“We Need Area-Wide Solutions”

E-commerce is becoming more and more of a permanent fixture in Germany – with increasing significance for the packaging industry as well. In an interview with packaging-360.com on the sidelines of FACHPACK, Daniela Bleimaier, Head of Public Affairs Germany & Regional Affairs at the German e-commerce association bevh, explains what this means for the packaging industry.

Online trade developed very dynamically last year, especially in the second half of the year. Was that just a “flash in the pan” due to the special circumstances?

Daniela Bleimaier: Certainly not. People are now using online retailing more as a matter of course than ever before. This is reflected in our statistics. In the second quarter of 2021, e-commerce sales in Germany rose by 19.4 percent year-on-year to around EUR 24 billion. It is important to note that the development in this quarter is no longer based solely on weak comparative figures from the previous year. E-commerce is becoming more and more of a permanent fixture, and this is something to watch out for, including in the packaging industry. This year, the sales mark of 100 billion euros could be exceeded for the first time.

How will this affect the packaging market?

Bleimaier: If online trade increases by 20 percent, that doesn’t simultaneously mean that 20 percent more packaging is needed. After all, products are not only ordered individually. But it certainly means that the demand for packaging from online retailers is growing significantly – a challenge with regard to sustainability. Online retailers need to be guided by what customers want. According to a survey we commissioned last year, packaging sustainability is particularly important to around 43 percent of consumers. We need good ideas from the packaging industry. In particular, the young generation and their wishes need to be given even greater consideration in some cases.

What does “sustainable packaging” mean in e-commerce?

Bleimaier: Even though not every consumer may think of it first, the most important function of packaging in online retailing is initially transport protection. That has top priority. After all, it would not be very sustainable if the product arrived damaged. What’s more, if the delivery is disappointing, customers are quick to choose a different retailer for their next order. In terms of sustainability, it is of course important to keep packaging as compact as possible and to use as little filling material as possible. And also to use a sustainable packaging material. However, the material must be available in quantities that correspond to the growing volume of online trade. When I read reports on new types of packaging materials, such as grass fiber, I’m not always so sure. We need future-proof, area-wide solutions.

What do you think would be conceivable alternatives?

Bleimaier: There are already many ideas. I recently received a package in which an online retailer used straw as a filling material. I think that’s a good alternative. Reusable packaging can also be a solution for more sustainable packaging. Returning reusable packaging had the highest acceptance in our survey when it comes to the compromises respondents would make for more sustainable purchasing. Of course, this then presupposes a corresponding infrastructure. For retailers, the process must not become too complicated. Nor for the customers; everyone has to participate. But examples like the “memo Box” from mail order company memo show me that reusable systems are not unrealistic in online retail. The system has already been working there for around ten years.

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