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Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the The Role of Packaging in an Online Marketplace market, and the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

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What are the key challenges facing the industry? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

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This report examines consumer attitudes toward external and internal ecommerce packaging, the impact of packaging on online purchasing decisions, areas of concern, and areas for improvement. Packaging trends and innovations are also discussed. Product packaging is included to a lesser degree, though is not the focus of this report.

For the purposes of this report, Mintel uses the following terms:

  • External packaging/shipper/container – refers to the packaging a product is placed inside of to keep it safe in transit from the online retailer to the purchaser.
  • Internal packaging – refers to the cushioning within an external package to protect items during transit as well as design/ branding elements inside of the external package.
  • Product/primary pack – refers to how individual items are packaged by the manufacturer (eg a tube of toothpaste inside of a branded box at the store shelf, electronics in branded boxes, etc).

This report builds on analysis presented in Mintel’s library of ecommerce reports, including How Social Media and Product Reviews Impact Online Shopping – US, November 2018 and Buying Online: Understanding Why Consumers Sometimes Don’t – US, July 2018.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Matt Lindner, a leading analyst in the eCommerce sector, his extensive knowledge delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

The role of packaging in the online shopping channel is becoming a core focus for brands and retailers as consumers shift more of their spending online. Packaging concerns tend to fall into one of three areas – packaging integrity, environmental impact, and appearance Matt Lindner
Senior eCommerce Analyst

Table of Contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Definition
      • Executive Summary

        • Overview
          • One third of online shoppers are “packaging conscious”
            • Packaging concerns hinder online sales growth
              • Online shoppers have three areas of concern with ecommerce packaging
                • Packaging integrity: Protect the product and the brand
                  • Environmental impact: Less can be more
                    • Appearance: It’s what’s on the inside that matters
                      • What it means
                      • The Market – What You Need to Know

                        • Online sales growth puts packaging in the spotlight
                          • More than one third consider delivery packaging when shopping online
                            • Half indicate a preference for the appearance of external packaging
                            • Market Drivers

                              • As ecommerce grows, so too does the need for packaging innovation
                                • Figure 1: Total US online retail sales and fan chart forecast with best- and worst-case scenarios, at current prices, 2013-23
                              • Consumer groups with increasing spending power drive online sales growth
                                • Figure 2: Change in online shopping compared to last year, by generation and Hispanic origin, November 2018
                              • Online shopping expands across nearly all product categories
                                • Figure 3: How consumers buy products (by category) – Any online, November 2018
                            • Market Factors

                              • Shoppers who have increased online purchasing are more engaged in packaging
                                • Figure 4: Impact of packaging, by change in online shopping compared to last year, November 2018
                              • Active online shoppers are more likely to be packaging conscious
                                  • Figure 5: Packaging conscious online shoppers, by key demographics, November 2018
                                • Packaging conscious shoppers consider how external packaging looks
                                  • Figure 6: Online order packaging preferences, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                              • Key Trends – What You Need to Know

                                • eCommerce-specific packaging and products draw attention
                                  • Reusable packaging startups and pilot programs set in motion
                                    • Don’t become a #PackagingFail
                                      • Amazon incentivizes retailers to pack better
                                        • Efficient packaging to become the standard – not the exception
                                        • Who’s Innovating

                                          • P&G and Unilever roll out ecommerce-specific pack designs
                                            • P&G: Tide Eco-Box
                                              • P&G: Air Assist liquid packaging technology
                                                • Unilever
                                                  • LimeLoop, RePack, Returnity compete to be the reusable package partner of choice
                                                  • What’s Working

                                                    • Seasonal packaging generates social media buzz
                                                      • It’s what’s on the inside that counts
                                                        • Mobile-friendly hero images
                                                        • What’s Struggling

                                                          • Damaged orders due to rough handling
                                                            • Branded shippers present a security concern
                                                              • When retailers get it wrong: #PackagingFail
                                                                • Packaging concerns hinder online grocery growth
                                                                  • Figure 7: Impact of packaging on online food and drink purchasing, by online shopping frequency, November 2018
                                                              • What’s Next

                                                                • Integrity: Amazon helps brands to adopt Frustration-Free Packaging
                                                                  • Specialization: More ecommerce-specific packaging
                                                                    • Sustainability: Greater emphasis on recycled and reusable materials
                                                                      • Reusable shipper startups race to gain a foothold in apparel
                                                                        • Major CPG brands sign up to participate in recyclable container program
                                                                          • Informative: Retailers will include more detailed packaging content on their websites
                                                                          • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                                                            • Package type, size are most important considerations
                                                                              • Packaging concerns hinder online sales growth
                                                                                • One bad packaging experience is enough to lose future business
                                                                                  • Show packaging materials, methods used to keep products safe
                                                                                    • Reduce waste, offer recyclable/reusable packaging materials
                                                                                      • Use standout packaging to appeal to younger online shoppers
                                                                                      • Packaging Considerations

                                                                                        • Packaging needs to fit the product – not the other way around
                                                                                          • Figure 8: Packaging considerations, November 2018
                                                                                        • Packaging conscious shoppers pay more attention to the details
                                                                                          • Figure 9: Packaging considerations – Type and appearance (important), by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                      • Important Packaging Characteristics

                                                                                        • Focus first on packaging integrity, then environmental and cosmetic enhancements
                                                                                            • Figure 10: Important packaging characteristics, November 2018
                                                                                          • Packaging integrity: Quality matters more to iGens
                                                                                            • Figure 11: Important packaging characteristics – Packaging integrity, by generation, November 2018
                                                                                          • Environmental: Reduce packaging waste to appeal to more women
                                                                                            • Figure 12: Important packaging characteristics – Environmental, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                          • Enhanced packaging appeals more to packaging conscious shoppers
                                                                                            • Figure 13: Important packaging characteristics, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                        • Packaging Preferences

                                                                                          • Plain shippers preferred (for now)
                                                                                              • Figure 14: Packaging preferences, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                            • iGens are nearly as likely to prefer branded as unbranded shippers
                                                                                                • Figure 15: Packaging preferences, by generation, November 2018
                                                                                            • Desired Information and Areas of Improvement

                                                                                              • Provide more detailed packaging information
                                                                                                  • Figure 16: Packaging information online shoppers want, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                • Demonstrate environmental commitment
                                                                                                  • Figure 17: Environmental actions and preferences, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                • Enhance the visual experience during ordering and after shipping
                                                                                                    • Figure 18: Visual areas of improvement, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                • How Packaging Impacts Online Purchasing Decisions

                                                                                                  • Bad packaging can be enough to turn away a customer
                                                                                                    • Figure 19: Impact of packaging on online purchasing decisions, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                  • Grocery, electronics, furniture retailers have an opportunity to provide more information
                                                                                                      • Figure 20: Packaging impact on online purchasing decisions, by product category, November 2018
                                                                                                  • When Things Go Wrong

                                                                                                    • Seven in 10 have experienced packaging issues
                                                                                                        • Figure 21: Issues with online order packaging, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                      • Carriers get blamed for damage, retailers expected to foot the bill
                                                                                                        • Figure 22: Who’s to blame when a package arrives damaged, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                        • Figure 23: Refund expectations when an online order arrives damaged, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                    • Attitudes toward Return Packaging

                                                                                                      • Return packaging is nice to have, but not a deal breaker
                                                                                                        • Figure 24: Attitudes toward return packaging, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                      • Return packaging presents an cost saving (or upselling) opportunity
                                                                                                        • Figure 25: Attitudes toward financial incentives around return packaging, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                      • Younger online shoppers will pay more for inclusion of return packaging
                                                                                                        • Figure 26: Willingness to pay for return packaging, by generation, November 2018
                                                                                                    • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                                      • Data sources
                                                                                                        • Consumer survey data
                                                                                                          • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                            • Abbreviations
                                                                                                              • Terms
                                                                                                              • Appendix – The Market

                                                                                                                  • Figure 27: Total US online retail sales and forecast, at current prices, 2013-23
                                                                                                                  • Figure 28: Total US online retail sales and forecast, at inflation-adjusted prices, 2013-23

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