Canadian Packaging editor George Guidoni talks about the growth of e-commerce in mainstream consumer markets
December 7, 2018
Developing functional and attractive packaging that did its job of protecting the product and moving that product off the store-shelves into passing shopping carts used to be a fairly straightforward proposition. Not always easy to execute, mind you, but easy enough to grasp what a brand had to do to win over the hearts and minds in the grocery aisles.
Naturally, some companies did it better than others, but with package manufacturing, printing and converting technologies being widely available to anyone willing to pay for it, the business of packaging was never really the kind of an industry that required relentless everyday innovation and groundbreaking ingenuity to retain its commercial viability and practical necessity.
But things have changed dramatically since the start of the 21st Century, as global competition with low-cost offshore manufacturers, the onset of Big Box retailing, heightened awareness of worldwide environmental degradation and, of course, the digital technological revolution have made the CPG (consumer packaged goods) marketplace a vastly more unpredictable and volatile battleground for both producers of packaging products and their end-use customers.
It is both a credit and testament to the packaging industry’s resilience and flexibility that it has so far coped with this Perfect Storm of new paradigm shifts in an admirably stoic fashion—turning challenges into
opportunities and accelerating the pace of technological innovation to keep up with the fast-changing times and demographics.
But it probably would not be stretching truth that none of the aforementioned disruptors to the traditional packaging ecosystem have carried the risk of existential obsolescence to the same extent as the rapid
surge in growth of e-commerce in mainstream consumer markets.
As a timely new industry report from PMMI – The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies perfectly points out, “E-commerce is not only changing the rules of the game, it’s starting a whole new game.”
While it’s no use to blame packaging producers for not seeing this new seismic change coming in time to get ready for it—frankly, no other traditional industry did any better in this respect—there has never been a
more urgent time than now for packaging professionals of all stripes to ramp up the pace of innovation to unprecedented heights in order to accommodate the profound changes in consumer behavior unleashed by
e-commerce and all its digital technology trappings.
If early product return rates of up to 30 per cent are any indication, as cited in the 2018 E-Commerce: Think Inside the Box report, packaging designers and suppliers are not exactly inspiring much confidence that they are fully up to speed on what they must do in an increasingly brief window of opportunity.
Ditto for the increasing vocal collective chorus of complaints about the excessive amount of packaging being shipped to households for the amount of goods actually delivered there—creating a whole new set of
packaging waste disposal challenges that did not exist before.
As one packaged designer quoted in the PMMI study observes: “There is no magic wand for e-commerce, no standardized solutions. Every company that works with e-commerce has had to rethink their strategy.”
And by extension, a whole lot more rethinking yet to come in the years ahead, rest assured.