E-commerce box

Urbanisation Radar: online retail

​How is online retail transforming the requirements of today’s consumer packaging?


​E-commerce is here to stay, and here to grow. eMarketer expects global online retail to continue growing at roughly 18% per year, increasing its share of total retail from the current 10% to over 16% by 2021. Some 80% of e-commerce goods are packaged in corrugated board.

With a longer and more complex value chain than in traditional retail, e-commerce places additional requirements on the paperboard package. 


An e-commerce package needs to be strong enough to arrive with the purchaser wholly intact and undamaged. The length of the e-commerce value chain increases the need for protection, as the package can be handled over 4 times more than in traditional retail.

The buy-to-try mentality in e-commerce has led to return rates rising to as high as 30%, compared to roughly 8% for items purchased from stores. This requires the package to be conveniently re-sealable for easy returns, a crucial factor for repeat purchases. 

The high amount of air being shipped around the world, due to lack of suitable box sizes, is both a cost and sustainability issue. The challenge is to create a box that is the right weight and size to minimize the need for packaging material, but also make a package that fills its basic requirements. This has increased demand for box-on-demand technology, which enables the production of fit-for-purpose boxes at the fulfilment center. 

In many cases void fills made of unsustainable materials are used to protect the product.  The winning design in Metsä Board´s packaging design competition Better with Less – Design Challenge is challenging the traditional void fill materials by offering a sustainable alternative – a corrugated box inner part that allows variable sized products to be packaged without the need for bubble wrap.


In an online retail situation, the packaging is the purchaser’s first point of encounter with the product. Here, the image that the brand owner wants to communicate should be taken into account, with strong efforts to impress both in sturdiness and visual appeal.

It appears that brand owners increasingly understand the idea that the packaging should live up to the expectations of the brand. The branding can be visible both on the outside and/or inside of the box. The latter is preferred, if the content should not be revealed during transportation. 

Digital solutions also bring new opportunities. Connectivity via mobile apps and intelligent packaging can be used to improve the brand experience, offering an interface between the consumer and the product with videos and further information about the product.

According to a study by Dotcom Distribution, 40% of shoppers would be more likely to make a repeat purchase, if a product ordered online came in premium packaging. 


More and more, online retailers are looking to suggest the presence of something arriving specifically for the customer – a unique gift rather than a routine purchase. Particularly when the package arrives as part of a subscription service, retailers have a lot of information about their customer, and are able to deliver a customised package. 

The ongoing trend of publishing unboxing videos on social media has also helped to increase awareness of the importance of high-quality packaging. The excitement of receiving a package, and the thrill of removing each layer and discovering the contents has been captured and shared by eager consumers thousands of times over.

The experience of opening a package is of particular relevance to luxury-oriented brands. Advertising like this – capturing consumer desire and spreading the excitement with other eager potential purchasers – simply cannot be bought. It may well be the most valuable and influential marketing available today.

Sources: Invespcro, Dotcom Distribution, e-Marketer, Smithers Pira

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