What are some of the emerging trends in e-commerce packaging that we should be paying more attention to? How much did the COVID pandemic really affect this sector? And what role will sustainability have to play? These questions – and more – were answered in a recent conversation with Nedim Nisic, eCommerce director at Mondi.
Sustainability is obviously at the top of many people’s agenda – what can the industry do to make the e-commerce packaging sector more sustainable?
Sustainability is a top priority, and the e-commerce industry has an important role to play, especially when it comes to packaging.
The world is facing a packaging waste challenge. And as an industry, we have a role to step up and help solve it. Creating a circular economy for packaging is a key objective. This is about more than just recycling – it is about minimising waste and keeping the value, materials and resources in circulation.
To achieve this, products need to be evaluated across their lifecycle, starting from sustainable sourcing and following through with a design that is fit for purpose – whether this be recyclability, reusability or enabling both to work in parallel to maximise their product and packaging material value.
What it really comes down to is innovation and collaboration across the value chain to develop scalable solutions that minimise waste. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but by creating products that are designed for circularity and fit for purpose, we can build a more sustainable e-commerce packaging ecosystem.
Now that we have a couple of years’ worth of hindsight, how has the e-commerce space changed since before the start of the pandemic? What aspects did COVID permanently change?
The e-commerce landscape fundamentally shifted at the start of the pandemic. COVID accelerated the already rising e-commerce demand, meaning there was a need for packaging suppliers to keep pace.
It’s worth saying that e-commerce trends have always been closely intertwined with macroeconomic changes, of which COVID is a prime example. But it works both ways. This past year, the industry experienced negative growth for the first time, which was mainly down to supply chain disruptions due to the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, and the cost-of-living crisis impacting people’s disposable income.
That being said, the pandemic left the industry more agile and future-fit than ever before. In many ways, it accelerated a digital transformation, encouraged the optimisation of logistics operations, and shifted consumer behaviours. Our expectation is to see e-commerce continue its growth in the long term.
What are some of the emerging and future trends that we should be paying more attention to?
While it’s undeniable that the industry has its ups and downs, it’s clear that the general trajectory is that it is growing. According to Statista, the global e-commerce market is expected to exceed €5.3 trillion by 2027, with online shopping set to account for 20% of retail globally – demonstrating a fundamental long-term shift in our economies.
Through our work with Statista, we see two key topics emerging: social commerce and sustainability.
Social platforms like TikTok are proving to be popular e-commerce channels, with social commerce potentially reaching €1 trillion globally by 2027 (Statista). Meanwhile, the metaverse is anticipated to be an increasingly powerful tool that brands will adopt to engage their audiences in new ways. And while still in its early stages, we’re seeing more and more brands already selling new products through the platform.
Sustainability will also continue to have an increasing influence on consumer behaviours, and, subsequently, on e-commerce. While environmentally conscious consumers may veer away from certain purchases, their awareness has also fuelled the growth in sustainable brands, products and resale markets, as well as the packaging in which those items move around the world. And e-commerce companies take note of this: sustainability is at the heart of consumer needs.
Likewise, with automation, what is the next stage of development/adoption?
Automation will be critical in the next wave of e-commerce growth, and set to play an increasing role in addressing the fulfilment challenges of businesses. Beyond streamlining product processing and packing to enhance accuracy and efficiency, automation will also continue to ensure faster delivery times – allowing businesses to meet growing customer expectations for faster deliveries.
Automation is also set to be a key solution to challenges such as sustainability requirements and shortages in manual labour. How do we see this taking form? For starters, achieving higher unit output from packaging materials with less material waste is key to more sustainable operations – both from a cost perspective and an environmental one.
And a wave of automated solutions producing fitted packaging means that operational efficiencies are at our fingertips, allowing fulfilment teams to scale up production without the need for more people. Taking into account all this, it is no wonder that the warehouse automation market is set to reach $51 billion by 2030 (McKinsey & Company), a sign of the efficiencies that businesses have in their sight.
Last question: what will the e-commerce packaging sector look like in 10 years’ time?
So, we know that e-commerce is on a long-term growth path. There are numerous projections about this – take consumer behaviours as one and technological advancements as another.
Taking these into account, collaboration is going to be key – particularly between the packaging industry, e-commerce platforms, as well as other key players. When it comes to sustainability, working together can help the industry meet the expectations of customers pushing for circular products and packaging.
It’s also increasingly important for online retailers to partner with a packaging supplier who can design tailored solutions for their products, that work with their supply chain and provide packaging solutions that are sustainably designed and fit for purpose. At Mondi, that means using the right material for the right application. I believe that offering a full portfolio from paper to converted solutions – like we do – will become even more relevant in the future.
That approach can make what look like challenges now into opportunities for the future – working on the packaging of today for the planet of tomorrow will help us future-proof e-commerce businesses.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:
Also, if you’re interested in packaging sustainability, you will want to attend our Sustainable Packaging Summit in Amsterdam on 14-15 November. The Summit brings together leaders and pioneers from across the industry to align strategically, learn, network, and create a critical mass to accelerate change. You can learn more by clicking here, and you can buy a ticket to attend here.