Business Growth
Min Read

Strategies For Managing Customer Expectations

Just as e-commerce trends change over time, so do customers’ expectations. Meeting them should be a priority of any online business looking to build customer loyalty. So, what exactly do online shoppers expect in 2023 and what are the best strategies to manage customer expectations?

Customer expectations in 2023

In a DHL survey, only 38% of B2B business owners and 31% of B2C owners said they had been able to fully implement their e-commerce strategy. The main reason? Having to manage customer expectations that are changing considerably.

But what are these expectations that have rocketed so rapidly? The 900 respondents – all decision-makers and in key industries – had very clear ideas.

Customer service tops the list of expectations

The graph shows key customer-facing considerations for businesses in B2C and B2B sectors. Over 50% of survey respondents in each sector said customer service was extremely important.

Customers now expect their purchases to be painless – a seamless experience with excellent service. Assuming you offer the same goods for the same price as many competitors, meeting customers’ demands could be the reason they choose your business. Demands that not too long ago may have been inconceivable – next-day or even same-day delivery, real-time tracking, flexible ordering, and simple returns.

Delivery rates highly for B2B and B2C customers

44% of both B2B and B2C respondents said time-specific delivery was a key customer expectation – whether within two hours, same day or next day.

Offering multiple delivery options is also very important, though slightly more so for B2C businesses (41%) than B2B businesses (36%). Around 30% in each sector said it was also very important that shipping was free of charge.

Over one third say returns are important

Offering multiple return channels to customers – for example, to a service point, a locker, or back to a bricks-and-mortar store – was rated as important by over one third of respondents in both B2C (37%) and B2B (39%) sectors. A hassle-free returns process was also key to meeting customer expectations, for 37% and 34% respectively.

Product availability and support an important factor

In addition to customer service and time-specific delivery, product availability was reported as one of the most important customer expectations. Over 40% of B2C respondents said it was very important and just under 40% of B2B respondents. Understandably, technical product support was more important in the B2B sector, with 45% rating it highly compared with 36% in B2C.

Types of customer expectations

Customers expect many things of an e-commerce business, but most can be broken down into the following categories.

Explicit expectations

Explicit expectations are specific targets customers have when they seek out a product or service – for example, quality, price and/or performance. They are “must haves.”

Implicit expectations

Implicit expectations are those that customers rarely voice but assume will be met – for example, in e-commerce, implicit expectations might be that the product arrives undamaged, complete, and matches the description on the website. Implicit customer expectations are often the base standard you expect.

Technological expectations

Technological expectations are influenced by how a product category evolves. For example, mobile phones are constantly updated with new features and innovations, so customers’ technological expectations of this category grow too.

Static performance expectations

These relate to the overall performance and quality of your brand. Accessibility, customization, reliability, punctuality and user experience are just some of the elements influencing customers’ perception of it.

Dynamic performance expectations

These relate to how a product or service is expected to change over time. To exceed dynamic expectations, such as changes in customers’ needs or their business goals, you’ll need to monitor these as they evolve and adapt accordingly.

Digital expectations

These are what customers expect when interacting with your brand online – and they have changed following the pandemic. Customers now expect a mobile-optimized website, product transparency, a personalized user experience, and the ability to purchase on social channels, among other things.

Interpersonal expectations

Interpersonal expectations are what customers expect during person-to-person interactions – for example, with customer services. They expect customer service assistants to be expert, friendly, and courteous. While interpersonal expectations are independent of the product purchased, they are important in building customer loyalty.

Situational expectations

These are influenced by a customer’s experience pre- and post-purchase. Customers may form situational expectations based on imagery they’ve seen or an experience they’ve had. They are the least predictable expectations and the hardest to manage, and can also evolve over time.

How to manage customer expectations: six strategies

Managing customer expectations isn’t easy. Here are top six strategies to help you.

1. Prioritize service

Great customer service can differentiate you from your competitors, even if your products are almost identical, and gives you a real advantage. In the past, companies would cut back on service when they reached a certain size, in order to reduce costs. But now, especially in e-commerce, competition is so high that if you don’t deliver on service, customers will simply go elsewhere.

2. Be where your customers are

With people increasingly shopping on smartphones rather than laptops and desktops, and social media platforms becoming accepted places to buy, you need to ensure your business is in tune with these new customer behaviors. They will expect your site to be mobile-optimized, and expect you to have a presence and interact on social channels, so make sure you don’t disappoint. Work out where your customers are engaging most and be there – and be aware that this can change, too.

3. Listen to customer feedback

According to HubSpot’s Annual State of Service in 2022 report, 42% of businesses do not survey their customers1.

Yet, with so many survey solutions available – plus chatbots, social media, email, and customer reviews – there are now a multitude of ways to get feedback from your customers. It’s the best strategy to both understand and manage their expectations, as well as identify any pain points before they escalate.

4. Be honest with them

By being open and honest with your customers, you can earn their trust and loyalty to your brand.

For a start, set realistic expectations. For example, don’t promise next-day delivery unless you can fulfil that expectation. And if issues develop that mean you may not meet your usual high service standards, let your customers know and keep them updated on the situation. Being honest will help keep them on your side.

5. Keep communicating

The after-sales service you offer is extremely important. A simple thank-you to a customer, or a discount for their next purchase goes a long way, especially if personalized. Newsletters with relevant offers are another great way to maintain communication – but don’t send too many.

6. Make your logistics a priority

Delivery and returns have become key areas of concern for e-commerce customers. To keep up with their increasing demands, consider partnering with a third-party logistics provider (3PL).

You’ll benefit from their supply chain expertise and flexible distribution network, which means you’ll have a simpler, faster and more cost-effective way of getting your products to customers. This will leave you with more time to focus on other aspects of your e-commerce business.

Discover more about outsourcing your logistics, here.

The future: customer expectations will only increase

Like e-commerce itself, customer expectations will continue to grow in the years ahead. As a result, customer service will become a major battleground for e-commerce businesses in both the B2C and B2B sectors. Only those which prioritize and invest in this area will succeed in meeting customer expectations and building loyalty.

Partner with the experts: open a DHL Express Business Account to ensure your customers’ expectations are met – every time.


1 Hubspot

Business Growth
Min Read
What Is Subscription Marketing And How Can It Boost Your Sales?

What is subscription marketing?

Subscription marketing is a strategy designed to help businesses acquire new customers and retain existing customers in the long-term. The most common way is via a subscription business model which involves customers paying a recurring fee to access a product or service.

How a subscription model works

A customer will sign up to be charged on a recurring basis for a product or service. They can choose how often they receive the offer – for example, weekly or monthly. When the contract is up, the customer can either renew or cancel the subscription. Some businesses give their customers the flexibility to cancel it at any time.

Types of subscription marketing

Chances are, you have several active subscriptions yourself. There are the obvious ones, of course, (hello Netflix), but lockdown encouraged people to explore niche services, too.

Broadly speaking, within e-commerce, there are three types of subscription business models:

Replenishment subscriptions. This is when a customer pays for a replacement of an essential item on a regular basis. The driver for this is usually convenience – the customer doesn’t have to remember to buy necessities like milk, dog food or deodorant; they’ll be delivered straight to their doorstep.

Curation subscriptions. A key example is subscription boxes which have grown in popularity in recent years. A business will choose several of their products they think the customer will like based on their previous buying history and send it out to them in a box each month. Customers enjoy the “surprise” element, whilst the personalization aspect fosters strong engagement with the brand. One such example is beauty brand Glossybox, which ships cosmetics samples to customers all over the world with DHL.

Access subscriptions. With this, customers pay for exclusive access to member-only perks such as discounts or early access to sales. The driver for customers to sign up is the exclusivity element, whilst brands can leverage the model to make customers feel really valued which in turn increases their loyalty.

Benefits of subscription marketing to your business

The sales model is growing in popularity: existing subscription brands grew their overall customer base by 31% in 2021 alone2. Time for your business to join in? These are the main benefits which might just tempt you to commit:

Steady revenue  

For e-commerce businesses, forecasting sales can be unpredictable. But with subscribers, you’ll have a more accurate idea of how much money will be coming into your business each month, which will help you make better financial decisions.

Cost effective  

Acquiring new customers is expensive. In fact, it’s five times cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one3. With a subscription service, you can foster long-term, loyal customers – providing you give them a great service, of course (more on that, later).

Improved demand forecasting

When you know how many subscribers you have, you can better plan your inventory needs. This will reduce excess inventory, which will save your business storage costs.

Less losses to competitors  

E-commerce is highly competitive; your rivals are always just a couple of clicks away to customers. Yet, subscribers to your business will be less tempted to stray to other brands if they’re already signed up to your service.

Increased customer satisfaction

Personalization is a huge influence on consumers’ buying decisions – in fact, 80% are more likely to purchase when businesses provide a personalized experience4.  With a curated subscription service – like a monthly box – you can send your customers a carefully-selected bundle of products based on their specific likes and dislikes.

Upselling and cross-selling opportunities  

Once you have established trust amongst your customers through a personalized subscription service, they’ll be more receptive to upsells and cross-sells that you promote to them – which means more sales for your business.

Challenges of subscription marketing

Churn rate

One study of B2C subscription companies over a 19-month period found the churn rate – how many customers cancelled their subscriptions – was, on average, 8.11%5. Many customers cancel their subscriptions after the initial excitement and sign-up freebies dry up. That’s why it’s important for businesses to have a long-term strategy in place for their subscription models if they are to increase their customer lifetime values.

Budget-conscious consumers

With global inflation and the cost-of-living crisis upon us, it’s no surprise that “reducing overall expenses” was the leading reason consumers cited for cancelling retail subscriptions in a recent survey6. If your business falls into the “luxury” rather than “essentials” category, you will need to put extra effort into creating a valuable offering.

How to create an effective subscription marketing strategy

It’s one thing getting a subscriber on board for a trial period, but how can you retain them in the long term?

Offer enticing discounts

Your customers will be looking for great value – they need to feel they’re getting a significant deal on your products by subscribing, otherwise they’ll look elsewhere.

Give perks

Beyond price reductions, there are plenty of other benefits you can offer to keep subscribers signed up. Examples include member-only wholesale pricing, priority service, and a special discount code on their birthday. Get creative to make the experience extra special. Look at what your competitors are offering, too.

Make it easy to join  

Signing up to a subscription with your business should be a quick and seamless process for new users. If they are an existing customer of yours, let them use the details they have already registered with your business (shipping address, card details etc.) to create a subscriber account.

Consider a freemium subscription model

Freemium pricing is an acquisition tool whereby you give new customers limited access to selected subscription features, for free, in the hope they will eventually sign up for the paid-for model. If you are unsure whether it is right for your business, you could trial it for a short period of time to see if the number of conversions it prompts makes it a worthwhile investment.

Use a tiered subscription model

A one-size-fits-all price is not the best approach for subscription models. Your customers are all different, so you should offer a range of subscription pricing tiers which they can choose from depending on their individual needs. Remember, choice equals sales!

Have a transparent cancellation policy

Many consumers are deterred by subscription packages by the worry of being locked into a long-term contract. So, the more flexibility you can offer in your cancellation policy, the better. If you allow subscribers to cancel immediately at any point (and with no fee), you’ll be on to a winner.

Adapt and tweak

Over time, you can use your customer data to improve your subscription service. Things to look out for include at what point in the subscription cycle most cancellations are happening. What is occurring at this point and how can you address it? Remember to invite customer feedback, too.

Use an automatic billing system

Choose a payment provider that offers a no-fuss recurring billing system so that you can process payments from your subscribers with ease. Keep the billing process simple for your customers, too.

Offer free shipping

In a global survey of consumers’ most desired subscription features, “free shipping” came out on top7. If you can afford to offer this, then do so – and be sure to shout about it on the subscription sign-up page.

Choose a reliable logistics carrier

Once you’ve curated the perfect subscription model, bursting with personalization and perks, it’s time to think about delivery. And for that, there’s no better logistics partner than DHL.

With DHL Express, you can offer your customers fast, reliable shipping, with full tracking and shipment status notifications. So, you can be sure they receive their subscriptions on time, every time.

Open a DHL Express Business Account, here.


1 – Sell Courses Online, March 2023

2 – Forbes, July 2022

3 – Outbound Engine, April 2022

4 – McKinsey & Company, April 2020

5 – GoCardless, April 2023

6 – PYMNTS, May 2022

Going Global
Min Read
Exporting To China: How To Maximize Every Sales Opportunity

Export to China: market overview

It’s no secret that China is a thriving hotspot of global trade. Data from the DHL Trade Growth Atlas found that between 2016 and 2021, the country generated a staggering one-quarter of global trade growth. Whilst the West has long thought of China as the world’s manufacturing capital, it provides plenty of import opportunities for international brands, too.

The penetration rate of online shopping in China has grown rapidly over the last ten years, from 42.9% in 2002 to 79.2% in 20221, making it one of the key emerging markets for cross-border businesses to target. But what are consumers there buying? And from which countries?

China’s imports

Which countries do Chinese e-commerce users buy from the most?

Distribution of goods purchased by cross-border import e-commerce users in China as of January 2021, by region of origin:

Source: Statista2

For these countries, China is a huge cross-border e-commerce opportunity.

Exporting to China: understanding the Chinese market

To successfully sell to a new international market, you need to understand local buyers’ behaviors and preferences. These insights can inform your sales and marketing strategies.

What do Chinese online shoppers buy from cross-border brands?

Cross-border e-commerce retail imports by product (as share of total transaction value), 2021:

Source: Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China3

Mobile commerce

China is a mobile-first country, driven by the government’s prioritization of the development of 5G wireless technology. 64% of all e-commerce transactions in China are completed on a mobile device4, predominantly ‘super-apps’ (see below) where users can socialize, shop, and pay for products on a single platform. International brands wishing to attract these mobile buyers will need to invest heavily in a Chinese-language smartphone app.

Online marketplaces

Chinese consumers like shopping at online marketplaces as they allow them to browse and compare several products at once. The leading marketplaces in China are Alibaba, Taobao, Tmall and Selling on these platforms is tricky for cross-border brands, as sellers have to be registered in mainland China to qualify. But, there is a way in – Tmall has a dedicated sister site, Tmall Global, specifically set up for foreign brands; you don’t need a physical entity in China or a Chinese business license to sell on the platform, and you can accept payment in your local currency. Discover the full pros and cons, here.

Customer service

“Guanxi” is a Chinese concept which describes how personal and business relationships are built on trust. It filters down to Chinese consumers’ expectations of exceptional customer service – with personalization, fast and reliable shipping, and a stress-free shopping experience cited as the top priorities. As customer reviews play an important part in Chinese buyers’ decision-making, underperforming on customer experience risks your business being named and shamed online.

Value and quality

Price is an important factor to Chinese consumers – they shop around for deals, coupons and discounts. Cross-border brands often struggle to compete with domestic brands’ pricing and product choice.

Yet, they can win over Chinese buyers through product quality. The Chinese counterfeit market has created distrust amongst many shoppers there, who instead look overseas for better quality. Position yourself as a trusted brand with authentic products, and consumers will respond well.

Social commerce

Social media and e-commerce go hand in hand in China. Popular video platform Douyin (the country’s version of TikTok) allows users to buy products they see streaming on the app simply by tapping the video. Unfortunately, it is hard for foreign businesses to set up a Douyin account unless they have a base in mainland China.

An easier route to the Chinese market is through WeChat, the country’s most popular messaging app – with a whopping 1.24 billion monthly active users5a  who spend an average of 2 hours per day on it5b. With WeChat for Business, you can set up an e-commerce storefront on the WeChat platform to sell directly to Chinese consumers. The app has an in-built payment service, WeChat Pay, making facilitating payments seamlessly for your business and your customers.

Live streaming

China is the world’s livestreaming capital, where the feature has been a mainstream part of e-commerce for years. There are countless livestream platforms where “KOLs” – key opinion leaders, the Chinese equivalents of influencers – show and demonstrate a product, and interact live with viewers who ask questions. The personal touch of this engagement makes promotional activities more convincing and boosts sales. If you want to tap into the Chinese market, you should seriously consider marketing through livestreaming.

Shopping holidays

Much like the West’s Amazon Prime Day, China has several of its own major shopping festivals when record numbers of consumers head online in search of bargains. Two of the most popular are Singles’ Day (11 November), and the 618 festival (June 18th). Do your research and plan your marketing strategy weeks in advance to cash in on every opportunity.

Major shopping dates for your calendar

Digital wallets

Unsurprisingly in a mobile-first market, digital wallets are the leading payment method for Chinese consumers – with Alipay and WeChat Pay taking the biggest market share of transactions6. Online shoppers are 70% more likely to finalize a purchase if their preferred payment method is displayed as an option at checkout7, so always do your research into local buyers’ preferences!

Challenges of exporting to China

Selling to China does not come without challenges. But don't worry, DHL's expert on China exports and shipping has provided you with the key strategies to overcome them, so read the below which will help you create actionable plans to export to China.

1. Navigating customs & import clearance

Shipping your products into China can be a complex and time-consuming operation:

  • The country has strict customs procedures – even more so since Covid – which require shippers to provide detailed documentation and comply with specific regulations. Any incorrect or missing paperwork can cause shipments to be held up.
  • Certain products, including food, electronics and medical devices will have extra regulations to comply with to avoid delays, fines, or even seizure of the shipment.

The solution              

It is important for businesses to work with a logistics provider that has experience and expertise with customs processes so that their shipments are cleared quickly and efficiently. By partnering with international logistics leader DHL, businesses will receive support navigating China’s customs regulations. This includes guidance on how to complete the process of customs clearance, so that shipments aren’t delayed. For DHL account holders, this is offered as a dedicated service.

2. The cost of shipping to China

China imposes import taxes and duties on many products. This, added to the cost of shipping and customs fees, will quickly add up for your business – and make it difficult for you to compete on price with domestic sellers.

The solution

  • DHL offers competitive shipping rates – with its estimated cost calculator, you can gain a quote quickly. You can then factor this cost into your pricing strategy and how you charge your customers for shipping.
  • DHL’s Duties & Taxes Paid (DTP) service charges import duties, taxes and other shipping fees back to your business, rather than your customers. It’s more convenient for your customers, ensuring a seamless experience that boosts customer satisfaction and loyalty.

3. Setting up a Chinese-facing website

Unfortunately, selling to Chinese consumers as a cross-border brand involves more than just changing the language of your website. To show up on Chinese search engines’ result pages, you need a site hosted in China. This involves several complex steps, including registering with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and obtaining relevant commercial licenses – all of which can take several months.

The solution: sell via an online marketplace

As previously mentioned, some of China’s leading marketplaces have dedicated “sister” sites for international brands to sell on – without the need for a legal entity or bank account in the country. These include Tmall Global and JD Worldwide. Take your time researching your options, factoring in fees, the type of products you sell (e.g. some platforms are more suited for luxury goods), and how long you may have to wait for approval.

4. Fast shipping

Chinese consumers expect fast delivery – even from overseas brands. The sheer size and scale of the country – plus poor infrastructure in rural areas – makes this a big task for cross-border businesses.

The solution: partner with DHL

DHL has a vast global network which means it can help your business reach customers in China quickly. DHL Express will deliver your shipment to China with full tracking so that you – and your customers – can check the delivery status of the shipment in real-time. Peace of mind for you, excellent service for your customers.

Market entry strategy: Steps to export to China

Preparing to export to China

1. Conduct market research

China is a vast country of over 1.4 billion consumers – but not all of them are prospects. You should have a clear idea of the demographic of your target audience – including age, budget, which online marketplaces they buy from the most, which social media platforms they engage with, their preferred payment method(s) etc. These insights will help you personalize your marketing segmentation strategy.

2. Localize your brand

Choosing a Chinese name for your business will help you appeal to consumers there. And of course, it’s important that your product listings/social media content/customer service are in the local language, too. Just be sure to use Chinese experts for this though – relying on online translators risks misinterpretations. Finally, ensure your business accepts payment in the local currency.

3. Select a suitable entry strategy

For many international small businesses and e-commerce startups, selling on a Chinese marketplace is the best entry strategy. You will benefit from these platforms’ vast customer base, local knowledge, and existing fulfilment services. Of course, there are some fees involved, but the time you save in dealing with administration will more than make up for it.

4. Know your Unique Selling Point

It may be tempting to go all in and adapt your products for Chinese buyers. But remember, many Chinese customers – particularly those of luxury goods – buy from foreign brands specifically because they offer something different. Knowing why customers want your products – whether it’s the quality or price, for example – will help you market them effectively. This is most probably something you will learn over time, using analytics data and customer feedback.

5. Plan logistics and shipping

For this, there really is no better route than partnering with an international logistics leader. With a presence in over 220 countries and territories, no carrier understands international shipping like DHL – and can help your business grow in China with ease.

Feeling inspired and ready to sell to China? First stop – open a DHL Express Business Account for expert international shipping advice and competitive rates.


1 – Statista, April 2023

2 – Statista, July 2022

3 – Mitsui & Co., November 2021

4 – J.P. Morgan, 2021

5a & 5b – Shopify, December 2022

6 – Statista, July 2022

7 – Verifone, June 2020

Green Logistic
Min Read
Green Packaging And Why It's Important To Your Business

The next time you unwrap a parcel, observe how many layers of packaging material you need to tear through to finally get your item. It is estimated that up to seven types1 of packaging material go into a single parcel: tape, cardboard boxes, styrofoam padding, and bubble wrap are some common examples that protect goods during transport. Before a parcel arrives safely at the consumer’s door, it has already left a trail of environmental destruction in its wake. And all too often, this excess packaging ends up in the bin.

Packaging itself takes up almost a third of all plastics production, but only 14 percent of it will be recycled, according to a joint report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation. And this plastic waste problem is escalating with the rise of e-commerce, which is expanding at an average rate of 20 percent a year worldwide. Global retail e-commerce sales were valued at US$2.29 trillion (€2.01 trillion) in 2017.

What is Green Packaging?

Green packaging, sustainable packaging and eco-friendly packaging are terms which all mean the same thing: packaging that has the lowest possible impact on the environment.

This low impact is achieved in several ways: by limiting the packaging waste created; by using materials which are recyclable or biodegradable; and by using renewable energy during production.

Why is sustainable packaging important for businesses?

There are two main reasons. Firstly, because sustainability is now such a big issue among consumers that being seen to be green is crucial to the popularity of your brand and the longevity of your business. And secondly, because of the global impact traditional packaging has on the environment.

How product packaging impacts your business

Most consumers want green packaging. As far back as 2020, in research by Trivium Packaging1, 74% of those surveyed in the US, Europe and South America were willing to pay more for it. It’s become even more of a trend since then.

Studies have shown there is a positive correlation between green packaging and positive branding, with many consumer advocacy groups promoting companies that use sustainable packaging. And recent data reveals that 44% of customers choose to buy from brands with a clear commitment to sustainability2.

As a result, more and more businesses are realizing how a green packaging strategy makes sense, in terms of customer acquisition, retention and long-term loyalty. And in today’s ultra-competitive commercial environment, it’s more important than ever to your bottom line that your business adopts sustainable practices.

The impact of packaging on the environment

We’ve all been irritated by parcels with the item packaged in a box that’s far too large for it, and the void filled with padding. Excessive packaging is very obviously wasteful.

And, whether or not the packaging is of the appropriate size, several types of materials have traditionally been used for a single parcel: for example, tape, cardboard boxes, styrofoam padding and bubble wrap. Many of these packaging materials are composed of plastics. In fact, according to the United Nations Environment Programme3, around 36% of all plastics produced are used in packaging. And packaging is the largest generator of single-use plastic waste in the world.

Plastic production is also one of the most energy-intensive manufacturing processes in the world. So, before a traditionally packaged parcel arrives at a consumer’s door, it has already contributed seriously to the climate crisis.

Then, all too often, this packaging ends up in landfill or becomes litter. Plastic can take up to 1,000 years to break down, so it builds up in the environment, damaging soil, poisoning groundwater, and choking marine wildlife. Microplastics enter the human body, with the potential to cause serious health impacts – and have even been found in the placentas of newborn babies.

The impact of plastic waste on the environment

According to The Ellen Macarthur Foundation4, the root cause of all this waste is the current structure of the economy: we take materials from the earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste. The foundation advocates a transition from this so-called linear economy to a circular economy, in which we stop waste being produced in the first place.

The circular economy is based on three principles: eliminate waste and pollution; circulate products and materials (at their highest value); and regenerate nature. It is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials, and decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. The foundation claims the system is resilient, and good for business, people and the environment.

Clearly, sustainable packaging solutions are an important element of any transition to a circular economy.

Sustainable Packaging Solutions

Below is a range of green packaging options5 to consider. The question is, which are appropriate for your particular business?

Biodegradable packaging peanuts

These are a more sustainable alternative to styrofoam, which is also known as EPS (expanded polystyrene foam). Styrofoam has now been banned in many countries due to its environmental impact. One of the traditional packaging materials, it cushions against shocks and helps prevent products moving while in transit. But it’s neither biodegradable nor can it be recycled economically, and it’s often found in our rivers and oceans.

While cushioning just as well as styrofoam, biodegradable air peanuts made from natural materials are both more sustainable and cheaper.

Harts of Stur, a UK kitchen appliance and homeware retailer, is one company which has switched to this form of packaging from Greenlight Packaging – to the delight of their customers6.

“The reaction to our eco-friendly packaging has been nothing short of overwhelming. Customers are so pleased that we use an environmentally friendly alternative to polystyrene!” Harts of Stur

Corrugated bubble wrap

A traditional packaging favorite, bubble wrap helps protect fragile items during shipping. However, being plastic based, it’s definitely not green packaging.

One sustainable alternative is a wrap made from up-cycled corrugated cardboard. Rather than disposing of or recycling post-consumer cardboard waste, the material is given an additional life as a cushioning agent. Small cuts are made to produce a concertina-type effect that protects against shocks just like bubble wrap.

Air pillows made of recyled materials

Inflatable air pillows are another sustainable packaging solution for use instead of styrofoam or bubble wrap. Available in a variety of sizes, they’re ideal for filling voids in boxes or providing cushioning around packed items.

Air pillows are small bags that can be inflated, so consist mainly of air. This cuts down on the plastic used in their production and transport compared to other cushioning materials. While they can be re-used and recycled, it’s important to choose versions made from 100% recycled and biodegradable materials.

Recycled cardboard

Cardboard boxes are ubiquitous as outer packaging. Compared to plastic, a cardboard box reduces oil and CO2 emissions by 60%7. And, as an organic material, cardboard is 100% biodegradable and can be recycled several times over.

Even so, while cardboard definitely counts as green packaging, it has environmental drawbacks. When it’s dumped into landfill sites, its biodegradation emits methane gas, creating a substantial carbon footprint. Moreover, it’s made of tree fibres, so adds to the risk of deforestation. To mitigate this, try to source post-consumer or post-industrial recycled paper and cardboard, and look for materials that are certified to support sustainably managed forests.

Corn starch packaging

Corn starch is an organic material, made from the corn or maize plant. It has similar properties to plastic, making it an effective and more sustainable plastic alternative in many guises, from bottles to loose-film packaging.

However, as corn starch is derived from the grains of corn, it competes with human and animal food supply systems, possibly making corn more expensive. So, while it has excellent properties for packaging, you might still prefer to opt for a different plastic substitute.

Biodegradable and recycled plastics

If the nature of your product means you have to use plastic packaging, at least you can choose 100% recycled or biodegradable options – although plastic can only be recycled a limited number of times before it ends up in landfill. A greener alternative would be to source biodegradable plastic materials, which can be decomposed by living microorganisms.

While there are some bioplastics which compete with human food supplies, such as those made from corn starch, sugar cane and wheat, there are also microbial polyesters, or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). PHAs are polyesters that are synthesized and stored by various microorganisms. The only downside is the cost of the additional carbon needed for the microorganisms to metabolize and produce these biodegradable polyesters – although waste cooking oils and animal oils are promising, cost-effective, and sustainable options. Companies who have introduced PHA plastic into their supply chain include Nestle, Pepsico and Bacardi.

Organic ecological textiles

Ecological textile packaging reduces waste, as it’s made from multi-use, durable materials such as organic hemp, organic or recycled cotton, tapioca, or palm leaves. All are biodegradable, so take less time to decompose naturally. Examples of usage include organic cotton wool for cushioning, linen and poplin as anti-scratch wrap covers or bags, and hemp tape to bundle products together.

Sustainable packaging innovations

While green packaging is a global trend in itself, and the sustainable packaging solutions discussed above are part of it, here are three other kinds of innovative packaging that could emerge as key options in the future.

Mushroom packaging

Mushroom packaging really is made from mushrooms. It uses a process that combines pre-cleaned agricultural waste with mushroom roots. This raw material is moulded into the shape required, dried and used as packaging. Agricultural waste can’t be used for food, so mushroom packaging avoids the ethical dilemma corn starch packaging brings with it. It also degrades naturally at a very rapid rate. Even so, despite its suitability as sustainable packaging, it is currently only feasible for smaller items.

Seaweed packaging

Seaweed is a sustainable packaging solution made from agar – a gelatinous substance found in many seaweeds and algae. The agar is extracted and dehydrated to produce a material appropriate for packaging. Being made from a plentiful, sustainable raw material, seaweed packaging could become one of the big new trends in green packaging.

Edible films

Edible film is a cutting-edge sustainable packaging solution, most appropriate for food products, with a global market expected to reach $4.2 billion by 20288. Potentially, it could curb food and packaging waste, while also reducing chemical leaching from plastic.

Different natural products can be used to create edible packaging, but the most effective and widely used is chitosan, a sugar made from the chitin shells of crustaceans. This makes chitosan one of the most plentiful biopolymers – and edible packaging a much greener alternative to plastics.

Green packaging solutions checklist

Here are six ways to make your packaging more sustainable. See which could work for you:

  1. Insist on sustainable packaging materials that can be re-used
  2. Use biodegradable and compostable packaging
  3. Reduce the size of your packaging
  4. Adapt product packaging to be shipping-friendly
  5. Enable customers to return and re-use empty product containers
  6. Ship items in bulk

For advice on other ways to make your shipping greener, contact your DHL sales representative.


1 Trivium Packaging Global Buying Green Report

2 Ecoenclose

3 United Nations Environment Programme

4 The Ellen Macarthur Foundation

5 Green Business Bureau

6 Greenlight Packaging

7 Primepac

8 Yahoo! Finance

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