In e-commerce, branding is cardboard

It is white, tinted orange and sometimes hangs in front of the neighbours’ door. You don’t have to take a closer look, it can be recognized for miles around: it’s a Zalando package.

The German giant has not only set its pace and its (free) delivery rates to the entire industry. Also, decades after Hermès’ famous orange boxes, it imposed a new standard in e-commerce: parcel marketing. Because in the world of dematerialized shopping, boxes are the only physical contact between the seller and his customers, packaging has become a real means of communication. “A space that can be compared to a billboard,” confirms Nicolas Inglard, director of the consultancy firm Imadeo.

At Digitec Galaxus we have just reworked the package design. Objective: that the packages are not only recognized by convinced buyers, but that they are visible and easily recognizable during the last kilometer in public space, on the back of the postman’s electric scooter or deposited in front of a door. “The thoughts and time invested around the packages are the responsibility of the marketing departments, not logistics,” said Rico Schüpbach, his spokesperson.

Also read: Digitec Galaxus focuses on French-speaking Switzerland

In the same way as the traditional public display, in which the Swiss number one in online sales is already very active, the packages are “true strategic and commercial choices”, he emphasizes. The potential for visibility on its packages is huge, knowing that Digitec and Galaxus pass 18,000 packages across the country every day.

Amazon promotes austerity

Further upstream in the chain, Vaud-based packaging machine manufacturer Bobst is benefiting greatly from the boom in online orders. Over the past four years, its e-commerce customers have accounted for half of the growth of its core division, sheet feed (corrugated boxes).

The financial director, Attilio Tissi, notes fairly clear regional differences. “E-commerce is not homogeneous at all.” In Europe, the packages are pretty neat, if not top quality. Zalando is the most famous example. In the United States, Amazon best illustrates the situation: the packaging and a logo reduced to the simplest device. “Unlike Zalando, which sells fashion and therefore emotional, Amazon is a rather cold company. Efficiency takes precedence,” analyzes Nicolas Inglard.

Finally, the third route that Bobst is taking: China, where e-retailers are paying even more attention to costs. The vast majority of packaging there is very simple and cheap. Only high-quality products have the honor of corrugated board.

But the new trend, Atillio Tissi also notes, is personalized messages in the box itself. They could soon be printed on cardboard. Because “this type of communication is currently mainly done by putting flyers in the box, it is relatively expensive”.

Additional costs, but why no income. This is what Nicolas Inglard remembers, who worked in the mail order “in another life”. “The most obvious thing was to put a new purchase order in the package,” he recalls. But the packages have always served as advertising space for partners.” Catalogues, event invitations… So many promotional placements that generated extra income for remote sellers. “The pure players very few of e-commerce make use of this”, the specialist notes.

Avoiding the void instead of filling it

If the practices of the past are little reused, carton marketing does not escape new concerns. E-commerce customers are increasingly paying attention to environmental concepts. From now on, packaging must be made from recycled materials, reusable or better, both at the same time. E-merchants already communicate a lot about these topics.

Filling materials – air cushions, styrofoam flakes, etc. – and oversized packages full of voids have a bad image with buyers. “It’s certainly not as problematic as plastic, but the environmental problem of cardboard is huge,” says Nicolas Inglard. And given the growth prospects of e-commerce, that will be even more.”

On the part of manufacturer Bobst, we are working on an answer. “The solution is packaging lines that integrate cameras that are able to distinguish the size of the product and adjust the size of the packaging accordingly,” continues Attilio Tissi.

It is precisely for this purpose that Digitec Galaxus has just invested in two new machines. In the central warehouse in Wohlen, Aargau, they prepare 1400 packages per hour. With the exception of some furniture, household appliances or fragile items, which are packed manually, the machines fold the boxes to the exact dimensions of each order, both individually and in groups.

No filling material is used, so no packaging is too large. This allows Digitec Galaxus to reduce its cardboard consumption and save money. And improve its image.

Switzerland and e-commerce

■ In 2018, the Swiss spent 9.5 billion francs on internet purchases. A 10% growth compared to 2017, according to the Swiss Distance Selling Association (Asvad).

■ Almost 1 billion francs worth of food products were ordered online. A Swiss speciality, emphasizes Asvad.

■ The volume of small parcels from Asia increased by 35%.

■ About 38 million parcels are sent to Switzerland every year.

■ Digitec and Galaxus deliver an average of 18,000 parcels per day in the country. But on some peak days, such as Black Friday, that number can exceed 40,000.

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