“Unboxing” study reveals room for improvement from online retailers

Ewan McInnes blog

Packaging research reveals how internet retailers could improve protection for their brand and their customers

Almost one in three (30%) of parcels despatched by UK internet retailers could be unfit for purpose, with as many as 10% containing damaged contents as a result, according to research carried out by Macfarlane Packaging, the country’s largest protective packaging supplier.

With video blogging now being used increasingly to review products and the packaging that they arrive in (YouTube now features almost 40 million “unboxing” videos – some with millions of views) Macfarlane Packaging wanted to understand better some of the packaging issues faced by internet retailers and their customers. Consequently, Macfarlane conducted its own unboxing survey to assess the suitability of online sellers’ packaging and the company ordered 119 items from internet retailers in a range of sectors including: health & beauty; homeware; gifts; fashion and electronics.

Macfarlane’s criteria included: appropriateness of outer packaging size; durability of packaging; ease of opening; amount of packaging materials used; recyclability of packaging; ability to use packaging for returns; and use of branding.

  • 30% of the packages received had been sent in pack sizes that were either too big (often meaning that the contents were at risk of damage from moving around too much in the pack) or too small, risking the package breaking open. The contents of one in 10 (10%) of the packages tested were actually damaged.
  • While most packages were judged to be clean (84%) and dry (80%), 15% were dented, 8% were crushed, 8% were ripped and, perhaps more worryingly, 4% appeared to have been opened or tampered with during transit.
  • 24% of the packages assessed were found to be difficult to open, with assessors often having to resort to scissors and knives to access the contents. 19% had too little packaging and a whopping 41% contained too much packaging material that would need to be disposed of or recycled.  Only just over half (53%) of the packs assessed used packaging materials that were fully recyclable.
  • The ability to return items easily in their original packaging is a feature of many successful online retailers but the research found that 55% of packages had no information on how to return the item and the packaging was not reusable. Separately, the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) 2016 Home Delivery Report found that 74% of consumers consider a good returns service important when selecting the retailers.

The Macfarlane Packaging team assessed that 37% of packages did not reflect the value of the items they contained, with 61% having no branding (inside or out) and 55% did not reflect the image of the brand.

Laurel Granville, Marketing Director of Macfarlane Packaging said: “As packaging professionals, we know that it’s important for customers to have a great experience when they receive the items that they have ordered. There has been much made in the media recently about inappropriate packaging and we wanted to take a look for ourselves to gain some insight into where some of the problems might lie in online delivery.

“This study identifies some very important issues for online retailers and highlights the opportunities that exist for them to enhance their image, build their brand and reduce their costs while delivering an excellent experience for their customers.”

Andrew Starkey, Head of e-Logistics at IMRG, the UK’s online retail organisation, said: “Given the need to continually optimise cost, service and customer experience, especially in an environmentally conscious world, efficient and appropriate packaging is becoming an increasingly important element in e-retailing.  This latest research by Macfarlane Packaging gives useful additional insight to the issues and how they may be addressed. It is now clear that this is an area that requires careful consideration by all retailers and that investment can pay back in terms of reduced waste, cost and improved customer satisfaction.”