Withstanding the Rigors of the E-Commerce Supply Chain – How to Design Packaging that Passes the Test

This article has also been published in the Brand Packaging Magazine, September 2018 issue.

By: Eldon Shaffer, President, Aptar Beauty + Home

As consumer behavior and preference rapidly progress towards online shopping, retailers aren’t the only ones adapting to change. Brands are dealing with their own growing pains as they evaluate the often rigorous journey their products take from fulfillment centers to the consumers’ home.

As important as it is for CPG’s to continue to optimize their online and mobile user experience, it is equally important to ensure consumers have a positive experience when products arrive at their doorsteps.

Most CPG packaging was designed for brick and mortar retail. It’s neatly packed with identical products on pallets and kept in backrooms and store shelves before use. What worked well for traditional retail, however, may not hold up to the tumultuous trips products take along the e-commerce supply chain.

Neglecting the need for e-commerce capable package designs means some brands are losing money as e-tailers are implementing chargebacks for the addition of protective tertiary packaging for goods that get damaged during transportation.

Amazon is at the top of the list of considerations for many brands and for good reason. According to research from eMarketer, Amazon will make up 49.1 percent of online sales in the U.S. this year, including five percent of all retail sales. For comparison, eMarketer says Walmart’s online sales will account for 3.7 percent of U.S. e-commerce in 2018. Amazon has also stated it plans to be a top five grocery retailer by 2025. Recent acquisitions and new service lines have the company well on its way.

In much the same way Walmart’s decisions regarding packaging influence brick and mortar retail standards, it is expected that Amazon will lead the way in e-commerce packaging requirements. Ultimately, a strategy that works for both traditional and e-commerce supply chains is necessary.

The good news is that packaging suppliers are developing innovative solutions to address current packaging challenges as well as designs that will take brands into the future.  In addition, the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) has introduced a protocol known as ISTA 6 to conduct packaging testing to many requirements for its “Transit Tested” certification. At the same time, Amazon launched a network of reliable experts (APASS) to help CPGs evaluate how well primary packaging will survive this new supply chain.

ISTA 6 and the APASS Network

In 2016, Amazon and the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) released a set of testing protocols intended to guide brands and suppliers towards designing e-commerce capable primary packaging. Amazon also launched a certification program based on the protocols as well as the Amazon Packaging Support and Supplier Network (APASS).

Packaging suppliers that participate in the APASS Network, provide exclusive services to vendors, sellers, or manufacturers related to package design and testing that complies with Amazon’s guidelines and approved certification methods.

APASS participants assist vendors, sellers, and manufacturers in achieving certification in one of three levels of e-commerce capable packaging: Prep-Free Packaging (PFP), Ships in Own Container (SIOC), and Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP).

What is Prep-Free Packaging?

PFP is covered under the ISTA 6-Amazon.com-Over Boxing protocols. It means the product and its package are certified to be shipped in a corrugated over box without any extra preparation, such as putting lotion or laundry detergent in a separate plastic bag. Amazon fulfillment center employees can remove an item from the shelves, put it in a box, and ship it to the consumer knowing it can withstand the stresses of the e-commerce supply chain.

What is Ships in Own Container Packaging (SIOC)?

SIOC packaging, for which protocols are described in ISTA 6-Amazon.com-SIOC, can be shipped without an over box. The primary product package itself is deemed suitable for transport hazards encountered in the e-commerce supply chain. Amazon can simply attach a shipping label and send the product on its way.

What is Frustration-Free Packaging?

The goal of Amazon’s FFP certification is to quell what’s known as “wrap rage,” and reduce packaging waste in e-commerce. Wrap rage occurs when consumers become extremely frustrated with excessive packaging. This makes the e-commerce supply chain more efficient, sustainable, and consumer-friendly.

Many household products, such as those in the beauty and home or food and beverage markets, are not yet at a point where package design can easily attain SIOC or FFP certification. Designing packaging that is Prep-Free, however, is achievable and worth pursuing.

The best place to begin looking for ways to improve package design and earn PFP certification is to examine the potential for two macro failure modes in the e-commerce channel: leakage and broken primary packaging. It is important to avoid having products leak during transport, which is typically connected to the seal or dispensing closure/pump. It is also important that the overall package endure shipping hazards so that it functions as intended for the purposes of consumer use.

Certain APASS Network participants operate laboratories in which official ISTA testing is conducted so that brands can submit findings to Amazon and be considered for PFP certification.

Every different combination of container, product, closure, seal, and dispensing system must be tested as a whole, as changing one of these elements can impact the overall performance during transit.

Opportunity Awaits

There are some tangible benefits to having primary product packaging undergo ISTA 6 testing and certification. If Amazon grants PFP certification, shippers will have the advantage of:

  • Reduction in damage and product loss
  • Fewer chargebacks from Amazon
  • Product-to-market time reduction
  • Improved customer satisfaction leading to increased brand loyalty

An important goal connected to focusing on the end-consumers is delivering a positive unboxing experience.  Aligning with partners and suppliers who have access to the technology used to conduct testing, obtain certifications, share best practices and solve common problems will help avoid a negative consumer experience. Aptar is one of many manufacturers committed to addressing the challenges in primary packaging imposed by the e-commerce supply chain.

Brands and manufacturers who make strategic moves concerning packaging design now are investing in the future of retail while simultaneously gaining a competitive edge and winning consumer loyalty.

Eldon Schaffer is the president of Aptar Beauty + Home and has spent more than 25 years of his career with Aptar. Prior to his current role, Eldon was president of Aptar Food + Beverage and formerly president of North America Aptar Beauty + Home. Please visit www.aptar.com to contact Aptar and learn more about innovative dispensing solutions.