DS Smith survey on shopper struggles: Hard-to-open products, packages are a pain point in online boom

The pandemic-fueled uptick in e-commerce has delivered a real pain point, with a vast majority of shoppers complaining about their struggles in opening a product or delivery box – so much so that many have injured themselves doing so, according to a survey by sustainable packaging leader DS Smith.

These latest results offer important guidance for retailers, shippers, and manufacturers amid the online shopping boom, with 92% of those polled expressing frustration with packaging, from battling blister packs to clashing with cable ties to tussling with taped boxes.

Most (87%) say the culprit is poor product packaging, such as too much sticky tape and the boxes themselves being too tough to grip, hold or carry. About half (51%) complained about tough-to-open shipments. And more than a third (36%) have hurt themselves trying to open packaging.

In response to the findings, DS Smith said its fiber-based offerings that eliminate plastic and its innovative packaging designs provide a more satisfying unboxing experience – free of frustration for all customers, regardless of their age or physical abilities. 

“The rise of e-commerce is meant to make getting what you need easier than ever – but as this research shows many brands and online retailers are falling at the last hurdle: making the packaging easy to open for all users,” said Mark Ushpol, managing director of the North America Packaging Division for DS Smith. 

“At DS Smith, we are focused on offering packaging solutions that help everyone. We design boxes that are easier to open and use typefaces that make products easier to identify. These benefit those who struggle with grip strength or sight problems and make life easier for all consumers,” Ushpol said.

DS Smith’s Circular Design Principles, which launched last year in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, help their customers innovate by building inclusivity and sustainability into packaging during the design phase, such as using plastic replacement and tear strip cardboard for ease of use

Among the poll’s other highlights:

  • Three-quarters (75%) needed a tool or scissors to open a package, and this is significantly higher (85%) among those age 55 and older.
  • One-quarter (23%) have damaged the packaging contents while trying to get into it.
  • About one-in-five consumers (19%) say that frustrating, difficult packaging has turned them off from buying from the same company or brand again. 

In an important business signal, 63% of consumers say companies need to put more thought into their packaging to ensure that people of all abilities and ages can recognize their products and open them. 

DS Smith already is doing that for its business customers, Ushpol said. “As a result of the rapid increase in e-commerce, we’re seeing real issues and opportunities around inclusive design,” he said. “Some consumers are struggling with ineffective packaging, and we’re committed to helping our customers provide the best unboxing experience. With the help of our design innovation centers and talented design team, we’re helping them create packaging that is accessible to all, sustainable and ready for the circular economy.”

DS Smith, in its operations, supports a circular economy that aims to reduce and eliminate waste and advocates for the reuse of materials, including its box-to-box in 14 days model that ensures boxes are collected, recycled and turned into new boxes within two weeks. 

The company’s purpose is to “Redefine Packaging for a Changing World,” and as part of its “Now and Next Sustainability Strategy” and commitment to the circular economy, the company by 2030 will use packaging and recycling to replace problem plastics, reduce customer carbon and eliminate consumer packaging waste.

About the survey 

The survey of 1,510 American adults, conducted online May 3-4, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. 

About DS Smith

DS Smith is a leading provider of sustainable fiber-based packaging worldwide, which is supported by recycling and papermaking operations. It plays a central role in the value chain across sectors including e-commerce, fast moving consumer goods and industrials. Through its purpose of ‘Redefining Packaging for a Changing World’ and its Now and Next sustainability strategy, DS Smith is committed to leading the transition to the circular economy, while delivering more circular solutions for its customers and wider society – replacing problem plastics, taking carbon out of supply chains and providing innovative recycling solutions. Its bespoke box-to-box in 14 days model, design capabilities and innovation strategy sits at the heart of this response. Headquartered in London and a member of the FTSE 100, DS Smith operates in 34 countries employing around 30,000 people and is a Strategic Partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Its history can be traced back to the box-making businesses started in the 1940s by the Smith family. North American operations are based in Atlanta, with 15 manufacturing, paper and recycling facilities, totaling more than 2,000 employees.