Marketplace approaches to more sustainable shipping packaging

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The Internet is changing how we shop but it’s also changing the products we buy. Whilst on a shop shelf, packaging has to jump out at consumers and shout “Buy me!”, online merchants use images to sell the product and shipping packaging is less important.

How Tide changed to shipping packaging for Amazon

This has led Amazon to work with brands not just to change product packaging to turn it into shipping packaging, but also to change the products themselves to be more ecommerce friendly. This is more true of US brand Tide than perhaps any other product on sale today.

Tide changed to shipping packagingSold in shops in a large plastic bottle, Amazon challenged Tide brand owners Procter & Gamble to turn the iconic orange plastic bottle into a box. Procter & Gamble didn’t just change the awkwardly shaped and hard to ship bottle into a box, they also changed the product itself. Since the size or shelf impression of the product being sold online is irrelevant, engineers could re-mix the detergent formula using less water to make the product smaller and more light-weight.

“It’s a huge challenge to convert something like the iconic bottle into a totally new format that the consumer has never seen. How do we take this bottle that’s full of heavy liquid and transform it into a box?”
– Isaac Hellemn, E-Commerce and Innovation Brand Manager, P&G

The result is the new Tide Eco-Box that uses 60% less plastic than the comparable bottle version and 30 percent less water. The new box is also four pounds lighter.

Amazon shipping packaging classifications

Amazon classify products and their packaging into three categories with the top Tier products being ready with shipping packaging that forms a part of the product packaging:

Amazon Tier 1 Packaging

Products in Tier 1 are, similarly to Tier 2 products, ready to ship but with fully recyclable packaging – generally at the kerbside through household’s normal council collections. Packaging will be easy to open (frustration free) and there won’t be any polystyrene fillers that can’t be recycled.

Amazon Tier 2 Packaging

Products assessed as Amazon Tier 2 are ready to be shipped with the simple addition of the shipping label. They don’t need Amazon to package them and the advantage for the supplier is that their own branding appears on the box rather than an Amazon brown box delivery. Consumers who don’t wish labels attached (for instance if the purchase is for a present) can still opt to have them packed in an Amazon box through the gift options.

Amazon Tier 3 Packaging

These are products ready to be shipped and require Amazon to package but not necessarily in a traditional box. They may be boxed with other products or shipped in a card mailing sleeve.

Zalando aim for reuseable shipping packaging

Zalando are working on a pilot project to see how we can work with reusable packaging. Customers would then receive textiles or cosmetic products in a transport box or bag, which can then be used many more times for shipping or returns.

“In contrast to disposable packaging, reuse keeps materials out of the waste stream, thus safeguarding their value and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and extending the life cycle of the original raw material.”
– Melanie Hultsch, Senior Corporate Responsibility Manager, Zalando

Zalando acknowledge that both the materials to manufacture reusable shipping packaging and the logistics around retrieving shipping packaging for reuse are not easy problems to solve.

“Packaging is therefore a very complex issue, because on the one hand we want to reduce material and make it more sustainable, on the other hand we want to–and must–ensure products are adequately protected on the way to the customer.”
– Melanie Hultsch, Senior Corporate Responsibility Manager, Zalando

Shipping packaging is essential for ecommerce and the volumes we buy are growing at ever increasing rates. Both designing products so that they can be shipped in their own packaging and where this isn’t possible shipping in reusable shipping packaging are great steps towards reducing waste but there’s a long way to go before the mountains of cardboard boxes, jiffy bags and plastic mailers stop turning up on our doorsteps just to be thrown in the bin, or more hopefully put out for kerbside recycling.


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