Christmas will soon be round the corner. And as we all know this means that consumer demand for shopping online booms in the last three months of the year. The fourth quarter is often the most lucrative time for retailers and fulfilment houses, but it also comes with its challenges…
On average, 4.2 billion parcels are shipped each year in the UK. In fact, we now ship the highest number of packages per person in the world. A large proportion of these are posted between October and December every year. Even when you look at one courier company – Evri (was Hermes) – they deliver over 72 million parcels in the period between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. This is represents a fraction of the demand.
This massive influx in demand means some online retailers and third-party logistics companies (3PLs) will struggle to get goods out the door as quickly and efficiently as usual.
So, what are they key challenges online retailers and their fulfilment partners face this year? How does packaging play it’s part in fulfilment and are there ways to quickly improve packing times to cope?
- Key challenges facing online retailers and 3PLs during peak
- The role of packaging in ecommerce fulfilment
- How can retailers and fulfilment houses can quickly improve pack times
Key challenges facing online retailers and 3PLs during the peak
In our latest research about peak performance in 2021, they reported the biggest challenges they faced were:
- Problems with productivity
- Increases in packing times
- Hard to use packaging materials
- Storage space
When you look closer, 42% of retailers and 3PLs said their packing speeds increased during seasonal demand. 30% said it was by a minute or more, which is a significant issue in an industry where time is money.
Combined with the fact that some businesses struggled with their packaging materials (almost 20%), it highlights that improvements to packaging supplies and packing process could be a key tool to combat the stresses of increased demand.
Compounding this is the lowest unemployment rate in the UK since 1974. This means that many businesses in the ecommerce sector will struggle to secure additional staff this year.
When you consider that almost 40% of e-retailers and 3PLs report they rely on temporary labour to keep up with demand but only 10% say they use any sort of packaging automation – there could be a significant productivity gap to overcome…
The role of packaging in ecommerce fulfilment
Transit packaging is often seen as a commodity product and can be overlooked. But it’s a critical component in any online retail or 3PL businesses operation.
The right packaging (or the wrong packaging) as well as packing processes can have a significant effect on operational efficiency.
For example, if your ecommerce packaging is hard to assemble, it slows down pack times. If you have too many packaging SKUs, temporary staff might not know which one to use, so you could end up with increased damages. It can all have a knock-on effect.
Essentially, your packaging materials represent an opportunity to save time and maintain quick pack speeds year-round and have the capacity to cope with seasonal demand.
How can retailers and fulfilment houses can quickly improve pack times
You might be thinking we’re already in October, but if you’re struggling to hire seasonal staff or want to squeeze your pack times this year, don’t worry, there are some things you can do now.
Here are three tips you can implement straight away to quickly improve pack times…
1. Swap standard boxes for easy to assemble and self-seal postal wraps or crash lock cardboard boxes
If you are using standard cardboard cartons that need the top and bottom sealing, it’s time to switch to something smarter….
Did you know assembling boxes and taping top and bottom flaps can use up as much as 60% of the total packing time?
To shave seconds off your pack times consider switching to super quick self-sealing postal wraps. If you are shipping books, games, jigsaws or other solid, flat items. Your order will be ready to dispatch in seconds – and you don’t need any packing tape!
Another a great alternative is a self-seal crash lock cardboard box which pops into shape ready for packing. This removes the need to apply tape and dramatically reduces packing time versus a standard cardboard carton.
There are lots of box designs out there to reduce your packing time, it’s worth investigating alternatives rather than continuing to use an option that is slow pack.
2. Automate or re-organise your protective packaging processes
Wrapping fragile products in protective packaging, or manually filling voids, can absorb packing time.
Especially if you’re applying things like bubble wrap by hand. For example, you might need to cut the material to size, apply and often, tape it.
Switching to a quick to install automated system like Geami WrapPak [CH1] allows you to quickly wrap your product and tear the material off the roll in one quick movement. This can significantly speed up the packing time. Plus, with a product like Geami WrapPak, there’s no need for tape as the honeycomb paper material locks together.
If you’re already dispensing your protective packaging like air bags on demand, you could invest in a hopper. This low-cost and speedy purchase allows your team to inflate packing material in advance, ensuring a constant supply of ready to use. material to the packing bench. Your operator can focus on packing product quickly, rather than waiting for bags to inflate each time they are required.
3. Opt for water activated paper tape to shave minutes off your pack time
We’ve already touched on removing the taping process from your operation altogether but, if you still need to apply packing tape to your parcels there are ways to speed it up. Especially if you are using a manual tape gun to seal your packs!
Water activated paper tape, applied with a digital or manual dispenser, can shave minutes off packing time. They can be programmed to cut each piece of tape to the length you need so, at the touch of a button, you have the right amount of tape to apply to your pack. As it forms such a strong bond with the box you don’t need to use so much tape either, reducing material use and the overall packaging cost.
Water activated paper tape is 100% recyclable and does not need to be removed from boxes before recycling, so it’s a great way to literally remove miles of plastic tape from your packing operation and improve how easy your packaging is to recycle.
Support surviving peak
If you’re an online retailer or 3PL who needs support surviving peak, we’re here to help.
Want to know more about how the right packaging can speed up your packing times, improve productivity and help you meet increased demand? Contact Macfarlane Packaging today.