Monday, May 29, 2023

Rethinking outside the box

Ecommerce companies ought to redesign their services for the last mile first and stop boxing shoppers into a corner.

Our penchant for instant gratification through ecommerce has resulted in an issue that is not discussed enough. Homeowners Associations (HOA) are grappling with an interesting direct-to-consumer business (DTC) induced problem (and a new revenue opportunity) – shipping boxes thrown in the trash without being broken down can result in penalties for homeowners.

Retirement communities seem to be facing this challenge because the elderly or those with arthritic limbs are physically unable to break down shipping boxes. There is at least one recycling company that offers a service to break down boxes for something like $3 per box, as I recall. Free shipping isn’t free because of this lurking lingering cost.

Some of the boxes are nearly indestructible, making for a mini-workout every time you try to break them down – both physical and mental workout because if you want to be effort-efficient, you must deconstruct the box in your mind before you can flatten it for disposal. Some trash collection services are refusing to accept unflattened boxes. Mobility-impaired residents, especially in retirement communities must wait for stronger neighbors to do them a favor and help break down shipping boxes. Boxes build bonds.

Amazon got rid of many vacuum sealed products that required industrial strength tools to unpack. Still, 43% of their deliveries are in boxes. Their Frustration Free Packaging (FFP) initiative seems to focus on materials being recyclable, not on the ease of their disposal.

How does one effect change when online shopping is a way of life? The industry should have focused on the last mile delivery first. Changing that would be difficult in the west, though ecommerce stragglers like India seem to be getting it right because home delivery has been prevalent long before ecommerce.

There may be some unexplored solutions. The packaging industry could raise awareness through conferences such as Pack Expo, the premier industry conference by Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI), the trade association for packaging and processing technologies. One-touch collapsible boxes must become the norm, not just one click shopping.

Simultaneously, social commerce influencers could talk about box disposal after a shipment has been received, including ergonomically sound ways of breaking down a box.

Changing shopping culture is not easy but educating buyers may be possible if reviewers who post unboxing videos could append a segment on box disposal after they unbox products.

The other stakeholders who could help with the remnants of an ecommerce delivery could be the shipping company. Offer a haul away service for empty boxes the following day and repurpose the boxes. Offer unpacking services and same day haul away.

These changes in the supply chain will require stewardship from ecommerce leaders like Amazon and Walmart, packaging industry advocacy groups and last-mile delivery organizations.

Until then, box breakdown businesses could be the new newspaper route for DTC era kids or an additional service for their lawn moving clients.