiletries and DVDs (13.10 percent), clothing/footwear (12.41 percent) and food/drink (9.54 percent). Lowest damage rates are seen with flowers and other gift items (2.53 percent) followed by garden products (2.99 percent), sports equipment (4.37 percent), furniture (7.59 percent) and toys (8.51 percent).

DISCS testing hub
“DISCS is DS Smith’s dedicated packaging testing hub. Online orders sometimes need to survive up to 50 touch points, so packaging must be durable but also sustainable,” Dawson says. “Named after the types of testing (Drop, Impact, Shock, Crush, Shake), the system consists of five pieces of equipment, each replicating a part of the product journey and providing real-world testing for retailers’ packaging.

The specific tests are as follows:

  • Drop: can your package survive a careless delivery?
  • Impact: what if a heavy object hits your package on the conveyor?
  • Shake: is your package optimized for diverse transport methods?
  • Crush: can your package handle the pressure of bad stacking techniques?
  • Shock: what if your package is thrown into the back of a van?

“There are three test levels for customers to choose from, depending on whether a package is delivered straight to customer first time, delivered and returned or delivered with three failed attempts and then returned. This final option can include up to 50 touchpoints, and replicates the most severe damage a pack can receive,” Dawson adds.

Unhappy customers
The emotional impact of the damage problem is significant. Over two-thirds of shoppers (70 percent) feel disappointed when receiving damaged products, a third (30 percent) frustrated, and a quarter angry and upset, respectively, according to the DS Smith study.

To vent their frustrations, shoppers aged 18-24 are the most likely age group to leave a negative review or tell a friend about a damaged product, while 25-34-year olds are more likely to complain on social media – both of which can seriously damage a brand’s reputation.

But, unlike some products, the reputational impact is not irreparable. A refund is crucial for encouraging the consumer to shop with the brand again, with more than 50 percent of shoppers claiming they would only return if they received a refund or received good customer service over the issue.

Often consumers decide that seeking a refund is too much hassle (40 percent) or the damage wasn’t severe enough (46 percent), so a quarter of shoppers keep their damaged products, meaning that up to US$208 million of refunds could go unclaimed this Black Friday if a replacement is not offered.

A third of people have also had refunds refused or delayed – leading frustrated shoppers to place the blame on their delivery company (40 percent) or incorrectly-sized packaging (15 percent) for the damage.

Packaging which is designed specifically for e-commerce is on the rise. DS Smith recently launched its Made2Fit service, which provides retailers with packaging which can be manually customized to fit the product it’s carrying.Click to Enlargee@Box 

“Made2fit is based on three available sizes of cardboard sheet (mini, small and medium) from which 33 different box sizes can be manually created in a quick and easy way. With built-in crease lines and a tool for custom perforation, the product is the first ever 3D-adaptable packaging – in that it can be modified in three directions,” Dawson continues.

“Our DISCS technology is also helping to design packaging fit for purpose. Some of the retailers we work with at DISCS produce very delicate products such as homewares or wine and we work closely with them to ensure their packaging choices are optimized to guarantee the delicate product will survive all of the e-commerce touchpoints, through all of our five tests.”

The demand for durable and eco-conscious e-commerce packaging is set to intensify after Amazon announced new requirements for Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP), which will be enforced through a penalty system.

The growing popularity of online retail has encouraged new concepts and designs in packaging. DS Smith’s new e@Box, for example, is FFP-enabled, DISCS-tested, and cleverly combines primary and secondary packaging by way of a printed zip in order to enhance the consumer unpacking experience.

By Joshua Poole

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