Research Highlight: Package assessments based on consumer perceptions of e-commerce
A group of CPULD’s undergraduate packaging students have completed a research project that focused on improving the sustainability of e-commerce packages. The main goal of this project was to understand what elements of the package are more important for customers who purchase their goods through an e-commerce channel.
In recent years, e-commerce is a rapidly growing industry that has amassed remarkable attention. In fact, by the end of 2020, US e-commerce made up 21.3% of total sales compared to only 15.8% in the year prior. This nearly 6% jump is strikingly significant considering that, within the last decade, the yearly percent increase was consistently 1.4% or less. Unfortunately, packages designed for an in-store, retail setting are frequently repurposed for e-commerce distribution, despite the different demands and logistics of each distribution system.
The logistics of in-store retail systems are often simpler, and therefore, require less handling, while the marketing demands of in-store shopping call for a package that aids in attracting the attention of consumers. For e-commerce systems, packages are not used primarily as marketing tools prior to the consumers’ first purchase like they are for in-store, retail shopping. Additionally, the logistics of e-commerce retail systems are much more complex, thus requiring more handling.
In a retail setting, a package is designed to withstand only one shipment from the manufacturer to the store because, even if returned, that package will not enter the distribution system again. Alternatively, online orders must be able to withstand two possible shipments: one from the manufacturer to the consumer and a second shipment back into the distribution system. Comparing these two systems, it is clear that an e-commerce package is required to be tougher and more thoughtfully designed. If a retail package is not redesigned for e-commerce but is sold via e-commerce regardless, it may result in the failure of the package which has negative consequences such as product damage, customer dissatisfaction, and increased environmental waste.
The goal of this research project was to understand which elements of a package are perceived as more important by the customer. This information will allow packaging designers to create more effective packaging designs by focusing on the elements that are perceived as more valuable by the customer.
Elements of packaging within the e-commerce supply chain can be broken down into three main categories: Marketing, Environment, and Flow Functions. Marketing Functions of a package aid in creating value and branding for the product and company. Environment Functions aim to reduce the negative effects of the packaging system on the environment. Lastly, Flow Functions promote areas such as better logistics, handling, and efficiency.
The student team developed an online survey to help increase our understanding of how consumers value each packaging element within the context of e-commerce. Respondents were asked to consider their past experiences with e-commerce - what they liked, and what they disliked. Respondents were explicitly asked to rate the importance of many different elements within the three main packaging function categories (Image 2). This was done to finalize what the consumer ultimately looks for in an ideal package.
Unboxing experience and brand recognizability both have the highest standard deviation which shows that respondents were not as united in these choices. Tamper protection was the most agreed upon element. An average of the average importance values for each of the three main packaging function categories was calculated and used as a comparison to the importance allocations. This demonstrated that respondents placed more value on elements that belonged to Flow Functions, and placed the least value on elements belonging to Marketing Functions. This portion of data, with respondents rating five-out-of-six packaging elements in Marketing as the least valuable, demonstrated that consumers are more concerned with the basic functional, protective, and safety aspects of a package. Consumers sampled want the safe delivery of their product more than the aesthetic aspects of receiving a package.
The data also showed a discrepancy between how packaging professionals and the general public perceived the importance of the different factors. Respondents with experience in the packaging industry regarded the marketing and appearance aspects of packaging highly, whereas from a non-industry perspective, a functional and protective box was more of a priority.