Boxes (2)One in every five pounds spent on retail is now spent online. This is compared to one in ten pounds in 2013. In just six years, e-commerce has experienced phenomenal growth and there has been an explosion of online retailers. Within the sector, competition is fierce and one of the biggest challenges for online brands is how to differentiate themselves.This revolution in shopping habits may have ushered in an age of convenience but it has also significantly reduced the number of meaningful touchpoints between brand and consumer. With e-commerce, there are no shop assistants or shop windows to generate a buzz or brand experience and this has the potential to seriously impact brand loyalty and repeat purchases.Instead, retailers must turn to their packaging to provide a unique moment of magic. Of course, this must not result in excess packaging as this is a massive turnoff for consumers.Eliminate empty spaceOur own research has found that more than a third of shoppers that have bought something online are concerned by excess packaging and 15% worry about how to recycle packaging. What’s more, around 55% of each e-commerce box is empty. This is a staggering amount of waste and has serious repercussions for customer and retailer alike.Half-empty packages often lead to damaged products, which a customer then has to return plus greater amounts of packaging to dispose of or recycle. As a result, some consumers have taken to naming and shaming companies online and uploading photos of excessive packaging. No business wants this sort of attention.Embrace technologyThankfully industry innovations are addressing the issue. At DS Smith, we have developed Made2fit technology to specifically tackle the challenge of void space. It creates right-size packaging, which reduces damage to goods in transit as products are kept in place.This not only improves the e-commerce experience for shoppers (reducing void fill by up to 80 per cent) but it also lowers operational and shipping costs for the business. The environmental benefits of this are also clear, as with optimised box-sizing the amount of air shipped is reduced, which in turn means fewer shipments and CO2 produced.Create a magical momentThe great news is that streamlined packaging does not have to be at the expense of the unboxing experience. One of the most exciting elements of buying online is when the package arrives. Customers love to share the moment they open their package and see exactly what lies inside – in fact, this has resulted in a trend for uploading unboxing videos on YouTube.Well-designed packaging has the potential to create a moment of theatre in the home. Through intricate design features and advanced digital printing techniques, manufacturers can create a package that is a thing of beauty in its own right - in fact in some cases, customers will want to keep the box as a keepsake and order again, just so they can get another beautiful box.There are all sorts of clever techniques that businesses are using to extend the brand experience in the home. For example, printing on the inside of the pack or using augmented reality to bring brand and product information to shoppers’ fingertips.It is important to say that this won’t usually affect the outside of the box – no one wants to draw attention to a package so that it becomes an advert to potential thieves. Most e-commerce packs are relatively plain on the outside – but all the more reason to create excitement and a welcoming brand experience on the inside.More than ever before, packaging design matters. Consumers are looking for a premium service – both an original unboxing experience and easy-to-recycle designs that provide excellent product protection. It is currently one of the most under-utilised marketing opportunities, but there is so much potential for brands to differentiate themselves by creating innovative and beautiful packaging that tells the brand story. Most importantly, we see that those online businesses that invest in their packaging designs are rewarded with greater sales and loyalty from their increasingly savvy and environmentally conscious consumer base.

By Rob Carle, UK head of sales at DS Smith e-commerce