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Pre-holiday Primer on Embracing Omnichannel Gift-Giving

Alicemarie Geoffrion, VP Packaging Operations, DHL Supply Chain, North America, has some timely advice for brand owners looking to leverage e-commerce and the omni-channel as we head into the holiday season.

Alicemarie Geoffrion, DHL Supply Chain
Alicemarie Geoffrion, DHL Supply Chain

Packaging World:  What are some packaging trends that you’re seeing this holiday season, in terms of packaging materials, unboxing, etc., and how can brands adapt to these new strategies quickly?

Alicemarie Geoffrion: This holiday season, it’s all about being green and getting noticed. Sustainability continues to be top of mind, and consumers are paying more attention to not only the products themselves, but how they are packaged. We are seeing retailers and manufacturers respond to this by being more transparent about their packaging materials and process, offering recyclable options, and encouraging other eco-conscious behaviors. For example, as part of their sustainability commitment, Duracell is beginning to eliminate PVC clamshells, replacing them with high-fiber content cards and recycled PET blisters.

We are also seeing a big push towards on-demand packaging. Our customers are asking us, “how can we handle more volume and be more flexible?” An on-demand model allows for less inventory of the packaging materials, creating cost efficiencies and generating less waste. For many of our customers, we leverage on-demand packaging solutions to reduce overall packaging requirements including, but not limited to, shippers, as well as fillers and inserts used for the in-store display assembly process. This significantly cuts back on waste and ultimately drives cost savings for our customers.

I expect to see a lot of creative in-store displays this holiday season. Displays and promotional packages stand out on store shelves and appeal to gift givers. We know consumers are influenced by how a product is presented inside retailers, so in-store displays can make a big difference. In fact, a study by the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management confirms that more than 70% of buying decisions are made in-store. 

This holiday season, e-commerce orders are set to hit an all-time high. One low-cost way to dress up e-commerce orders is to use holiday-themed custom packaging tape. We are seeing more of our customers request custom taping to drive brand awareness. It’s a smart investment, considering everyone already needs to use tape to seal boxes. Why not have that tape reflect your brand and the season?

PW: What are some packaging best practices for the holidays and into 2020? Our most recent 2019 Global Packaging Trends Report from PMMI's Business Intelligence communicated sustainability and convenience are king. So, what is the best way for companies to address both as customers place small one-and-two item orders online? 

AG: As we go into the holiday season, it’s important to look for ways to enhance sustainability and communicate those efforts to consumers.

As your report referenced, sustainability isn’t a nice to have anymore. It’s a must have.

The desire to be environmentally friendly affects all age groups, but is particularly pronounced in younger generations. In fact, a 2018 study from A.T. Kearney found that 58 percent of Gen Z internet users in the United States and Canada want eco-friendly packaging, and 57 percent are seeking environmentally sustainable products.

It’s true that there’s often a perceived disconnect between consumers’ attitudes and their behaviors. Consumers say they want sustainable packaging options, yet those same consumers will buy one small item with next-day shipping and another small item in a separate order the following day.

Sustainability and convenience can seem like opposing forces, but I don’t think they have to be. One way to address this is for companies to incentivize sustainable behaviors. We have seen companies like Amazon and Target start to do this. They are encouraging consumers to combine their orders or to opt for slower shipping, often in exchange for a discount on a future order. I believe that consumers shouldn’t have to choose between getting their purchase quickly and getting the purchase in an eco-friendly way.

Companies also should help educate their consumers. One way to do this is to quantify the environmental impact of shipping just one box at a time to show the carbon footprint of the transportation and the cardboard box it arrives in. If consumers are aware of the impact of their purchases and can see tangible examples, I believe they will be more likely to change their behaviors. 

PW: It's true that sustainability extends beyond just the packaging material and into the entire process, but consumers don’t have visibility to (or just aren’t aware of) the positive upstream impact of protective packaging in limiting reverse logistics, which are sustainability nightmares. They are only left with empty corrugated and dunnage they perceive as waste, despite a successfully delivered, intact product. How can brands communicate this? What story needs to be told, to whom, and how?

AG: As I mentioned earlier, it all goes back to education. It’s important for companies to give a line of sight into the supply chain for their consumers. That information should be easily accessible and written in clear language on their website.

The companies should create a narrative that shows a holistic approach to sustainability, a story that says, “we carefully consider what type of packaging we use and how your purchase gets to your front door.” Make the content engaging, free of industry jargon, and easy to understand for a consumer audience.

An example of how DHL educates our direct customers is our carton optimization tool. When we are putting boxes together for delivery to retailers, this tool allows us to pick the perfect sized carton for a shipment, cutting down on cardboard, lowering shipping costs, and creating efficiencies. For end consumers, this work is going on behind the scenes, but it has a big impact on how their products arrive in stores. The story we tell our direct customers is now being passed on to these end consumers so they better understand how small changes can make a big difference.

PW: Packaging trends forecast – what are you forecasting in terms of new customer demands and how those will shape the future of packaging into 2020 and beyond? Be as specific as you can. 

AG: We see three major trends impacting packaging in 2020: sustainability, reusability, and innovation.

We are seeing sustainable packaging increasingly moving towards reusable and refillable products. Simply having recyclable materials is no longer enough. I think we will see an increase in companies like Loop and Humankind diving into the refillable space. Consumers are becoming more willing to adapt their behaviors from single-use to multi-use products, and I expect this trend to continue to increase. 

Similarly, we expect products shipped with no packaging at all will become more prevalent in the coming year. This is often called “naked” packaging, and it comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. Companies are experimenting with how to ensure high product quality when there’s no protective packaging. This will require creative and out of the box thinking.

Another trend will be new product innovations that drive packaging innovations. For example, consumers are demanding packages that are easier to open. Duracell recently introduced peel-and-seal packaging for its batteries to significantly improve the customer experience. We are finding that just because something has been packaged a certain way for decades doesn’t mean that’s how it will continue to be packaged moving forward. We’re at a real inflection point and consumer expectations are driving all of these changes. They are forcing innovation faster than ever before. -PW

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