Return Strategy

How to optimize packaging for returns & exchanges

Your packaging problems could be amplifying your returns problem. Let's put a stop to that! Learn how to optimize packaging for returns with this handy guide.

So much of the ecommerce experience is tied to packaging. How the package looks & feels can have a huge impact on buying behavior.

The numbers prove it too. Dotcom Distribution recently ran a study finding 40% of consumers say premium packaging will push them towards repeat purchases. Those consumers also said that premium packaging gives brands a more upscale feel & enhances the ecommerce customer experience overall.

If your brand is keen on getting new customers & keeping existing ones, packaging will help seal the deal. But what about customers who need to make a return?

We've all been there: as soon as you receive that hotly anticipated package, you rip it open like a kid on Christmas morning. Returning a product is the last thing on your mind as you tear/chew through plastic & cardboard packaging!

Turns out there is a way to give consumers a great unboxing experience while offering packaging solutions that facilitate the returns process too. To find out how, we've partnered with our friends at the amazing ecommerce packaging company, Arka.

No stranger to the strategic use of packaging, Arka has built a business on crafting sustainable, eco-friendly packaging solutions that support business needs at every stage of the customer journey. In other words, there's no better group of fantastic people to provide best practices for packaging that helps brands maximize the returns opportunity.

Read More: Ecommerce returns best practices: Shipping Fees + More

Why returns packaging matters

For those of you who follow the Loop blog closely, you might remember Phil Arkzar, CEO of Arka, joined us for a podcast centered around slam-dunking the unboxing experience. If you missed that, click play below for some inspiration.

As important as unboxing is, it's not the only consideration DTC brands need to account for. For example, poor packaging can lead to product damage either when transporting to the customer or during product returns.

It's easy to adopt the "it happens" mindset when packages take a beating but consider the full impact:

  • Damage products kill customer enthusiasm.

  • If products are damaged, returns will likely be soon to follow.

  • When products are damaged, customers are less likely to go for repeat purchases.

  • And if products are damaged during the returns process, things can get complicated really quickly.

The solution is simple. Packaging needs to be optimized to ensure that products are wrapped in a way that reduces damages during shipping while making returns easy for customers.

As I'm writing this, BFCM is fast approaching. We've beat this drum a lot, but returns jump by as much as 31% during the holidays even when we don't consider packaging mishaps. In other words, packaging needs to be part of your Black Friday ecommerce strategy (and your all-year strategy too).

First impressions matter a lot to your clients. Package optimization helps to ensure those are always the best they can be. Cosmetic damage like illegible labels or fractures in a plastic case may not harm the value of the goods, bad packaging nearly always leaves a bad perception on buyers.

Read More: Post-purchase evaluation: 3 Ways to win customers for life

What Causes Packaging Damage?

The first step in optimizing your brand packaging is the factors that lead to package damage. As goods travel from the manufacturer to shipment to storage to retailer to customer, damage can occur at any stage in the supply chain.

Dealing with damage can arise for a number of causes, including inappropriate use of equipment such as package cutters, harsh treatment of fragile objects, and inadequate environmental management, among several others.

If you're getting a lot of damaged products returned, you need to figure out what's generating the problem. Here are some of the things that can have an impact on packaging across the supply chain:

  1. Environmental conditions

  2. Distance

  3. Time

  4. Compression

  5. Vibration & transport type

  6. Drop & impact

1. Environmental Conditions

Conditions like weather, dust, humidity, and temperature can all lead to damage to your products. Dirt and dust accumulate in delivery vehicles, factories, and sorting centers.

Each of these factors might make it difficult for your goods to reach your clients in excellent shape. Goods should arrive unspoiled by covering them in sealed containers.

2. Distance

The shorter the distance, the higher the probability it will not be damaged. The primary reason for this is that short-distance shipments bring less damage risk because the goods experience lower temperatures, less humidity, and much lesser impact.

3. Time 

If there is a delay somewhere in the supply chain, you might find your deliveries tampered with or damaged by one of the intermediaries (such as truckers) during that period. Several factors may impact the transportation of your products, including speed of transportation, size of delivery vehicle, and availability of drivers on each transport line.

4. Compression

When a company has a large product inventory, it will be placed on a shelf in a warehouse, and may not have any airflow between packs. This can lead to compression that potentially damages the product. Products should never be placed on top of each other without some form of protective covering between them.

5. Vibration & transport type 

The type of transportation chosen for shipping products can lead to product damage and returns. Fragile goods may vibrate frequently when traveling over turbulent waters. The vibrations can cause breakage of the product.

6. Drop & impact

If your product is dropped or hit it can cause damage to the contents of the package. Whenever an item is mishandled, wear and tear can occur. Your goods will stay unspoiled if you apply the proper packing to protect against drops.

Package Optimization for Returns

The entire supply chain must be considered when designing packaging. Brands and their product providers need a deep awareness of every link in their distribution network. With this, they can then utilize to explore concepts before settling on the best packaging option.

When all aspects as considered, appropriate packaging can keep your items safe from the elements and operator mistakes while also making shipping and storage easier. Poor decisions, on the other hand, can lead to all kinds of trouble.

Below are five things to think about when it comes to package optimization:

  1. Packaging materials

  2. Space efficiency

  3. Packaging sizes

  4. Packaging layout

  5. Packing assessment

1. Packaging Materials

There are many options for product packaging, so which one do you choose? Keep in mind that what you are using must be robust enough to hold the goods, but that is only the beginning of the process.

To choose what's right for your goods, you should learn more about each material. Factors like cost, durability, and function will determine the best material for the intended use. Materials for packaging shipping containers come in three primary varieties: corrugated fiberboard (CFR), symmetrical metal container (SMC), and composite units.

Examine every stage of the distribution network for anything that might harm the goods. These might be environmental or structural causes, and they could occur throughout transport and storage. Next, there's the issue of cost; sturdy materials aren't cheap, so you'll have to evaluate the danger of broken shipments against the expense of better packing.

2. Space efficiency

Unused space results in increased shipping costs and underutilized facilities. You may save money on logistics by trying to ensure your package is small. Because the goods can't jiggle about, fewer spaces minimize the possibilities of harm in shipment.

Before transportation, sorting products for greater volumes reduces individual box mobility and simplifies loading and unloading. It can help save time and money by reducing the amount of time and materials required for transit and storage.

3. Packaging sizes

Carriers employ a variety of techniques to calculate shipping rates, and volumetric weight is frequently used for packages or cartons larger than a particular size. This is calculated on the basis of the shipment's capacity instead of its real weight.

The capacity is measured first (L x W x H), then multiplied by a volumetric (DIM) coefficient to get the dimensional value. That implies you may save money on transportation if your products are wrapped effectively and you eliminate unnecessary box space.

4. Packaging layout

In addition to the usefulness of optimal packaging, the aesthetic and design components are important for identification and advertising, so consider how easy it is to customize packaging.

The type of material you select will also have an impact. Customers are getting more environmentally concerned, and many businesses are shifting to recyclable packaging as well as biodegradable substances.

5. Packing assessment

Have you ever "stress-tested" your product packaging? You should.

Modeling the factors that the packaging will be subjected to, such as adding force to both ends of the package to evaluate deformation, can be used to evaluate and monitor under mechanical stresses. Your goods should also be subjected to vibration and stress testing, depending on the delivery options.

External stress testing will determine how well the packing holds up over time in variable temperature and relative humidity. Testing for fluid harm and infiltration can be done by spraying.

Benefits of Package Optimization 

The majority of ecommerce merchants are unaware of the advantages of package optimization. You may believe that the packing is simply important to protect the product from harm while shipment to the client. But there's a lot more to it.

You have a fantastic opportunity to market your company. You may also utilize it to improve your customer's delivery experience by a factor of ten.

You might not know it, but well-packaged goods leave an impact on customers' thoughts. Some individuals reuse your packaging for other reasons, which means your brand is exposed to them for longer lengths of time.

So, let's look at the advantages of package efficiency and how they may assist your company:

  1. Low-cost packaging

  2. Easy logistics

  3. Low-cost shipping

  4. Reduced damage-related losses

  5. Pleasant shipping experience

1. Low-cost Packaging

Once you've optimized your packing, you'll be able to reduce the volume and enhance the structure significantly. As a result, you may save money on packing materials, shipping expenses, and the quantity of waste created.

2. Easy Logistics

Your shipments will be ready to handle the fury of the highway and air once optimization is in effect. Because the spatial layout may be improved, you can move a greater number of items. As a result, your shipments are secure and easier to carry.

3. Low-cost Shipping

If you lower the dimensions of your package, you can store twice as many packets in a single big box. This stage allows you to send more for less money. You can send more for less using courier aggregates.

4. Reduced Damage-related Losses

Properly packaged goods ensure safe delivery. Your items rarely get to the consumer in a damaged state as a result of being under-packed. This blunder results in a substandard performance and RTO (Recovery Time Objective), resulting in a two-fold loss. Your items will reach the consumer faster if the packaging is improved. Furthermore, they are transported in great condition since you properly bundle them.

5. Pleasant Shipping Experience

Finally, after your package is optimal, you may personalize it with time and money. You may include remarks, future purchase incentives, sample goods, and so on. This initiative will undoubtedly improve consumer satisfaction. It improves the likelihood of a customer returning to your shop.

All through the distribution network, product packaging is a continuous component, and the correct solution may help your firm flourish. While the abundance of choices might be overwhelming, it simply indicates that several possibilities could suit your brand. Take your time to locate exactly what you're looking for.

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