broken parcel

A dirty little secret about the protective packaging business

By Ken Chrisman 

If packaging doesn’t perform well and an item packed inside arrives at its destination damaged, the packaging company is almost never going to be on the receiving end of an angry phone call.

The consumer is unlikely to go digging for the 1-800 number of the company who made the box – they’re going to complain to the retailer who sent them the box or the carrier that delivered it.

In fact 59% believe the retailer and the package carrier are equally responsible for damage to a product that was ordered online.

Every delivery is a tangible touchpoint consumers are having with your brand, but that experience doesn’t end on the doorstep. In fact that’s just the beginning.

So how do you make sure that the experience your customers are having receiving, opening, reusing, recycling, or returning the packages you provide is a positive one?

Here are the three big, costly packaging mistakes that we have seen companies make in every industry in every region around the world:

Mistake # 1. Neglecting Return Logistics:

We all know that sometimes things just have to be returned.

But just as a consumer’s expectations for fast, free delivery has risen exponentially over the last five years, so too have expectations for how easy it should be to return that item.

In fact, 94% of consumers say they strongly prefer to do returns using the original packaging.

Best case scenario: a pre-paid return shipping label is in their package, they can slap it on, and drop it at the nearest pickup location.

That’s working pretty well. Consumers are pretty happy with that. But there’s a big difference between pretty happy and downright delighted.

The customer experience isn’t over when the box is delivered. Not even if you went to the trouble of putting the return label inside. Every return is another point of engagement with your customer. It should reflect the same focus and attention to detail as every other part of that experience.

Mistake #2. Overpacking:

When you think of overpacking you’re probably thinking about an explosion of excessive foam peanuts — that’s the nightmare.

But more often today overpacking looks like piles and piles boxes, a nest of excessive air pillows, or a tiny item swimming inside an oversized container.

77% of consumers think packaging should and does reflect the environmental values of the brand they purchased from.

Consumers know waste when they see it, and it reflects negatively on their perception of you – and not just when it comes to the perception of sustainability. When an order arrives in multiple, unnecessarily large boxes, consumers see inefficiency.

When you consider that consumers say their top three pet peeves when it comes to packaging are bothersome disposal, mess and recycling difficulties, sending too much packaging to their home might have protected the items they ordered, but it also told them you aren’t thinking too much about them and who would have to do the dirty work of getting rid of all that wasteful material.

Wasteful packaging practices already cost you more money in materials, more money in freight costs, and they could be costing you long term loyal customers.

Mistake #3. Underprotecting:

Getting a piece of clothing in the mail and deciding you don’t like the fit or the cut? Minor inconvenience (provided the retailer isn’t neglecting the importance of effortless return logistics).

Buying an expensive high definition, flat screen TV online and having it arrive cracked down the middle—that’s a nightmare.

We were shocked to learn that an estimated 35% of flat screen TVs are being bought through e-commerce channels.

This is emblematic of the fact that there are no barriers anymore as to what can be bought online. If you want it, chances are it can be purchased and shipped to your home.

This is that fully enabled small parcel economy that we unlocked more than 50 years ago with the invention of Bubble WrapⓇ, and it’s grown in ways we could have never imagined.

This means that a lot of fragile, heavy, and oddly-shaped items and are now being put through a delivery chain that wasn’t designed to handle them, and in packaging solutions that weren’t designed to fit them.

The result: damage, damage, and damage.

Reducing that rate of damage is not just a customer experience imperative—it’s also a sustainability imperative.

There is no amount of recyclable, biodegradable, resuable packaging that can wipe out the carbon footprint of a damaged item.

Damaged items have to get back on a truck or back on a plane and go back to their origin point where they are rebuilt, repaired, restocked, rehandled, and sometimes just relegated to the landfill.

Then comes the reshipping, with that item making another journey through the supply chain, in another box filled with packing materials.

If you want to be a more sustainable company, reducing damage is the MOST impactful thing you can do – for your brand and for your bottom line.

It’s not too late for you to avoid these common packaging mistakes and rethinking the experience your customers are having with your packaging, before they rethinking the experience they are having with you.

For more on how to avoid these packaging pitfalls, a deeper look at the hidden risks of ship-from-store fulfillment practices, and a peek ahead at the packaging trends that will drive e-commerce in the future, see webinar “What Story is Your Packaging Telling.”

Ken Chrisman is president of the product care division and corporate vice president at Sealed Air Corporation. Sealed Air is a Fortune 500 company and a leading global innovator and manufacturer of a wide range of packaging and performance-based materials and systems that serve an array of food, industrial, medical, and consumer applications.