Brands risk losing business if they fail to meet consumer demand for more sustainable packaging, according to new research from DS Smith.

In a survey of UK online shoppers on behalf of the sustainable packaging company, 45% of online shoppers cited minimal packaging as important to them and around a quarter would stop ordering from a company if they experienced too much unnecessary packaging. Nearly as many – 22% – would do the same if the packaging was not recyclable or difficult to recycle. Sentiment towards reuse was also positive, with 75% being happy to receive a new product in a previously used package, while 69% would reuse old packaging for something else.

The findings further highlight that sustainability is now front of mind for UK consumers, according to DS Smith. Most associate packaging with a brand’s wider sustainability efforts and more than two-thirds (68%) said they have a better perception of a company’s sustainability commitments if they received their product in paper or cardboard packaging rather than plastic. Specifically, consumers indicated a strong preference for sustainable and recyclable packaging, with 80% saying they would prefer to receive a product in paper or cardboard packaging; 21% said they would be willing to pay more for plastic-free packaging.

When it comes to recyclability, 69% cited it as a priority in relation to packaging and 25% would consider paying more for easy to recycle packaging. When asked which features were most important, packaging being made out of paper/cardboard material only (63%) and easy to collapse or flatten (58%) came out on top.

Anne Curtis, e-commerce business unit lead for UK packaging at DS Smith, said, ‘The pandemic was a moment of truth for many e-commerce brands, as the trend of online shopping grew in parallel with increasingly sophisticated expectations for how shoppers receive their products. Now, sustainability is clearly top of their list of priorities. This means high-quality packaging that is either recyclable or reusable, while also reducing any unnecessary waste.’

The report highlights the wider importance of packaging in helping to ensure a positive brand experience for shoppers. Aside from sustainability concerns, 32% have experienced damaged packaging in the last year and 58% would stop ordering from a company if they received a damaged product repeatedly. The returns process was also a point of issue for some, with 29% saying they find the process frustrating. Overall, the report warns against neglecting the importance of packaging, which can lead to a decrease in repeat business and may tarnish a brand’s image. For e-commerce brands, DS Smith advocates that they should remember that packaging is a customer’s first interaction with their purchase. It’s therefore an opportunity not just to meet expectations but to exceed them and leave an impression.

Ms Curtis continued, ‘At a time when consumers are keeping an eye on their spending and competition for customers is fierce, brands risk losing business if their packaging fails to meet online shoppers’ increased sustainability standards.’

Read more about DS Smith and its sustainability journey in issue 5 (August/September) 2023 of Digital Labels & Packaging, which you can also read online here; register here to receive future issues