How to prepare your online business for Q4 2021 during a cardboard packaging shortage

We’re finding many e-commerce retailers are still struggling with the current situation on packaging supplies and looking for solutions due to the ongoing cardboard shortage, especially those concerned about the all-important Q4. There will be no surprises in that Christmas 2021 is expected to see more people shopping online which in turn puts increasing pressure on raw materials with manufacturers already struggling to keep up with cardboard box and paper packaging supply. You can read our guide to the facts behind the cardboard crisis here.

The ‘golden quarter’ at the end of every year is traditionally retail’s opportunity for recovery and growth but it all becomes a little bit difficult if you have a big online presence or are purely eCommerce – and you have no cardboard boxes to ship your stock out in!

So what steps can you take right now to make sure you’re able to maximise your sales this Christmas by having all your packaging ready to go?


5 ways to overcome the cardboard shortage

  1. Talk to your packaging supplier.
    Discuss your forecasts with them as soon as possible to ascertain whether they have what you need right now as well as evaluating their confidence in getting new supplies over the next few months. Also, understand how they see pricing panning out for you.
  2. If you know what you need – order now if you can!
    Yes, it may be 4-5 months before you require it, but by working closely with a supplier that can hold your stock for you for free for example, which you can call off as and when you need it is a great solution. You’ll also get the benefit of better pricing due to placing larger orders. In this way, you won’t run out of stock or be deluged with 6 months of supply to store! This approach guarantees to get your important Q4 sales out the door.
  3. Don’t be tempted by single-use plastic alternatives.
    Consumers will punish brands who talk about ethical packaging being part of their core values and goals and then switch to plastic due to the situation. Again, the answer is to find a supplier willing to work with you to achieve your packaging ambitions and if absolutely has to be plastic, be sure to make it clear to your customers about its recycled content and ongoing recyclability, such as these polybags.
  4. Get prices locked in!
    Finding and working with a supplier with a plentiful supply of eco-friendly eCommerce stock right now will undoubtedly be your best bet! If they have done their own due diligence with their paper mills and their own suppliers etc, they will no doubt have been hard at work on securing stock and resolving supply solutions for some time now, as we have. They should be able to offer you a good range with workable pricing, successfully navigating around the price hikes.
  5. Be open to something new!

    Beat the cardboard shortage with NEST eco-friendly packaging

    Beat the cardboard shortage with NEST eco-friendly packaging

Perhaps the cardboard shortage means it’s a time to re-look at your existing packaging, how it works with your products and the feedback from your customers. Is there room for improvement?  Try different solutions and discover innovative products that are really pushing eco-friendly boundaries. One such product is an eco-friendly void fill really maximising its green credentials. It’s called Zigglefil Kraft Eco and is probably the most eco-friendly void fill on the market today. Created as a manufacturing by-product of another very popular eco-friendly protective wrapping product called Snusghell, Zigglefil is delivered in reusable, recyclable cartons and sealed with paper tape. It doesn’t get much greener than that!

Beating the cardboard shortage together

Our cardboard shortage beater! The ecofriendly NEST packaging range

Our cardboard shortage beater! The eco-friendly NEST packaging range

We had the benefit of launching NEST, our new eco-friendly eCommerce packaging range last year which meant that we were sourcing and securing stock long before this current situation really took hold. Consequently, we have good supplies for cardboard boxes, mailers, wrapping and presentation products, void fill, paper tape as well as new paper document wallets.  You can shop our IN STOCK NEST range here

The beauty of the NEST range means you’re able to send a 100% eco-friendly parcel to your customer – both inside and out! This means the whole range is made from recyclable materials and is completely recyclable. Many products in the range are FSC accredited too. You can find out more about FSC products here.

If you have any queries on what eco-friendly products will work best for your product range, we’re here to help. We also offer free warehousing as well as direct to store delivery. Just pop us a message using the form below and we’ll get in touch. And if you’d like a sample of any of the range, we’re more than happy to send some for you to see and try.

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12 months that saw prices for cardboard boxes rise ten-fold

As UK society takes more tentative steps towards recovery in a post-Covid world, international markets have been faced with everchanging circumstances and trying to navigate through them – as indeed we all have. We all saw petrol prices plummet when we went into the first lockdown due to a drop in demand as we all stayed at home. Other commodities in sharp contrast have been in huge demand as well as being impacted by unforeseen events. So, we are going to try to explain the contributory factors behind the price hikes for cardboard boxes and why it’s now been coined the hunt for the new ‘beige gold’!

How cardboard boxes became hot property

So how did this all start?

Well as you have probably guessed, the 2 main reasons behind this have been Covid and Brexit – but what is interesting is just how these factors played their part in price rises and supply shortages.

The cardboard ‘lifecycle’ very much depends and relies on recycling. Before the pandemic, high street retailers played a huge part in this recycling process, returning used cardboard boxes for recycling that arrived in-store. With the start of lockdown, non-essential retail closed and along with that came the seismic shift to eCommerce and home deliveries – this situation turned into a perfect storm. This meant a significant amount of cardboard was no longer available for that all-important collection and recycling. The reality was it was all piling up in consumer’s homes or worse, ending up in the landfill. The delicate circular economy of the manufacture of cardboard boxes collapsed.

The impact of eCommerce on box supply

And so started the next chain of events

Doorstep deliveries in cardboard boxes

Doorstep deliveries in cardboard boxes

Non-essential shops were closed. With consumers afraid to go out and visit even essential shops such as supermarkets – the UK took to buying online. People who had never shopped online before were forced to do so. Consumers were panic buying ahead of Brexit and after seeing the shelves stripped bare in supermarkets. A year ago, retailers were predicting that the way we shop could change forever as 33% more of us switched to getting our groceries delivered at home. By August of last year, three-quarters of us were doing the weekly food shop online.

Online retailers were also stockpiling cardboard boxes out of their own concerns about supply, Brexit and border disruptions. Businesses such as pubs, breweries, garden centres, flower growers and nurseries and charities all had to suddenly pivot their businesses online to survive. And what did they all need? Cardboard boxes!

Demand continued to grow, reaching record levels of online purchasing with an increase of over 74% – pushing box supply into further scarcity.  There were winners and also losers and if you were a retailer in the home and garden space, the only issue was being able to keep up with demand! The Royal Mail reported that there were over 200 million extra parcels processed through their courier networks in 2020 alone.

Cardboard supply in 2021

As we entered 2021, prices of old board had risen to £118 a tonne compared to £10 in January 2020. An article at the beginning of this year described the UK supply chain as “utterly overwhelmed” for corrugated board. At the same time, online retailers were being quoted double the normal cost to purchase their cardboard boxes and lead times being extended from a matter of days to two to three months.

In March this year, the Confederation of Paper Industries said that demand was 5 years ahead of pre-pandemic levels.

Simon Ellin, of the Recycling Association, stated the shortage was down to the “Amazon effect”. “There is a monumental increase in demand caused by the surge in online deliveries during the pandemic,” he said. “It’s a global shortage – not just the UK or EU – given huge demand from China. People are going around stealing cardboard.”

Current prices of old board are being reported at levels around £140.00 per tonne so the last few months are still showing strong price increases.

A look to the future with eCommerce and cardboard boxes

The affect of internet sales on cardboard boxes

The continuing rise of internet sales will impact the supply of cardboard boxes

The mills and manufacturers we work with are continuing to talk of extremely difficult conditions. Mills have been operating non-stop with machinery running in continuous and additional shifts without planned and reactive maintenance. They are now being forced to stop in turn to carry out these essential works.

We are being told that we should be in no doubt that getting hold of paper in this second quarter of this year is going to be more difficult than at anytime before in this crisis. Here are the 4 current factors, some we have looked at already, that will continue to dictate price and supply:

  • Mill downtime
  • Cost of imported paper up by 40% 
  • Waste supply and prices
  • Panic buying

Paper supply will continue to remain tight for the rest of 2021 – there is no doubt of this. We will have to all prepare for further increases in the very near future. Our best advice? Work closely with your supplier and continue to relentlessly monitor and manage your own supplies. You may have to make concessions such as using non-branded boxes or work with box sizes that aren’t your top choices. Investigating different void fill to make the most of different sized boxes may be worthwhile too. Make sure you look at your own forecasting and get orders into your suppliers as quickly as possible.

There is also no doubt that the UK’s love affair with eCommerce, born out of necessity from shopping restrictions due to Covid, will continue to grow. Last year, it was forecasted that we would spend £80,678 million in 2021 according to Statista so the struggle for cardboard boxes is definitely with us a while longer.

Need support or advice? We’re here to help. Just drop us a quick email and we’ll get right back to you.

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Ecommerce is the name given to any business activity which depends upon electronically buying, selling and paying for goods and services over the internet. This can be B2C (Business to Consumer) or B2B (Business to Business). Most of these businesses will be selling tangible items, which then require a physical delivery service.

The whole process from purchasing online to delivery to location is all part of ecommerce. We have all probably bought something online, either for work or as a consumer. Many took to online ordering for the first time in this year’s pandemic and it changed shopping habits forever. Waitrose have stated that increase demand of online grocery shopping as a result of 2020 is now irreversible. But let’s take a look back to how this all started and what the future might hold for ecommerce.

How did ecommerce start?

The very first online buying and selling transactions were recorded around 40 years ago. An early UK inventor came up with an idea for ‘teleshopping’ – connecting a television set, a computer and a phone line! Then in the early 1990’s, the opening up of the internet was quickly taken advantage of by companies such as Amazon.

Accelerating growth over the next 20-30 years has recently become exponential. As previously mentioned, this has been assisted by the global Covid crisis. It resulted in projections for UK ecommerce sales in 2020 exceeding original levels that were not expected to be reached until 2027!

It’s expected that global mobile ecommerce retail sales will reach $3.5 trillion in 2021. The opportunities are huge, but the pitfalls can be disastrous if you’re not properly prepared. So, here are a few tips for a successful ecommerce business.

Build your ecommerce brand

Your brand is your product, your marketing and your service. Do everything you can to protect this. Registering a trade mark is quite inexpensive, but once you have done this you will need to make sure that the entire customer experience strengthens the brand. Do your market research thoroughly, then relentlessly pursue perfection in providing exactly what your target market demands. Brand is not just a logo, it is the whole customer experience, including the returns process.

Get found online

This is really the cornerstone for the success of your business. Google are championing Mobile First, a reaction to how the vast majority of buyers research and buy products versus desktop purchasing. This means your website not only has to look good, it needs to perform. Tactics from PPC, correct SEO on page formatting, picture optimization (so you come up in image searches too), product descriptions that include keywords – all this helps to build your online profile and ‘findability’.

Creating great searchable content will also draw in the enquiries. Get some professional help with site and page loading speeds. Slow loading leads to poor SEO rankings, and high percentages of website abandonment.

Be accessible

Provide every bit of information needed to help your potential customer make a decision right there and then. Make it very simple to find specs, select options, view prices, see when delivery will be and place the order.

Get your ecommerce packaging right

Despatch on time, and package suitably and securely. The first your customer will see of the goods is when they arrive on the doorstep, so make sure they will arrive in first class condition. Eco-friendly packaging is increasingly looked for by consumers, so this will most likely be an important part of your message.

Along with this, choose packaging of a suitable quality to reflect the value of the merchandise. Get ready to wow that first time customer with a great un-boxing experience!

Keep your customers updated

Communicate regularly at all stages of the process – don’t leave your customer in the dark. If things do go wrong, make sure you’re the first person to let them know and preferably by phone. A mistake or problem handled properly and empathetically will gain you a loyal customer.

Returns made easy

Ensure the returns process is very simple (a lot of packaging is designed to be easily re-used for returns), and process refunds fast. A seamless returns process, starting with the packaging, will make customers more likely to reorder.

Get the detail right

Small extra personal touches, or a special ‘thank-you’ message mean that the customer knows you really value their business. This will keep them coming back, and more importantly, spread the word!

Word of mouth

Make sure you encourage, and make it easy, for happy customers to post reviews. 55% of all online shoppers say that reviews have an impact on their buying decisions.  Pay attention to this important statistic and plan this to into your marketing activity.

What’s next?

Ecommerce presents huge opportunities, giving you access to millions of consumers who will benefit from your products. But do your research first! Make sure there is a market for your product, get your branding message right, have your infrastructure (IT and logistics) in place – then go for gold!

Why not let us know how you get on!

If you’re interested in learning more about packaging, why not take a look at these two further blogs on Plastic or paper and What does FSC stand for?

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