How Reusable Product Packaging Affects Consumer Behavior on Retail
Sustainability is becoming a bigger concern for more and more customers, meaning every part of the businesses they shop from is coming under scrutiny. The expectations of what businesses should be doing to promote environmental practices are growing, holding them to higher standards of ethical decision-making. It’s not enough to donate a portion of your profits or claim to value sustainability in your business unless you’re willing to make changes to prove it.
With this in mind, the packaging that businesses use has gained more importance. Not only for deliveries but also product packaging for brick-and-mortar retail stores, is expected to be more sustainable. Businesses can interpret this in a variety of ways depending on what options are practical for their products and resources. It can include reducing the amount of packaging needed, using more sustainable materials, as well as making product packaging reusable.
What is reusable product packaging?
There are many ways of making your pick-pack ship process flow more sustainable, but to reduce the most waste, your packaging needs to be reusable. This means once it has completed its purpose of protecting your product or containing it, the packaging can be used again either for the same purpose or in a different way. Instead of the customer throwing the packaging away, they use it again, preventing it from being discarded and going to landfill.
One of the simplest examples of this is refillable bottles, used to package anything from shampoo, and washing up liquid, to oil, or smoothies. After the bottle has been emptied, the consumer can refill it, using the bottle again. Alternatively, your packaging could be used in other ways, such as wraps that protect your product during delivery but can also be used as decor, accessories, or fabric for other projects your customer has in mind.
How reusable product packaging affects consumer behavior
There’s more to packaging than you might initially think and each aspect has the potential to affect consumer behavior towards your brand. When choosing reusable options, it’s helpful to have an idea of how consumers are going to react and what they value in your packaging. This can inform your decisions and customer service, finding new sustainable product packaging solutions that also lead to increased engagement, reliable data for call center support, and more awareness of both your brand and environmental principles.
In some cases, reusable packaging can cost more for businesses than standard packaging options, due to it being more difficult to source or create. Nonetheless, according to a report by McKinsey only 5-8% of US consumers are not willing to pay a premium for sustainable packaging—the rest agree to varying extents and prices. This means companies can include this cost in their postage and packaging without upsetting customers. This gives businesses more financial resources to find reusable options for their products.
Particularly for reusable product packaging, the additional cost is expected to be invested in durability and quality. This helps the packaging last longer, even when used multiple times to be refilled or repurposed by the consumer, acting as an additional product. For example, paying more for packaging for toiletry products that can also be reused as a wash bag makes customers feel like they’re still getting their money’s worth in the form of an extra item.
As more businesses adopt sustainable packaging for their products, consumers have more environmental options to choose between, and consumer retail trends show them opting for eco-friendly product packaging more often. This is because customers aren’t sacrificing their product preferences to make sustainable choices.
Likewise, customers will adapt to reusing packaging multiple times, making refillable products or packaging that can be repurposed more popular. However, where reusable packaging can still be hard to find with some products, consumers are unlikely to search those products out, choosing more available options instead.
Sustainable packaging may be available for consumers to choose from, however, it isn't always clearly marked. If consumers are unsure about the packaging and can’t identify that it’s environmentally friendly, it’s harder for them to make sustainable decisions when shopping. Where labels or symbols signify that packaging can be recycled or composted, customers can make informed decisions. A study by McKinsey found that 35% would buy additional sustainably packaged products if they had the choice.
With clear labeling on reusable packaging, consumers are more likely to use the packaging again. Including obvious labeling as part of your inventory management process flow can ensure all packaging displays whether it’s refillable or reusable. If this information is presented to customers, there’s less work required from them to understand how to use your packaging sustainably. These labels can also direct environmentally-minded consumers to your products.
When you think of sustainable packaging, it’s likely cardboard boxes and biodegradable packing paper come to mind. Although these are recyclable and may themselves be recycled materials, they don’t reduce the overall waste created in your packaging. Using these is better than plastic or other single-use non-recyclable packaging options. However, even with sustainability offsetting, it’s no longer the best choice for consumers wanting eco-friendly product packaging.
Instead, aiming for reusable packaging means that recyclable options are more of a backup. With reusable, there is minimal waste created as the packaging is repurposed and continues to be actively used by consumers. Again, the durability and permanence of reusable packaging, such as non-toxic food-grade polypropylene
flip-lid containers, can make consumers consider it as an additional product, whereas recyclable packaging is still finite in its usefulness and is ultimately designed to be binned.
A great example of a company who champions reusable packaging is deodorant company Wild. Consumers choose their reusable case when they make their initial purchase and then can mix and match deodorant scents according to their tastes.
Linked to the materials of your packaging is its compostability and ability to biodegrade. These features make it easier for consumers to get rid of packaging, albeit in a sustainable way that leaves a minimal impact on the environment. However, reusable packaging may initially seem counter-intuitive to customers as it’s often more difficult to dispose of and less likely to be compostable. Instead, this encourages customers to keep the packaging and use it again.
Nevertheless, some reusable packaging is also compostable. In particular, some paper can be made in a way so that it can be planted, reusing your packaging as seeds and composting materials after it has been used to protect and transport your items. This encourages consumers to engage with the natural world around them, learning more about plant care and composting. This introduces customers to other ways of practicing sustainability in their lives.
Reusable packaging can also be an opportunity to educate your consumers on how to use materials more sustainably. It may be useful to source a sustainability expert, reviewing their proposal letter to find someone equipped to educate your business and consumers on the best ways of reusing packaging. Without educating consumers, they may not understand your choice and instead dispose of it like other packaging.
Including instructions on your packaging can encourage and inspire consumers with new ways of reusing it. Even suggesting customers keep jars, pots, or bottles to refill can help them to think more environmentally surrounding packaging. With other types of packaging which can be repurposed, having clear instructions simplifies the process of reusing the packaging for consumers, meaning they don’t have to do research or put in additional effort.
Not every consumer will bother with making eco-friendly choices, which may limit the impact of your reusable product packaging. However, by introducing reusability schemes, the onus is on your business to reuse the packaging rather than expecting consumers to do it. Reusability schemes encourage customers to return and send back empty product packaging so that your business can use it again. This is often in return for points or a reward to thank the customer.
Having a reusability scheme can also reduce the new packaging that your business buys, saving you money, improving outbound sales lead generation, and making your packaging more sustainable. This creates a circular packaging process, rather than one that results in waste. It also makes it easier for customers to get involved, as they only have to return the packaging to a drop-off point or in the mail, rather than actively reusing the packaging themselves.
Take a look at the example above from Lush. They offer an incentive to encourage customers to return packaging so the company can reuse it.
Introduce reusable product packaging to your retail business
If you’re looking to make your business more sustainable, reviewing your packaging is a great place to start. There’s already a variety of environmentally friendly options available to choose from, but finding reusable options can reduce the waste your packaging produces the most. By finding new uses for your packaging and communicating these with consumers, you can break the cycle of disposing of packaging, reducing the waste that ends up in the landfill.
Introducing reusable product packaging to your consumers may take adjustment, especially if customers are used to recycling. To help transition to reusable packaging, displaying symbols and instructions can notify consumers of the difference and how to treat the packaging. Likewise, sharing these suggestions through AI call center teams on your commercial phone systems and other platforms can raise awareness and transform consumer behaviors.
So what are you waiting for? Get started with reusable packaging today!
Scott Rigdon, Senior Marketing Copywriter
Scott is a senior marketing copywriter with over two decades of experience helping brands across the tech, financial services, manufacturing, and other sectors. He has helped B2B businesses from start-ups to major brands reach their goals through creative copywriting and strategic, conceptual thinking. Here is his LinkedIn.