How Redesigning Packaging Can Help Retailers Prepare for Inflation & Labor Market Changes

We’ve all felt it. From rising grocery bills to the cost of gas, inflation is steadily becoming a worsening burden. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is up by an average of 8.5% over this time last year, with grocery items up 13.1% and apparel up 5.1%.

Despite this, consumers are still spending their hard-earned dollars, with retail sales up almost 10% compared to 2021, as reported by Retail Dive. Before celebrating, remember that higher priced goods (from inflation) at least partially drive this increase in retail sales. Simply put, consumers are spending more but getting less.

As consumers grapple with inflation, retailers are seeing some relief to the pandemic-induced labor shortages. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail trade added 44,000 jobs in August 2022 and 422,000 total jobs over the last 12 months. Despite these figures that show a recovering labor market, it still seems very common to see “Help Wanted” signs posted across retail storefronts, both big and small. And these “Help Wanted” signs offer a glimpse into another side of this equation: rising wages. 

According to the same source, average hourly earnings in the retail trade have increased by $2.69/hour since pre-pandemic January 2020 ($20.35 to $23.04). In addition, many employers are offering significantly better benefits packages and other perks like extended paid time-off. Just like consumers, this means employers are spending more on their workforce, but getting less.

So what can retailers, who are struggling to keep their budgets in check, do to better position themselves through inflation and labor market changes?

One simple, yet effective means to combat operational challenges is by re-evaluating your packaging. By streamlining your packaging, you might be surprised by the pennies, nickels, and dimes you can save along the way.

Fast Fixes to Optimize Packaging Costs in Hard Times

SHOPPING BAGS

Material Weight: A potential cost-savings opportunity could be in the material weight of your paper or poly shopping bag program. If available, not only will this reduce your per-unit cost, but could potentially reduce your freight costs as well.

Conversely, your material weight might be too light for your average purchase. An increase in material weight can offer savings by avoiding double-bagging or breakage – a costly packaging pitfall. Bulking up your bags can increase your success not only with operational efficiencies but customer satisfaction.

Handle Style/Materials: If you are considering adding handles to your bags, diecut handles are a great option – they are surprisingly durable and strong, especially when reinforced. What’s more, diecut bags are lightweight and occupy very little space – which means you can ship pallets of this packaging far more efficiently than bulkier bags.

Sizing: Consider the size and shape of your bag assortment. If you are not fully optimizing your shopping bags in accordance with your product sizes, then you have an opportunity for improvement. Choosing a bag that is just one size down could mean significant savings.

Another tactic to consider is an audit of your bag size quantity allocation. For example, you may find you need more quantities allocated to your smaller bag sizes and less large bags overall. Buying more efficiently helps manage inventory flow and ensures your stores actually have what they need on hand.  

GIFT BOXES & APPAREL BOXES

Structure and Style: If you are using a rigid box, you can find cost-savings in opting for a collapsible rigid box. Collapsible boxes are easier to ship and store, so you can reduce freight costs and storage needs at the same time. Win-win.

If using a folding box, reevaluate the style – an auto-lock is quicker to assemble, reducing labor costs. Another idea is to change from a two-piece folding box to a one-piece box. This also avoids inventory pitfalls (think Tupperware drawer).

Sizing: If there’s extra room in your box, then there’s room for savings. Consider reducing the size of your box and/or selecting a shape that is more fitting for your product. For example, making the change from a 2” high apparel box to a 1.5” or even 1” high box will reduce costs. And with smaller boxes come more efficient freight rates, another chance for savings.

Custom vs. Standard sizes:  It may seem pricier to go the custom route, but you might be surprised by the cost savings and benefits of a custom box program. For example, if you’re using a box that is much too large for your average purchase, it could result in higher logistics and shipping fees.

Ribbon: If you use ribbon, even a small reduction in the width can result in significant savings without compromising your style.

Pre-cut ribbon is another great idea – while more expensive up-front, this approach avoids waste on the store level and ensures quality control in your gift wrapping best practices.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Freight: Working toward more efficient freight options is one the biggest tools you have to reduce overall costs, potentially without making any other changes. The freight world is volatile; taxing demands on drivers and a reduced workforce in the freight industry has led to massive freight-cost increases.

If you are currently shipping LTL, consider ordering more product at one time to take advantage of FTL pricing, since a full truck will cost the same as a partially-full truck.

Logistics: Consider a third-party logistics partner to handle inventory management and store-door delivery.  This can help reduce the amount of warehouse space needed for packaging allocation and the overhead costs of managing store orders.

Marketing, Think Positive: Like all new things, if you present your packaging changes to your customers in a positive light, you will get a positive response. In other words, use your new packaging as a marketing tool. Coordinate with your marketing team. Post it on Social. Explain to your customers that though the packaging is changing, the product remains the same; all in an effort to create more value (read: cost savings) for your customer.

IN SUMMARY

Taking a proactive approach to managing your packaging program costs can help reduce the negative effects of inflation and labor market changes on your business. Use this time to re-examine expenses and re-evaluate future opportunities for cost-savings.

Whether you’re a budget brand or a luxury brand, there are solutions available to help maximize your packaging budget in tough times. If you’re ready to take a second look at your packaging, Creative Retail Packaging is ready to help. Please reach out to us for guidance and more ideas!