As online shopping continues to grow, brands should consider consumers’ packaging preferences

The coronavirus pandemic’s demand-shock, brick-and-mortar store closures and stay-at-home orders have upended retail sales. As total spending declines, online spending is projected to surge by 18% in 2020, reflecting the impact of new buyers joining the online retail space as a result of the pandemic. With ecommerce expected to reach 14.5% of total retail sales this year – both an all-time high and the biggest ever share increase in a single year* – the findings of Two Sides’ recent U.S. Packaging Preferences Survey provide brand owners with valuable insights into consumers’ current thinking on packaging materials, online shopping and related behavior.

*More than half of consumers (57%) prefer products ordered online to be delivered in paper/cardboard packaging, and two-thirds (66%) believe paper/cardboard packaging is better for the environment than other types of packaging.
*70% of consumers prefer products ordered online to be delivered in appropriate fitting packaging, i.e., not too big for the size of the product inside.
*Consumers across the United States are willing to change their behavior to shop more sustainably. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) are willing to spend more on a product if it is packaged using sustainable materials, and more than a third (36%) said they would consider avoiding a retailer who is not taking steps to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging.
*When asked to rank their preferred packaging materials (paper and cardboard, glass, metal or plastic) based on 15 environmental, practical and visual/tactile attributes, paper and cardboard packaging ranked highest on 11 of 15 attributes, including being home compostable (69%) and easier to recycle (51%).
*Glass packaging ranked highest among consumers on three practical and tactile/visual attributes, including being reusable (36%), having a preferred look and feel (32%) and providing better protection (29%). Nearly half of respondents (47%) ranked metal packaging highest for being strong and robust. Plastic packaging was not ranked highest for any of the 15 attributes but was ranked second highest for seven attributes.
*The survey showed that paper/cardboard is correctly considered by consumers to be the most recycled packaging material, but only 24% think the U.S. recycling rate for paper/cardboard packaging exceeds 60%. In fact, 73% of all paper-based packaging in the United States is recycled, and 88% of cardboard is recycled, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
*Consumer attitudes toward plastic are clear, with 57% of survey respondents indicating they are actively taking steps to reduce their use of plastic packaging, 36% saying they would avoid retailers if they knew they were not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable plastic packaging, and 44% saying the use of non-recyclable packaging should be discouraged through taxation.

“Only time will tell the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s little doubt that it is already changing many aspects of modern life, including the way we shop for everything from groceries, beauty items and health-related products to electronics, sports equipment and pet supplies,” says Two Sides Vice President of Operations Kathi Rowzie.

“Shopping online will become the new normal for many consumers as companies enhance their supply chains, get more efficient at packaging and order fulfillment, and speed up delivery. It’s also clear that growing awareness of sustainable packaging choices is becoming a driving force in consumer purchasing decisions. As brand owners rethink their packaging strategies to align with current market realities and consumer preferences, paper-based packaging stands out as a natural choice.”

The Two Sides Packaging Preferences Survey 2020 was conducted by independent research firm Toluna. Download the full report at:

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