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ISTA’s Omnichannel Survey Trends

The omnichannel market (retail and e-commerce) poses significant challenges to package designers, product manufacturers, retailers and the distribution system.


The omnichannel market (retail and e-commerce) poses significant challenges to package designers, product manufacturers, retailers and the distribution system. How do you provide enough product protection when the distribution channels are so different? The choices made about the packaging strategy have a significant impact on damage rates and costs.

This past fall, ISTA surveyed product vendors to determine how they are addressing the challenges in the omnichannel market. In addition to documenting the relative use of the various omnichannel packaging strategies, the survey also attempted to determine if there were linkages between several variables, as reflected in how the damage rates vary by the distribution channel, the packaging strategy, the packaging cost (as a percentage of product cost), the product category, the product cost and shipment volume, the scale of product distribution, and the size of the company.

Omnichannel Packaging StrategyOmnichannel Packaging StrategyIn order to tease out these linkages, the survey addressed general product damage information, including damage rates for various channels and the relative volume through each channel. It also addressed the omnichannel approach, or the identified the packaging strategy used for omnichannel at present and in the future. One approach is to use legacy brick and mortar packaging design for sale both in-store and home delivery. Another is to use new omnichannel package design for sale in-store and home delivery. The third considered approach is to use different packaging for brick and mortar and home delivery.

Alongside these facts, the survey identified company demographics such as the size of company, scale of distribution, product sector presence, packaging cost as a percentage of product cost, product shipment volume/cost, and expected future growth of e-commerce.

The survey also asked about their supply chain scenario of most concern. This series of questions identified the largest pain points for product vendors as defined by the country, supply chain segment, and mode where the most damage occurs.

Finally, we asked the respondents for their view as to what their e-commerce sales would be in three years, as a percent of total sales.

ISTA surveyed over 400 member companies using an online, email-based survey platform. While 22 companies participated in the survey, 15 participants responded to every question. While the survey response rate is low, it is not uncommon for this type of survey. The caveat for the validity and significance of the survey results, given this limited number of participants, is that the results discussed in this report are directional and can provide a feel for the trends, but they are not definitive.

Most companies surveyed were from the U.S., with one each from Australia, China and Germany. Seven companies were mid-size ($50 million to $1 billion), seven were large ($1 billion+) and one was small (up to $50 million).

The survey revealed that respondents’ current strategies are almost evenly split between using different packaging for brick and mortar and home delivery and using legacy brick and mortar packaging for in-store and home delivery, with only two of the 15 respondents using omnichannel packaging at the moment.

But when we asked respondents to predict future changes in omnichannel packaging strategy, the resulting picture is different. While the majority will continue to use their existing strategy in the future, there are a significant minority that will shift from using legacy brick and mortar packaging to using omnichannel packaging. This shift indicates that many companies are concerned with the success of their current strategy of using their legacy in-store packaging solution and are actively developing alternatives.

Future omnichannel strategy
These responses provide some insight into the issues faced in the omnichannel and how product vendors are addressing them. The key takeaway from this survey response is that product vendors are exploring different packaging strategies for the omnichannel, which impact cost and damage rate. They will continue to evolve their packaging to better fit the omnichannel.

As e-commerce continues to grow, focus will continue to be developing packaging to better perform in the omnichannel. Contact [email protected] for the full report. 

ISTA is a non-profit, member driven association for the packaging and logistics sectors. For over 70 years, ISTA has helped its members control costs, damage, and resources during the distribution of packaged-products. ISTA’s members include product manufactures, carriers, suppliers, testing laboratories and educational and research institutions.

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