eCommerce

What is ‘packaging’? eCommerce guide: types, features and processes

Mariluz Sampalo

Mariluz Sampalo

Dec 12, 2021

Boxes are one of the most common types of packaging in eCommerce

The transportation of goods is a crucial stage in the supply chain of an online shop. So much so that a simple pothole or bad turn can damage the product and transform a perfect sale into a dissatisfied customer. That’s precisely the purpose of packaging: to avoid these unpleasant situations by protecting the items and guaranteeing that they arrive safely to the end destination, among other things.

But not all packaging is created the same. The effectiveness heavily depends on the features of every eCommerce and the products it sells. In fact, choosing inadequate packaging can cause more harm than good.

If you still don’t know what packaging is or you haven’t found the right packaging for your business, don’t worry, this article will solve all your doubts about it.

What is ‘packaging’?

Packaging is the term used for all the material that covers and protects goods. In this article, in particular, we cover all the packaging that is related to the conditioning of a product. These are all the tasks that prepare an item for transportation: labelling, stamping, packing, etc.

The main goal of packaging is to protect the goods throughout the logistic journey until they reach the buyer. 

Understanding this is incredibly important since we generally associate packaging with the cardboard boxes that couriers carry in their delivery vans. To some extent, this is right, but we also shouldn’t forget that packaging plays a fundamental role in the rest of the supply chain.

This is why so many packing companies also offer complete warehouse management services,  and not only packing material.

Functions and advantages of packaging for an eCommerce

Product protection

Packaging protects the goods against hits during transportation or packing, as well as from weather conditions, accidental drops, fractures and crushes or sources of contamination, guaranteeing optimal preservation of the products.

For long routes or international shipments that involve different logistic operators, the packaging of the products becomes an essential element since any small flaw or imperfection in the packaging can lead to an expensive return and the loss of a customer.

Good packaging will also reduce the number of complaints about damaged goods during shipping, lessening the workload in customer support.

It’s worth mentioning that many transportation companies don’t accept items with inadequate packaging because they know that the chances of incidents are higher and thus prefer to avoid dealing with complaints and compensations in the future.

Optimisation of internal logistics

Many eCommerce businesses and online shops design more profitable models to make the most of the packaging.

For instance, when the inventory is quite voluminous, the packaging information can help you know what type of product you are handling without checking the registry. This reduces considerably the time agents need to complete a picking route and diminishes the chances of lost orders during transportation.

Moreover, if the packaging doesn’t support optimal inventory storage, operational space will be wasted, affecting the provision frequency of the business. Restocking activities will become more regular but smaller.

All these improvements in the processing of orders and the reduction of incidents have a clear result: the costs of the retail activity are drastically reduced.

Customer experience customisation 

Since the beginning of marketing, packaging has become another channel for the branding of a company. Great firms have used it to create loyalty strategies by orienting the packaging to customers’ interests.

The main advantage of using packaging as a marketing instrument is that this form of marketing only occurs when a customer makes a purchase. This means that it impacts every single user, unlike newsletters, which can be opened or not.

Do you want to seduce your customers with unique packaging? This article thoroughly explains how you can customise your packaging to create a unique delivery experience.

Types of packaging

Packaging can be classified into primary, secondary and tertiary. Knowing the specific terminology is important to professionally manage the warehouse of an eCommerce.

  • Primary packaging is the packaging in direct contact with the product, it’s the container. If we talk about wine, the primary packaging is the bottle. 
  • Secondary packaging is where the primary packaging and the product are stored. Following the last example, a wine box, made out of wood or paper, can be the secondary packaging. In addition to providing an extra layer of protection, they can be customised with marketing elements to reinforce brand image.
  • Tertiary packaging is the material that protects the product and its packaging during the transportation process. A cardboard box with dividers for several bottles of wine can be the tertiary packaging for the transportation of glass bottles.

The primary packaging contains the product, the secondary packaging protects the primary packaging and the tertiary packaging protects both of them during the transportation process.

packaging is a fundamental aspect of every shipment an eCommerce processes (bottles, boxes… it all matters).

Source: 3PLS

Packaging materials

Paper packaging

It’s normally used as additional protection to other more solid packaging materials, like boxes or cardboard tubes. It also isolates the product and protects it from sunlight, dust and humidity. 

Types of paper packaging:

  • Craft paper. This material is a by-product of the cardboard industry and provides great protection in shipments. It’s frequently used for fragile goods or items of value.
  • Tissue paper. This light cellulose material is often used to prevent scratches and rubbing.

Cardboard packaging

This is the most common and universal type of packaging because of its ability to protect and its low cost. Cardboard packaging tends to come in the form of boxes, although they can be found in other formats, like tubes or envelopes. Depending on the weight of the products, cardboard packaging can be single-channel (up to 20 kg), dual-channel (up to 70 kg) or triple-channel (up to 350 kg).

Both cardboard and paper are two packaging materials preferred by customers since they are easy to recycle and reuse.

Plastic packaging

They are very common in B2B supply chains. They offer great resistance and can be used multiple times. In the long run, they can reduce the costs of shipping and returns. They can also be used to preserve certain items during provision and restocking.

  • Plastic wrap, also known as cling film, cling wrap or food wrap. It is mainly used in food production as a method for prolonging their shelf-life by preventing them from coming in contact with air. It’s flexible and resistant.
  • Asphaltic filter. They offer additional protection against water and humidity.
  • Bubble wrap. The airbags act as a cushion for the goods. There are different types of bubble wrap and it’s quite possibly the most protective and used option in the industry.

Wood packaging

Designed for heavy shipments that require special support. Many times wood packaging is tailored-made, which means that they can be found in multiple forms: general boxes, detachable boxes, compartmentalised boxes, pallets, etc.

Packaging and packing methods in logistics

Normally in warehouses of a certain size, there are different packing processes. The first is related to inventory tasks. As a general rule, the supplier will deliver the goods in their primary packaging. Once they are classified, the products are labelled and the product is put into the secondary packaging.

The second stage involves tertiary packing —sometimes secondary too— and it’s carried out when processing an order for shipment.

For this, the business can choose several methods to prepare the orders for shipment:

  • Isolated order packing. The products are individually picked up and processed. Once they are in the tertiary packaging, the staff moves on to the next order. This is a common method for smaller-size online shops.
  • Batch picking and packing. When there are multiple orders to process, the picking and packing of products with the same code will be done concurrently to save time.
  • Wave picking. The packing of orders with similarities is done at the same time, but the products don’t need to be the same. For example, when the items from order A are next to those from order B.
  • Picking and packing by areas. The warehouse staff is divided into different areas to speed up the picking and packing. This is especially useful for bigger warehouses.

How to choose the best packaging for eCommerce?

The chosen packaging has an impact on the costs and viability of your business. However, making the best decision is not so simple. If it’s not solid enough, it can endanger the goods. On the other hand, using packaging that is overprotective can have a considerable impact on your profit margins.

  1. Identify your needs. The packaging you choose should be adapted to the features of the goods. Consider the dimensions of the products, their nature (solid, liquid or gas), their shelf-life, the need for refrigeration, their fragility, their danger and their commercial value. The characteristics of your warehouse system are also important elements to consider: the rotation frequency, the height of the piles, storage time, treatment processes, mobile machinery, etc.
  2. Analyse your transportation methods. You’ll need to know what type of vehicle you are going to use for the transportation of your products. The stability of a ship is quite different from that of a plane or a van. It’s also important to know the length and duration of the shipment: the longer the route, the more chances of damages to occur.
  3. Define the type of packaging and material you are going to use. Factors like the goods themselves, the transportation method, the final point of sales or the volume of shipments you process will determine the type of packaging (primary, secondary or tertiary) and their material (paper, plastic or wood).
  4. Establish a provision frequency with your supplier. If the products you sell have similar dimensions, you can obtain larger quantities of standardised packaging and save some resources. However, if your goods vary in size or nature, you’ll need to have different types of packaging, which can lead to higher costs.

The packaging you choose for the shipment will determine the dimensional weight of the package. This weight is extremely important to couriers when it comes to setting a rate for the shipment. When this isn’t optimised, you’ll be paying for shipping air.

In this article, you’ll find strategies to reduce shipping costs by considering the dimensional weight.

Now you know what packaging is and what you need to take into account before choosing the right type of packaging if you want to reduce logistics and shipping costs in the long run.

Frequently asked questions

Where does packaging fall in the marketing mix?

Packaging is considered a part of the product and can be more or less important depending on the nature of the item, the target, the price point, etc.

Which packaging is used for efficient shipping?

The answer to this question may vary depending on the product and the shipping method. The cost of the packaging, the weight of the materials, the space in the vehicle, product fragility and other factors must be considered if you want to achieve efficient shipping.

What packaging is recyclable?

Recyclable packaging includes paper, cardboard, plastic and wood. However, the recyclability of these materials may change from country to country. This means that, if you are considering choosing recyclable packaging for your online shop, you need to check which of the options can be process by recycling facilities in your area and if they can also be recycled by your customers.

What packaging is not recyclable?

Glass, aluminum, paper and cardboard are generally recyclable. Other materials such as plastic or Tetrapak can be recycled in special facilities as well. Although, they may not be available in all countries, they are still considered recyclable materials.

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