Online Customers Prefer Cardboard

Shipping packaging made of corrugated board is the favorite among consumers, while reusable offers in e-commerce will remain a niche in the medium term. This is the conclusion reached by IFH Cologne in a recent study commissioned by the Association of the Corrugated Board Industry (VDW).

Particularly consumers with a pronounced environmental awareness were not convinced by reusable concepts. According to an IFH survey, 91 percent of participants felt that packaging made of cardboard, corrugated board, or cartonboard was more natural than plastic packaging. 89 percent said they preferred recyclable product packaging. When asked which packaging solution they would choose when ordering online, 55 percent of consumers named corrugated cardboard and only 22 percent reusable packaging. Most respondents were also not convinced by reusable packaging when it came to questions focusing on environmental aspects: only 19 percent thought that reusable was the more sustainable solution, whereas 48 percent saw corrugated board as having the advantage here. 40 percent confirmed that corrugated board packaging is made of an environmentally friendly material; only 26 percent confirmed this for reusable packaging. Particularly regarding the question of problem-free disposal, solutions made of corrugated board (58 percent) came out on top over reusable ones (16 percent). “For us, the results confirm the high level of acceptance that corrugated packaging enjoys among the population,” VDW Managing Director Dr. Oliver Wolfrum explained.

In the course of the survey, the IFH also divided consumers into three sustainability types using upstream questions: the environmentally conscious (35 percent of respondents), who pay attention to sustainability when shopping and also spend more on it; the pragmatists (nine percent), who show little or no willingness to pay for more sustainable products; and respondents with a medium awareness of sustainability issues (56 percent). “We found the group of the environmentally conscious particularly interesting,” emphasizes Wolfrum. “This group of people actively deals with ecological issues and is younger on average – we therefore also understand the preferences of these respondents as a forward-looking signal.” It is precisely this comparatively well-informed group, which is also aware of additional transport routes and costly cleaning processes for reusable packaging, that rated corrugated board more positively than the rest of the respondents and is more skeptical about reusables, says Wolfrum. Overall, 55 percent of the environmentally conscious rated the concept of reusable packaging as only mediocre or even poor.

For the study “Corrugated board vs. reusable. Acceptance of packaging solutions in the mail order business,” the IFH Cologne surveyed around 1,000 consumers in April 2021 via an online access panel regarding their attitudes to mail order packaging.

Lower revenues despite increase in sales

Meanwhile, the VDW also presented a half-yearly balance sheet. The companies organized in the VDW can report a significant increase of 7.6 percent in sales per working day in square meters for the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020. However, the industry is concerned about the continuing steep rise in paper prices and falling revenues.

Between January and March 2021, VDW members sold 2.2 billion square meters of corrugated board, 122 million square meters more than in the corresponding period of last year (2.07 billion square meters). “While this is a positive result, especially in view of a challenging economic environment, it is also a positive result. Unfortunately, however, the companies organized in the VDW cannot look to the near future without worries,” Wolfrum explained. It was true that the order situation in the German industry was very good in the first three months of the year. “At the same time, however, almost all sectors were affected by a drastic shortage of raw materials, which put a damper on production,” Wolfrum said.

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