From A to B and back again: packaging for returns

Antalis Packaging looks at how well designed and considered returns packaging can save businesses from the damaging impact of returning goods on business profits and the environment.

Product returns are a thorn in the side of  most retailers, and it’s not surprising when you consider that returns rates for online orders stand at a staggering 25% (source: Paazl). To avoid compounding the problem by inadequate packaging leading to re-saleable goods being damaged on the return leg, Antalis’s Jason Poxon, Packaging Technologist, says businesses need to look more carefully at their packaging choices.

Jason has found that although more and more businesses are giving serious consideration to their packaging from an aesthetic and environmental point of view, returns aren’t always part of that thinking. And it’s an issue that extends beyond the relatively straightforward route of the consumer returning a package. With many retailers giving consumers the option to return goods to their stores, which can mean that products are missing both primary and transit packaging, the question arises as to how stores manage the process of packaging goods to be shipped back to their returns centres.

Only 20% of goods are returned because of damage (source: Paazl)

If only 20% of goods are returned as a result of damage, that means 80% of items returned have the potential to be resold. That’s if they survive the return journey, “… and it’s a big IF,” says Jason, “Of course, it depends on the kind of product we’re talking about. Clothes coming back full of creases is easy to rectify, it’s the shakeable, breakable, high value goods that can cause the biggest problems, logistically and financially.” 

This was the experience of a large retail client of Antalis whose stores were receiving customer returns of televisions under a “no quibble” warranty period. 

Packaging for in-store returns

Most of the televisions, had potential to be resold. However, problems arose because they were often returned without their original packaging, leaving store staff with the task of shipment to the returns centre. Staff were packing three or even four TVs in to a box without protective packaging or cushioning. As well as banging together, the TV plugs weren’t secured, causing extensive damage that resulted in TVs to be written off.  

“We were able to come up with a cost-effective solution that was easy for store staff to use, saving the company hundreds of thousands of pounds a year and preventing thousands of TVs from ending up in landfill”.

The solution devised by the packaging technologists at Antalis’s Smart Packaging Centre is a small range of bespoke, easy-to-assemble corrugate boxes to accommodate the different sizes of TVs being returned. The boxes can be adapted to provide a snug fit using foam cushioning - and an all-important piece to securely hold the plugs in place to prevent them from damaging the screens. 

Returns packaging for the non-expert

For returns packaging to be effective, the key, according to Jason, is to use design and materials that make it as easy as possible for the non-expert to pack an item: “There are lots of features that can be worked into bespoke packaging design to ensure that items are more likely to be returned safely.” 

Among the features Jason recommends are:

Tear strips – as well as improving security, a tear strip on packaging reduces the likelihood of it being damaged during opening and therefore can be easily reused.

Self-seal/second seal strips – these help to keep the packaging neat and tidy for its return journey. 

Printed instructions – printing returns instructions on the box can be helpful in guiding the user through both the packing and returns process.

Jason concludes; “Bespoke packaging design can make a huge difference. The packaging team at our Smart Packaging Centre look at a business’s entire packaging process in order to work out the optimum packaging design in terms of assembly, the choice of materials – the outer structure and void fill and cushioning – as well as delivery and, of course, returns.

“Using good quality, well designed and easy-to-use packaging that ensures goods not only get from A to B but back again, by whatever circuitous route, can help to reduce the damaging impact of returns on businesses and the environment.”

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