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eBay Turns Shipping Boxes Into Ecological and Social Powerhouses

| Friday September 17th, 2010 | 3 Comments

We’ve all done it. Gotten an item we ordered online, torn open the box, making a beeline for the goods inside. But what if the box itself was a treasure? What if it made you want to make a point to reuse it, and you could know its story?

This is exactly what’s beginning to happen at eBay, which has begun testing out the eBay Box. The idea is simple, but sounds exceptionally sticky and brand loyalty generating: Make a durable box that is itself visually unique, and is designed to facilitate repeated reuse.

But what would make you as a consumer want to do this? Here’s where it elevates to great: Inside the box are places for the people sending your package can write a personal message, and there will also be an online area to track the box’s journey, connecting buyers and sellers.

This merging of the decidedly last millennium hand written note with social networking is in my opinion exactly the right timing. In a time when things are going increasingly digital, people long for the tangible, the physical, the human. With recent years marking the best vinyl record sales in nearly two decades, it’s a clear message to businesses.

As eBay puts it, this is a community where buyers are sellers, and sellers are buyers, so it’s much more likely these boxes will actually see repeated reuse, and that an online community around its travel will get substantial traction.

Beyond a good story and a brand boost, what’s the potential impact the eBay Box could have?

eBay estimates that its first 100,000 test boxes, used at least 5 times would protect nearly 4,000 trees, save 2.4 million gallons of water and conserve enough energy to power 49 homes for a year. Though designed to be quite durable, the eBay Box is fully recyclable when no longer useable. I see a number of these being kept, the stories inscribed on them transforming them into keepsakes.

A further benefit to this could be seen by businesses like Amazon, Zappos and the like that send a lot of things in its own branded boxes. To reduce the amount of new boxes that need to be made could mean a substantial savings. Would consumers accept a used box for a new item? With skillful messaging, I think so.

Readers: What other packaging innovations are you seeing out there that you predict will gain traction?

via Springwise

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


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  • http://www.guerrillamarketinggoesgreen.com Shel Horowitz

    Yes, Paul, I agree. With good branding, people will accept reused packaging.

    When I ship a book via Priority Mail, I usually tuck it into a used bubble-wrap envelope and then throw that envelope into the flat-rate mailer. Maybe because I write on sustainability and frugality (most recently, my eighth book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet)–but even without any banding effort, I’ve had zero complaints.

    Still, I just came across someone selling packing tape marked “Reused Packaging,” with a big recycle log. Clever.

    • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com/greensmith_consulting_hel/a-greensmith-consulting-one-sheet.html Paul Smith

      Shel that makes sense and I can see that being well received, as it coincides with what you do. Great idea for the tape! It almost makes the reused “new” in a story worthy way. I think that companies that can give people something novel and thus talked about, normalizing it and encouraging it happening elsewhere, they’re on to something.

  • http://GreenGlobalTravel.com/ Green Global Travel

    I think the history of these is another incentive. The environmental issue attracts me, of course, but I think with concepts like Bookcrossing etc being so popular, people will also be intruiged by where “their” box has been. It’s a fun concept.