Many of us take for granted that when we order something online, it shows up on our doorstep. But believe it or not, eCommerce is still a relatively new frontier – forged by packaging professionals during the rise of internet sales in the early 2000s.
One of those eCommerce packaging pioneers is Suzanne Fisher, who worked for pretty much every large retailer during this shift from brick and mortar sales to the web. She famously got the “?” email sent to her from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos himself…but you’ll have to listen to the episode for more on that!
During her career, she not only balanced eCommerce requirements, but was early on the push for packaging sustainability as well.
Below are some highlights from our conversation – you can listen to the full audio on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Soundcloud. And be sure to subscribe to our channel to get the latest episodes as soon as they drop.
On Amazon’s shift to being packaging-focused
“Amazon, for years, said, "Please sell to me," if you can imagine way back when. "Please sell to me. We want to be the everything store," according to Jeff Bezos. And then what they didn't realize is the star rating started being impacted by poorly packaged products that weren't used to shipping in e-commerce networks. And so it was great because the shift of the importance of packaging happened, coincidentally, while I was there, or had started [just] before I got there.”
On the rare opportunity to impact the product while at Herman Miller to adapt to eCommerce shipping
“Once we, unfortunately, launched into e-commerce, we started having some breakage because I tested to the wrong distribution environment. I called ISTA. They said they had a draft proposal for an ecomm type packaging test protocol. I tested it to that. It was exciting, because I actually got the company to add material to the chair of about 25 cents of resin rather than $6 of extra packaging material. And that was one of the rare times in my career I've gotten the product to be designed differently rather than adding so much packaging cost.”
On the sustainability shift from major brands
“Companies like General Mills or Unilever knew that they had to get on the bandwagon. They didn't know how. But it still felt like a struggle, like a tug. And now companies like Nestle, companies like ConAgra, Procter & Gamble are all literally doing this wonderful sustainability work to become 100% recycled material or increase their recycled content without the push of anyone else. They're doing it with their own desire at stake. And so it's really, really encouraging.”
On why brands should share data with consumers
“It absolutely does. And what I still feel that the brand owners need to do is publish, publish, publish. And I know some of it is confidentiality. They don't want to let us in on their progress or on their development, but I was at the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum on a panel with Camille Chisholm actually, and there's so much misunderstanding out there as far as what companies are really doing. The consumer doesn't feel like the companies are doing as much as they really are. So let us in on it. Let us know what you're working on.”
Listen to the whole episode here – and be sure to stay tuned through the end for one of my favorite “Keep, Kill, Change” segments, where we make Suzanne decide between hotel slippers, mascara, and jelly – which is fitting because we recorded this live at the W Hotel in Nashville, TN.
You can see all of the previous Beyond the Shelf podcast episodes here.