Unboxed - The Impact of E-Commerce on Packaging

Posted by Performance Coatings Team on 05/26/2021

What provides consumers a better brand experience after ordering products online…the product arriving in a generic cardboard box or in eye-catching, custom packaging?

The experience of opening the box matters. During this “unboxing experience,” the primary packaging and secondary packaging (outer box) offer a tremendous opportunity to make a lasting impression that builds interest and excitement about a product or brand.

With e-commerce growing rapidly as a retail channel in recent years—a growth which has accelerated in 2020 as a result of the pandemic—many companies are capitalizing on packaging to influence consumers in a new way. While traditional packaging could be used, many online retailers are using the expansion in e-commerce as an opportunity to enhance and optimize their packaging specifically for this channel.

However, the growth of e-commerce is creating specific challenges and opportunities for the packaging industry. Mailing goods directly to the consumer through the postal or courier system places unique demands on the functionality of packaging. In addition, retailers often desire sustainability benefits integrated into their packaging, so it needs to be lightweight with minimal waste, yet protective and durable. The package should be traceable and secure, easy to recycle, potentially returnable, and at the same time offer frustration-free unboxing. [DA1]

The “Wow” Factor

At the consumer level, the unboxing experience offers an opportunity to customize messaging and use the packaging “real estate” as an additional marketing tool to support their brand and communicate with consumers. When someone orders online directly from the producer who is shipping it, the brown cardboard box can be designed to be more interesting than a plain box and targeted to the individual consumer. The box might be brown on the outside, but digitally printed on the inside to deliver a “wow” factor and the feeling of a unique product when it’s opened.

Photobooks, which became increasingly popular for online purchases during the pandemic, are one example of using the packaging to create a bespoke experience. Some companies are including digitally printed photos on packages for a unique unboxing experience and to encourage customers to share their experience with others and to reorder in the future. Other companies are using packaging to promote products that complement what’s inside the box or a similar product for future purchases.

Digital Printing Enables The Experience

Digital printing enables these personalized, targeted experiences. With the flexibility it offers, short turnaround times and cost effectiveness for short runs, digital printing on corrugated board is growing at more than 20 percent per year, a trend that is expected to continue.

Digital printing is expected to be increasingly utilized for printing on folding cartons, which are thinner, solid cardboard packs used for both primary and secondary packaging. Folding cartons, such as chocolate and perfume boxes, can be technically more difficult to print because there are many different thicknesses, and a higher print quality is needed for higher-end packaging.

Flexible packaging, such as plastic film and pouches, is a further growth area for digital printing, and may see an expansion in e-commerce packaging as products that are packaged in flexible packs may be more convenient to fit in mailboxes. Printing onto film for flexible packaging, especially with a water-based inkjet ink, will be even more complex and require even more advanced solutions.

Solutions for Digital Printing

Lubrizol is playing a key role in enabling the digital printing of packaging through both ink receptive substrate treatments and digital ink components that improve digital ink stability and jetting performance. Lubrizol chemistries include Diamond Dispersions™ water-based colorants or dispersions that meet the demanding requirements of the ink jet ink market; Lubrijet™ resins for fast drying and rub resistance; and PrintRite™ primers/pretreatments that create new possibilities in digital print performance through enhanced visual appeal, performance and efficient workflow. Lubrizol continues to develop new innovations for digital printing on packaging, whether on corrugated board, folding carton, or flexible packaging.

Performance Coatings Team

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