Should You Smarten Up Your Selling Practices? 10 Ways AI Can Help E-Commerce Businesses

AI in Ecommerce robot

From generating surreal images, to predicting serious health conditions, Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools are helping professionals in many areas of life to save time, work more efficiently and do their jobs better.  We took a look at how AI can help online retailers simplify, speed up and optimise their e-commerce operations.

  1. Personalised Product Recommendations – Where previously you might have added in “products you might also like” manually, AI algorithms can now do this upselling and cross selling for you. Recommendations are based on an individual’s previous purchases, browsing history and product searches. This is how Netflix recommends other programmes you might like, and how Amazon makes each customer’s homepage unique. Shopify Apps that use AI for recommendations, include Wiser and LimeSpot.
  2. Chatbots and Virtual Assistants – If your team spend a lot of time helping with product enquiries, providing updates on order status, or resolving common issues, an AI Chatbot might save you time and money, and improve your customer service by offering support 24/7. The most popular tools for setting up a Virtual Assistant include Tidio and Zendesk.
  3. Inventory Management and Forecasting – Predicting demand and managing inventory levels are crucial to running any e-commerce business, and AI can help here too. Tools that use AI for Inventory Management include Bee Low and Sortly.  
  4. Content Generation – Probably the AI tools that most people are familiar with, generative AI options such as ChatGPT, Gemini and Dall-E are great for helping you get started with blog writing, generating ideas for emails and even image generation. (And, yes we did use ChatGPT to get started with this blog!).
  5. Search Engine Optimisation – SEO involves a lot of repetitive tasks, that are perfect for handing over to AI.  Tools such as Yoast are now using AI to help you write SEO Titles and Metadescriptions. Jasper can generate SEO-optimised blogs and Outranking uses data from top ranking sites to help you find opportunities to rank your pages higher.
  6. Advertising – AI is now frequently used to optimise Pay Per Click Search, Display and Social Media ads. It can dynamically adjust ad images, videos, headlines, and descriptions to the combinations that are most likely to perform, test them, and put them in front of the right people at the right time.  Campaigns such as Google’s Performance Max and Meta’s Advantage+ make heavy use of these types of technologies.  
  7. Email Marketing – AI algorithms can help increase conversion rates from your customer emails by analysing customer data to personalise the content, adjust the sending time and predict which customers are most likely to convert. Omnisend and MailChimp both make use of AI.
  8. Image Optimisation – Worried about the state of your product images? AI image clean up tools can instantly remove the background from product shots, add AI-generated backgrounds and resize your images for a variety of placements.  Shopify Apps to help with image and video optimisation include CreatorKit and Pebblely.
  9. Optimising Packaging Design and Sizing – Whilst our team are great at advising you on the best dimensions, protection levels and product types for packaging your products, AI tools can do that too. Amazon uses AI tools to help select the optimal packaging type for each item, whether that is a mailing bag, cardboard box or an envelope. 
  10. Reducing Environmental Impact – We are of course, very happy to talk you through the environmental implications of your packaging choices, and the eco-friendly options available to you, but this is also somewhere AI is helping.  Smart Packaging options such as sensors and RFID tags are now being used to track and monitor a product’s journey to the consumer, providing data such as humidity, temperature and even how roughly the item is handled. This data then helps optimise the way it is packaged in future, keeping packaging sizes down, minimising waste, reducing carbon consumption and of course, lowering costs.

    When your packaging meets the end of its current life, AI tools help recycle it. AI-driven automated recycling systems use algorithms to identify, sort, clean and process our recycling so it can be re-used with minimal wastage. 

As you can see, AI is already well used by e-commerce sellers, and new tools to increase efficiency, improve customer satisfaction and even increase conversion rates are emerging all the time.  These are great time savers, but do come with risks, so do oversee any work that AI does for you, perhaps as you would for a new junior member of staff!

We hope that whilst AI might make all our jobs easier, by taking away some of the more repetitive or analytical tasks, it will allow us to focus on areas we find more stimulating such as developing our business creatively or spending more time with customers.  Do let us know your thoughts and experiences with using AI for your business and get in touch any time you would prefer to speak to a human!

Letterbox Packaging – How to Make Sure Your Delivery Fits

Letterbox Packaging

As we find ourselves making our way to recycling centres, with boot loads of cardboard from our Christmas Deliveries, you may well be wondering how to cut down the sheer volume of packaging that your organisation is shipping.  Could your packaging be reduced to something that fits through a letterbox? And why would you consider going for the more compact option? There are plenty of good reasons to do so, as we shall now explore. 

Letterbox Packaging is More Sustainable

From an environmental point of view, the marked increase in online shopping since the pandemic, brings with it concern both about the amount of material used to ship products, and the carbon involved in driving so many, sometimes almost empty, boxes around. To add to the reduction in packaging volume, being able to slip the package through the letterbox, means that if the customer is not home, the courier does not need to make more than one attempt to deliver, reducing carbon emissions even further. Letterbox deliveries can make for a far more sustainable delivery option.   

Letterbox Packaging is More Convenient

As more people have gone back to work in offices, it has also become harder to make sure deliveries are left safely. Whilst it might be OK for packages to pile up in a porch in a remote, rural environment, these deliveries may be at risk in a busier street with people walking past.  With letterbox packaging, customers do not need to be at home to receive the delivery, the parcel can safely be pushed through your door. Given that most consumers say that convenience is the main reason they shop online, avoiding any delivery issues by making sure your package fits easily through their door, is a powerful reason to opt for letterbox packaging if you can.


Global Data’s ‘Foresights: Letterbox Packaging’ report, reveals that the sustainability and convenience of packaging is more important to consumers than appearance. Over three quarters of consumers want their packaging to be easy to recycle, 74% want it to avoid wastage and 73% want it to be easy to use.

Global Data’s ‘Foresights: Letterbox Packaging

What Kind of Products Can Fit Through a Letterbox?

Realising the benefits of compact packaging, many companies have already made the switch, including some with products you really would be surprised to discover can fit!  Letterbox Flowers are now available from many florists, including Bloom and Wild.  Laundry detergent can arrive through your letterbox as capsules from SMOL or eco sheets from Earth Breeze as a subscription item, so you never need to carry heavy bottles home from the supermarket again. Treatbox offer a selection of gifts in a letterbox friendly package, guaranteed to cheer anyone up. Perhaps more surprisingly, even bottles of wine are now being delivered through letterboxes!

Postal Boxes 2

Which Packaging from Forms Plus is Letterbox Friendly?

In the UK, the standard size of a letterbox is usually around 254mm x 38mm, so your box must be smaller than these dimensions.  At Forms Plus, we stock a range of Postal Boxes that will fit through easily.  These include our Postal Boxes – Small, Postal Boxes – C6, Postal Boxes – DL, Postal Boxes – C5 and Postal Boxes – Mini. Alternatively, you could go for a Padded Envelope within those size limits, or a Kraft Mailing Bag.

If you would like to discuss the best packaging option to choose, to help you make your deliveries letterbox friendly, do get in touch and our experienced team will be happy to help.

Are You Ready for the Festive Shopping Season?

It’s that time of year again. As the leaves change colour, the beaches here in Cornwall get quieter and knitwear catalogues come through our letterboxes, we thought it was a good time to look ahead at what retailers can expect for the 2023 festive season and remind you how Forms Plus can help you prepare. 

What Trends are Predicted for E-Commerce in Autumn 2023?

Our research shows three major trends are predicted for the “Golden Quarter” this year. Shoppers will be looking for good deals after another difficult financial year.  They will be shopping early, to make sure they find the best gift options at the best prices. As part of seeking out good value, they will be looking for sustainable products, that they feel good about offering as gifts.

Value for Money

In a survey researching Christmas Trends for 2023 for Retail Week, major retailers including Boots, Pandora UK and John Lewis all confirm that customers are taking time to make sure they get the very best value on their purchases this year.  Consumers are cautious and the market is highly competitive, not just on price but on customer services like free delivery and returns, and other added value. Shoppers are spending more time comparing prices and offers across multiple marketplaces and retailers than they have in previous years.

Christmas Countdown Timer

Shopping Early

Customers are expected to shop much earlier this year. In a bid to get the best deals and spread costs, many have already started. According to a survey by Google, in 2022 “as of mid-October, holiday shoppers globally had on average 21% of their holiday shopping complete”.

Sustainability

Christmas can be quite a low point for sustainability, with unwanted gifts and items that have little use once we go back to work in January. Studies show that as awareness around environmental impact increases, customers expect brands to be making far more effort on sustainability. This applies both to products and their packaging.  According to Retail Week, major retailers are removing plastic and glitter from gifts, cards and wrapping paper, and customers are considering quality and longevity far more then they used to when making their selection.

At Forms Plus we now stock a wide range of fully sustainable packaging materials, including eco-friendly padded envelopes and Flexi-Hex® protective packaging that is ideal for bottles, cosmetics or fragile gifts.

How Can Online Retailers Prepare for Peak Season This Year?

Stock and Service Levels

If you haven’t already done so, September is a really good time to get your warehouse in order before the season really gets underway.  Managing stock levels and offering exceptional customer service through the next few months will be crucial to meeting demand and retaining those customers into next year.

Along with great value on prices, customers will be looking for quick, inexpensive delivery and easy returns.  Whilst these may be expensive and challenging to manage, hassle-free returns and convenient shipping options show your customers you care about them.  Someone who first comes to you for a Christmas present and has a great experience, even if they return something, is far more likely to become a loyal, regular customer.  A recent Survey from Fedex found that 96% of customers would return to a business that offered an easy returns policy. 

We say it every year, but part of making sure your deliveries and returns processes are reliable and efficient, is managing your stock of packaging and despatch forms.  Get your orders in early for Thermal Labels, Integrated Labels and for all your Packaging needs and avoid any hiccups in your shipping process this year.   

Black Friday 2023 is 24th November

Festive Season Marketing Plans

Have you planned your promotions yet? In 2023, Black Friday falls on 24th November with Cyber Monday on the 27th.  Cyber Weekend spending was disappointing for many retailers in 2022, but this was thought to be partly to do with the timing of World Cup matches, as well as the difficult economic climate. With tighter household budgets in place, shoppers will be looking for discounts this season.  Categories that are expected to do well across Black Friday in 2023 include mobile phones and tech, toys, and cosmetics.  Experts are predicting a bigger push to online sales and a sales period that starts earlier into November. They also expect to see “Green Friday” initiatives that promote eco-friendly offers and a greater emphasis on personalised deals, via targeted ads and emails, based on an individual’s shopping or browsing history. 

According to Retail Week, Social Media continues to have a significant influence on buying behaviour, especially for anyone younger than 40 years old. These shoppers may be more affluent and less concerned by the increased cost of living, making them an ideal audience this season. Creative online content, influencer marketing activity, reviews and quick responses to customer service queries are crucial with this group. Plan to make the most of your Socials this autumn, especially if you are in the fashion, beauty, tech, or travel sectors.

Build Your Customer Base

With privacy laws changing how we advertise to customers online, the quality of your customer data is more important than ever. Using the busy shopping period to add to your customer data, email lists, loyalty schemes and Social Media followers gives you the opportunity to remarket to those groups in future.  This is a good time to make sure all your Social Media links are up-to-date, that you have systems in place to grow your mailing lists from the people who buy from you over the festive season, and that you are capturing their data correctly and efficiently so you can access and use it legitimately next year.

How Can Forms Plus Help You Get Ready for the Busy Season Ahead?

At Forms Plus we have been helping retail clients trade through the hectic festive season for over 40 years.  We stock a wide range of packaging supplies and labels to meet the needs of all kinds of retailers, and a team of experienced, friendly staff who are always happy to advise on the best choices for your business. 

If you want to take advantage of our bulk discounts but don’t have room to store it, our print management service will make sure you benefit from the best prices whilst we manage your stock levels and make sure you receive your print items and packaging as you require them. 

Do have a browse of our products today and get in touch if there is anything we can do to help you prepare for what we hope will be a busy and profitable season ahead.

Envelopes and Postal Boxes – What Sizes Are Available and How To Choose

Postal Boxes 2

Forms Plus stock a wide range of packaging materials suitable for e-commerce business.  We get asked a lot about how to choose the right kind of packaging, and particularly, how to choose the size. Paying attention to the type and size of the box or envelopes you use to despatch your products can help you save money on shipping costs and reduce your company’s impact on the environment. In this blog, we’ll explain why, and help you choose the right packaging for your e-commerce business. 

Environmental Envelope and Box Considerations

Let’s look first at environmental impact. When sending out e-commerce products, there are two main areas to consider to make sure your packaging is eco-friendly.  First, you will want to look at the packaging itself. Is it fully biodegradable? Plastic free? Recycled? Recyclable?  We offer a few options.

Our Eco Postal Boxes are biodegradable, recyclable with normal household recycling and made from sustainable material that does not deplete or degrade the environment.  The cardboard used in them is sourced with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification.

Enviroflute Padded Envelopes are a more environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional Jiffy Bag. Recognised as the world’s most eco-friendly padded envelope, they are fully biodegradable, plastic free, recyclable, and made from FSC accredited paper.  

Traditional, bubble-lined Padded Envelopes are another option for various items. They come in traditional gold or white, can be separated for recycling and are made using FSC accredited paper.

Secondly, choosing the right size of packaging will also help reduce your impact on the environment. Over-packaging, where a tiny item like a lipstick is either rattling around in a big cardboard box or packed in with bubble wrap or reams of paper, not only results in more waste, but burns more carbon to produce, recycle and transport. Choose the box or envelope that is the smallest size you can, and not only do you reduce wastage of packaging materials, the carbon footprint of your delivery will come down. If everyone were to do this, it would eventually result in fewer delivery vehicles on the road. 

Royal Mail Letter and Parcel Sizing

Whilst making sure your packaging is as environmentally friendly as possible, you will also want to make sure you are being efficient and saving where you can on shipping costs.

Royal Mail charges for letters and parcels according to its PiP system. This stands for Pricing in Proportion. We stock envelopes and boxes to fit four levels of PiP pricing – Letter, Large Letter, Small Parcel, and Medium Parcel.  The tables below show the internal dimensions of all our envelopes and boxes, and which Royal Mail pricing bracket they fall into.  Simply measure the product you want to ship, check its weight and order the smallest packaging option that offers the level of protection you need.

Royal Mail Large Letter packaging is ideal for sending something like a book, small fashion accessories, jewellery, flyers, or documents.  The package can be up to 2.5cm thick, so you could use a postal box or one of the larger envelopes.

Royal Mail Small Parcels are a bit bigger. These are suitable for sending clothes, shoes, or similar products. This is the preferred size for many e-commerce retailers. For bulkier items, you may need to go up to Medium Parcel. 

By using packaging that meets Royal Mail’s standard sizes, you can keep shipping costs down. If you are shipping out similar-sized items regularly, keeping to the smallest Royal Mail option will help you make substantial savings over the year. 

Other Sizing Considerations

Whilst the environment, and cost efficiency are highly significant when choosing the right packaging, protecting your product will be your ultimate goal.  The packaging should be snug, so your items do not move around inside and get damaged. It will also need to offer an appropriate level of padding and protection for your goods. You may want it to be easy to open and reseal for potential returns.

A further consideration could be how you expect your packages to ultimately be delivered. For smaller goods, many customers will prefer a letterbox sized parcel that can fit through their door, so they do not have to be home to take delivery.  UK letterboxes come in varying sizes, but the most common size is 254mm x 38mm. Anything up to a Size G in our envelope range should fit through a letterbox. E-commerce companies are now offering “letterbox flowers”, “letterbox hampers” and even, ingeniously, “letterbox wine” to ensure their clients do not miss out on deliveries!

Why is it important to choose the right size of packaging?

We have identified several good reasons for making sure you choose exactly the right size envelope or postal box. Your products will be better protected on their journey to the customer. You will save money on shipping costs. The impact of your shipping on the environment will be reduced – and you might even want to make sure you fit through their letterbox.

Use the tables below to see the full range of envelope and box sizes available from Forms Plus, and the type of packaging we have in those size.

Do get in touch if we can help you further. 

Envelope Sizes

Approx Internal SizeForms Plus Size NameSize also known asOptionsCreative UsesRoyal Mail size / weight limit
110 x 165mmSize AC6Padded White or GoldGift Cards / Place Mats / Cosmetics / JewelleryLetter
(up to 100g)
120 x 215mmSize BDLPadded White or GoldMobile Case / Cards / Cosmetics / Jewellery / BatteriesLetter
(up to 100g)
150 x 215mmSize CC5Padded White or GoldA5 Documents / Cosmetics / Cards / Photos / Purse / Wallet / StationeryLetter
(up to 100g)
180 x 265mmSize DPadded White or GoldCosmetics / Cards / Books / Stationery / Purse / WalletLarge Letter
(up to 750g)
220 x 265mmSize EPadded White or GoldCandle / Photos / Cards / Book / Craft Supplies / Chocolate / Perfume / AftershaveLarge Letter
(up to 750g)
230 x 335mmSize FC4Padded White or GoldA4 Pads / Magazines / A4 Documents / Clothing / Toiletries / Craft Supplies / BookLarge Letter
(up to 750g)
240 x 335mmSize GPadded White or GoldClothing / Craft Supplies / Toiletries / Book / Photo FrameLarge Letter
(up to 750g)
270 x 360mmSize HPadded White or GoldClothing / Craft Supplies / Toiletries / Photo Frame / MagazinesSmall Parcel
(up to 2kg)
300 x 445mmSize JPadded White or GoldCalendar / Craft Supplies / ClothingSmall Parcel
(up to 2kg)
350 x 470mmSize KC3Padded White or GoldA3 Documents / ClothingMedium Parcel
(up to 20kg)
324 x 229mmC4C4All Board or Board BackedA4 Documents / Greetings CardsLarge Letter
(up to 750g)
229 x 162mmC5C5All Board or Board BackedA5 Documents / Greetings CardsLetter
(up to 100g)
240 x 165mmC5+C5Board BackedA5 Documents / Greeting CardsLetter
(up to 100g)

Postal Box Sizes

SizeForms Plus Size NameSize also known asOptionsCreative UsesRoyal Mail size / weight limit
101 x 101mm x 20mmPostal Boxes Size 1SmallEco Postal BoxesGift Cards / Cosmetics / Jewellery / Place MatsLarge Letter (up to 750g)
163 x 112mm x 20mmPostal Boxes Size 2C6Eco Postal BoxesMobile Case / Cosmetics / Jewellery / Cards / Books / Photos / Stationery / Purse / Wallet / BatteriesLarge Letter (up to 750g)
218 x 108mm x 20mmPostal Boxes Size 3DLEco Postal BoxesCosmetics / Jewellery / Cards / Books / Photos Stationery / Purse / WalletLarge Letter (up to 750g)
225 x 160mm x 20mmPostal Boxes Size 4C5Eco Postal BoxesCosmetics / Jewellery / Cards / Books / Photos Stationery / Purse / Wallet / Gloves / HatLarge Letter (up to 750g)
202 x 143mm x 66mmPostal Boxes Size 5MiniEco Postal BoxesCandles / Photos / Cards / Books / Cosmetics / Mens Grooming / Toiletries / Stationery / Craft Supplies / Chocolates / PerfumeSmall Parcel (up to 2kg)
334 x 202 x 66mmPostal Boxes Size 7MidiEco Postal BoxesCosmetic sets / Books / Photo Frames / Hair Products / Stationery / T-ShirtsSmall Parcel (up to 2kg)
325 x 225mm x 20mmPostal Boxes Size 8C4Eco Postal BoxesT-Shirts / Magazines / CardsLarge Letter (up to 750g)
430 x 340mm x 73mmPostal Boxes Size 9MaxiEco Postal BoxesClothing / Books / Photo Frames / GamesSmall Parcel (up to 2kg)

Padded Envelopes Sizing Comparision Chart

Product CodeAroFOLFeatherpostJiffyBubble Lined BagsMail Lite
FPPE-A/FPPEGOLD-A1
(100 x 165mm)
A (C6)
110 x 165mm
JL000
(90 x 145mm)
BLB 000
(100 x 165mm)
A/000
(110 x 160mm)
FPPE-B/ FPPEGOLD-B2B
120 x 215mm
JL00B/00
FPPE-C/FPPEGOLD-C3
(150 x 215mm)
C (C5)
150 x 215mm
JL0
(140 x 195mm)
BLB 00
(150 x 215mm)
C/0
(150 x 210mm)
FPPE-D/FPPEGOLD-D4D
180 x 265mm
JL1D/1
FPPE-E/FPPEGOLD-E5E
220 x 265mm
JL2E/2
FPPE-F/FPPEGOLD-F6
(220 x 340mm)
F (C4)
230 x 335mm
JL3
(220 x 320mm)
BLB 3
(220 x 340mm)
F/3
(220 x 330mm)
FPPE-G/FPPEGOLD-G7G
240 x 335mm
JL4G/4
FPPE-H/FPPEGOLD-H8H
270 x 360mm
JL5H/5
FPPE-J/FPPEGOLD-J9J
300 x 445mm
JL6J/6
FPPE-K/FPPEGOLD-K10K
350 x 470mm
JL7K/7

Getting Started in E-Commerce – What Labels and Packaging Will I Need? 

Getting Started - New E-Commerce Store

When you start running your own e-commerce store, you are faced with lots of important decisions.  You have to decide what to stock, who to sell it to, which e-commerce platform to use, how to brand your store and how to market your goods.  Once you start selling, you also need to think about shipping and fulfilment, and that is where Forms Plus come in. We specialise in packaging and labels for e-commerce businesses.  Here is a quick beginners’ guide to help you choose from the wide range of packaging and labelling products we stock.    

Getting Started - New E-Commerce Store

How To Choose E-Commerce Packaging?

In many cases, the packaging you choose to ship your products in, will be your first chance to really make an impression on your customer.  Of course, your shipping materials need to protect your products on their journey, but they also tell your customer something more about your professionalism and what your brand might stand for. Your main considerations as you choose your packaging are likely to include protection, environmental impact, and cost. 

Mailing Bags

Every item you ship will need a level of protection.  Lighter, more robust products could be shipped in a simple Mailing Bag. Forms Plus stock both recycled polythene mailing bags or 100% sustainable and biodegradable Kraft paper mailing bags.

Mailing Envelopes

If your goods need more protection, you could choose a padded or Jiffy bag style mailing envelope. These are available in white or gold in a range of sizes.  We have fully environmentally friendly Enviroflute padded envelopes, as well as traditional bubble-lined mailers.   

Protective Packaging

For larger or more fragile items such as bottles, you may need additional protection before you ship.  Your options here include bubble wrap, postal boxes and tubes, or the innovative, 100% plastic free and eco-friendly, protective packaging from Flexi-Hex®.

When researching packaging options, you will need to consider your budget, the size of your items and how your company and customers feel about protecting the environment. You may also be influenced by the look and feel of the packaging and how much storage space it will take up. We have products available to meet all of those needs and are always happy to offer advice. Do get in touch if you need any help selecting the best packaging choice for your business.  

Packing Tape

Depending on how you plan to wrap your products, you may also need to use packing tape. We offer clear or brown packing tape, including eco-friendly options that are made from 100% recycled polypropylene. If you order 5 boxes of tape, we’ll include a free dispenser. Just enter P219 as a promo code at the checkout

Shipping Labels

Shipping labels are an essential part of your e-commerce process. You will want to address your packages quickly and ship them as smoothly as possible.  Your label needs to be read by humans and machines, surviving the weather on its journey, so it has to be clear and easy to read.  You have several choices when it comes to labelling – Laser Labels, Integrated Labels and Thermal Labels.

Laser Labels

If you are looking for simple Shipping Labels, and do not need too many per week, you might choose to print them out on your own laser printer and could start with our Laser Labels. These come as butt cut (cut up against each other with no wastage) or die cut (cut to shape so they peel out leaving a frame).  We also offer Bespoke Laser Labels that can be pre-printed with information such as company branding, product barcodes, returns addresses or anything else that would make it easier for you to run your business.

Bespoke Integrated Despatch Label

Integrated Labels

As your business grows and the pack and despatch process gets more complicated, you might choose to switch to Integrated Labels. Integrated Labels are sticky labels that form part of an A4 sheet.  They often include the invoice or picking list, as well as the customer’s address. The address part can be peeled off and put on the package. You could also choose to incorporate a Returns label on your integrated form, to make life easier for customers.  You can print out Integrated Labels on your normal printer. They save you time matching packing lists with address labels, making sure the correct items always go to the right customer. 

Thermal Labels

Larger e-commerce businesses who print out a significant amount of labels, may choose to invest in a thermal transfer label printer and use Thermal Labels. These do not need ink, toner or ribbon and the print is more durable and easier to scan.  Ongoing printing costs are therefore lower than for Laser or Integrated Labels, aside from the initial cost of the printer.

Pick, Pack and Despatch Area

Once you have your labels and packaging sorted, plan out your pick, pack and despatch area to match. To keep the process as slick as possible, give yourself as much space as you can to work in. Store your labels and packaging within easy reach and keep the most popular products close to your packing zone.  Make sure you can easily see your supplies of packaging and labels, so you can monitor stock levels, or let us take care of that with our Print Management service, where we store your stock for you and send it out when you need it.

If you need any help choosing the best options for your business, do get in touch.  Our dedicated and knowledgeable team will be more than happy to have a chat with you.  Best of luck with your new store!

Has COVID Cancelled Christmas? Not if you work in eCommerce…

Christmas eCommerce 2020

With gatherings of more than 6 people looking unlikely and many Christmas events cancelled, it would be easy to think Christmas might be cancelled this year.  To the contrary, a recent survey from Yieldify showed that 34% of us plan to increase our spending year on year, across Black Friday (27th November), Cyber Monday and Christmas itself.  Despite fears of unstable household income and lockdown restrictions, we are clearly still very keen to celebrate. Sending gifts to loved ones who we cannot meet up with in the usual way, will play a major role in that celebration.  

With COVID-19 serving as a catalyst for rapid growth across many eCommerce sectors, delivery companies have been building their teams to cope with a permanent increase in demand. In September, Royal Mail announced that parcel volumes are up 34%, with 117 million more parcels sent in 2020 than last year. DPD, Hermes, Amazon and DHL have all hired thousands of new delivery workers to cope with what DPD’s CEO described as a “tsunami of parcels”. 

Christmas Delivery 2020

On the flipside, high street retail has been hit hard, with 125,000 jobs lost in the UK as retailers closed stores and, in some cases, went into administration. Whilst the high street has started opening up again, with local lockdowns, long queues and unease around travelling to shop in closed-in spaces, it seems that Christmas is not cancelled. It has just moved online.

Research from eCommerce platform, Magento shows what online shoppers are looking for this season. Their main concerns are:

  • Ethical eCommerce and philanthropy
  • Safe shopping
  • Ways to re-create the “in store” experience
  • A joyful online shopping experience
  • Great mobile eCommerce experiences

Magento “Unwrapping the Gift of Christmas” guide for 2020

The Yieldify report also looked into how retailers are approaching their marketing.  Despite the consumer growth predictions, only 45% of marketers feel positive about the season ahead.  Decisions are being made much later than normal and around one third have decided not to participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  This could mean great opportunities for those that do step forward confidently.  If you are planning to go ahead with discounting, shipping offers, free gifts or other promotions, now is the time to get organised. 

Christmas eCommerce 2020

Our recommendations for preparing for peak season 2020 under these unique conditions are:

  • Use your existing email lists to keep in good contact with your customers, letting them know about upcoming offers and holiday promotions. Keep these going throughout the seasonal period.
  • Highlight any ethical or sustainability messages you can. For example if you are using our eco-friendly packaging, make that information clear on your site.
  • Get going now with any last-minute work you can, to make shopping on your website easier and more enjoyable. If you also sell in-store, is there anything from that experience you could add? Is your site easy to use on mobile?
  • Check you have optimised the way you capture leads, so you can continue to market to any new customers you gain over the holiday period. Email sign-ups with a discount for the first order are a popular and effective way to do this. Plan now what you will do with those addresses once you’re through the festive season.   
  • Contact your suppliers to make sure your inventory will be available and ready for shipping around the peak holiday dates. You may well sell more than you expect.  While you’re doing that, check you have enough forms and packaging too.

In conclusion, whilst the pandemic has posed huge challenges for all types of retail this year, the peak season ahead clearly offers an opportunity for eCommerce.  We wish you all luck embracing that opportunity and will be here to help along the way. 

Do get in touch if you need any help with your packaging and print needs or have any questions along the way. 

10 Things We Learnt When Building Our New Website

Website Development for Forms Plus

Forms Plus had a brand new e-commerce website last year – here are some things we learnt along the way

This time last year, we had just started the process of commissioning the new Forms Plus website (the lovely one you are looking at now).  It was a long and complicated process and we learnt a lot along the way.

Thankfully we don’t plan on building another site any time soon but we thought that seeing as so many of our customers run e-commerce businesses like ours, it might be helpful to share our top tips for website projects.

So, if you are thinking of updating your online store, building a brand new e-commerce website or even just having a bit of a refresh, do read through our tips below. We hope you will find them helpful.

1.Write a detailed brief

We sat down with our own team, marketing agency Sam Amps Marketing and web developers Elephant to ensure we wrote a really thorough brief.  This helped develop a very clear idea of everything we needed and communicated that clearly to our web builders.  As the site approached completion, we went back to the brief to check all our requirements had been met. 

The brief really helped us stay on track, but we also needed to be flexible as some areas changed along the way. For example, we made our decision to stock packaging materials alongside forms and labels not long after the site build got underway. 

Website Development for Forms Plus

2. Plan for plenty of time

Plan plenty of time to build your website, especially if you are trying to launch it to a deadline. If you want to rebuild your site before Christmas, start now.

Be realistic with your timelines. Some things, especially writing, proof reading and the final testing, took a lot longer than we thought.

3. Involve your team

Everyone at Forms Plus was involved in the web project to some extent. Listening to the views from people in different parts of the organisation really helped us ensure we had covered all areas and considered everyone’s views.   

Our team were able to provide really helpful feedback from the briefing stage up until final testing.  This helped everyone appreciate the amount of work involved for those closest to it, reinforcing team spirit and making the best use of our team’s wide knowledge and experience. 

Forms Plus’s new website was a great team building exercise for us too!

4. Make a plan for photography and video

A new website won’t really look like a new website unless it has new imagery.  Our products are not the most visually exciting, so we did our research and found a great photographer, Pip Hayler, who was able to help us make the most of what we have. 

Each shoot was carefully planned, with a clear list of what needed to be photographed and how, meaning we got exactly the right selection of images in the sizes and shapes we needed.  It did take a few goes to make mailing bags look interesting though!

Mailing Bags for Shipping Magazines or Books

Our site doesn’t make heavy use of video content, but if yours does the same obviously applies for that.  Know what you want and where you want to use it, then shoot accordingly.  For example, our new video was perfect for showing off our new offices and warehouse.

5. Keep clear communication lines open

Throughout the process make sure you have clear, open and honest communications with your agency.  Both sides need to be realistic about what is possible within time and budget limitations. We had regular catch ups, internally and with our agency using screenshare tools, and used Trello to share information.

Branding and Logos

6. Review your branding

A new website is a good time to review your overall brand.  We realigned some of our products and launched our packaging products, which meant reconsidering our strapline (“print that delivers”) in some contexts.  We also subtly changed our colourways to make the site less pink and green. 

Whilst you want to still look and feel like “you”, this is a good opportunity for an update. 

7. Use the opportunity to declutter

Setting up a new website is a bit like moving to a new house – a good excuse for a clear out.  As well as thinking about what you do want on your new site, think about what you can cut out.  A clean, tidy site without excess content will be easier for your customers to use, and simpler for you to manage.

8. Don’t forget about SEO

We were concerned from the start about making sure we didn’t lose any of our search ranking in rebuilding the site.  Throughout the project, we worked with our SEO consultant Sam Amps, as well as our web developers, Elephant, to make sure this was covered.  For example, any pages that we culled as part of our clear out were redirected to the right place on the new site to avoid broken links.

E Commerce Website Editing

9. Test, test and test again before going live

None of us really anticipated how much testing we would need to do, so we were lucky we had the time.  We all tested the site in-house, on different devices and browsers, and for the different tasks we all use it for.  We also asked some of our customers to help with testing. 

Even once it went live, we still found the odd glitch so plan for that too – you don’t really know it works until your real users are logging in and ordering!

10. Understand it will never be “done”

Finally, there will never be a perfect moment when the site is totally and utterly finished.  Websites and companies evolve so the launch day will not be the last day you change anything.  Your site will need adjustments for issues you don’t spot until it’s live, changes in your offer, new technologies or just better ways to do something that you hadn’t considered – so keep that relationship with your web agency going beyond launch date. 

Best of luck if you’ve read this far because you are working on your site and appreciate the advice.  Do get in touch if you’d like to talk to us further or have any other ideas for improving our site.   

E Commerce Round Up: Top Ten Trends from 2019

Personalisation in e commerce

What was new in e commerce in 2019 and what’s coming up for 2020?

As the TV schedules fill up with highlights of the year, we thought we’d take a look at some of the major changes in e commerce in 2019, and have a sneaky peek at what’s coming up for 2020.  Here, in no particular order, are our Top Ten E Commerce Trends for 2019.

Buyable Pins, Shoppable Posts – Shopping Got Social

Social Media is growing as a Sales Channel, especially with younger shoppers. 31% of people who use Social Media have clicked to purchase direct from a Social Post.  Have you got your catalogue set up on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest so people can buy from there direct?  If not, now is the time.

Taking on the Marketplaces

87% of online shoppers compare what they find on a brand’s site to Amazon. (Episerver Report) It is more important than ever to use your social media, ads and website, even your packaging and paperwork to build strong brand awareness and relationships with your customers, so they come direct to you to make their order.

Hey Siri, Order Me a …..

Voice-assisted search is growing, with more and more shoppers asking Alexa, Siri or Google to order something for them. You need to make sure your website is optimised for voice search and the terms we speak rather than type, as well as your normal search keyword optimisation.  It is estimated that by the end of 2020 more than 50% of searches will be voice searches according to Quora Creative. Are you ready?

Personalisation in e commerce

Hyper Personalisation

If a customer walks into a store, it is easy for the sales assistant to ask about their interests, lifestyle and budget to recommend suitable products.  E commerce companies do this by making the most of online data.  Using cookies and purchase history, your site and emails can be automated to make personalised recommendations based on data such as search queries, page visits, previous orders and interests, in language most likely to appeal to the customer.

Ultimately data could mean that we all see a slightly different version of every ecommerce site, dynamically set up so it appeals to us as an individual, based on our online history.  True personalisation.

Can I speak to your (human) manager?

Chatbots have joined the workforce alongside human teams in e commerce stores this year.  From handling simple enquiries to discussing complaints, artificial intelligence assistants are boosting customer service for many online retailers. 34% of customers now say they are happy talking to them. (E Commerce Platforms)

Beyond the Product Photo

Technology is providing far better tools for visualising products.  Retailers can now cut down any doubts consumers might have by showing off products using virtual reality, 3D imaging, augmented reality, and at least, engaging product videos alongside high quality photos.  Do you sell sofas? Can you show customers exactly how this sofa will look in their living room? IKEA can.

Getting Dynamic with Data

Aside from personalising the customer’s experience, data can now help retailers respond quickly and effectively to trends and market changes.  We can predict what customers are likely to want and when, enabling more dynamic marketing, that is ultimately more valuable to customers.  For example, advertising and email offers can be geared to the weather forecast to promote products most likely to sell on a snowy/rainy/sunny day.  Woolly jumper/umbrella/ice cream anyone?

Sign Me Up!

Subscription models have been all the rage in 2019.  From Dollar Shave Club, shaving supplies, to BarkBox, dog toys and treats, you can now subscribe to regular deliveries of almost anything. Toilet roll? Laundry detergent? Cheese? Coffee? Just a “hug in a box” once a month? Sign us up!  Could your products work on a subscription model? You’ll be surprised what can.

Eco Friendly E Commerce

Going greener…

Since the final episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 in November 2019, 88% of those who watched it have changed their lifestyle to use less plastic.  Customers are no longer happy to receive a mug, in a box big enough for a freezer, wrapped in layers of plastic.  Have a look at our packaging pages  for protective packaging to suit all sizes of products, produced with the highest environmental standards we could find.

Some retailers are taking this even further and ensuring their items are also delivered by sustainable transport.  Amazon has recently ordered a fleet of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles!

New Ways to Pay

With mobile consumers now making up more than 60% of e-commerce traffic, it is perhaps no surprise that e-wallets like Google Pay, Amazon Pay and Apple Pay are now used by around 16% of UK adults, and growing fast.  “Buy now, pay later” tools such as Klarna are also on the up and helping customers pay in instalments, or only pay once they have decided which items from their order they wish to keep.

And so to 2020?

Many of these changes have kicked in during 2019 and still have some way to go, so expect further developments in all these areas in 2020.  Where to next?  Predictions vary but drone deliveries, major growth in B2B e commerce and the rise of the second-hand e commerce market are all on the cards.  We will share our favourites as we spot them!

Thinking Outside the Box – The Challenges of E-Commerce Packaging

Packaging for E Commerce

Choosing packaging materials is about far more than simply getting your products from A to B intact.   You will be considering your budgets, shipping arrangements, and environmental impact. Alongside these practical considerations, you need to consider the impact on your customers.  The packaging your products arrive in can help support, or damage, your customers’ opinion of you, encourage loyalty and also advertise your brand to other potential customers, as they see your parcels in transit.

In this blog, we’ll look into the main points to consider when choosing packaging materials for your online store and the different options available.

Choose Packaging Customers Will Like

Research shows that e-commerce customers want their packaging to be simple and clean, to protect the product, have consistent branding and be environmentally friendly.  Would you be happy to drive around to your customer’s house and deliver that parcel in person?

People hate hard plastic packaging or anything that needs a tool to open it. For environmental reasons, consumers are very anti-plastic and pro-sustainability. Can you choose packaging products that they will like? Amazon uses what it calls “Certified Frustration Free Packaging”  and says its goal is to “invent sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste, and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged.”

Choose Size Appropriate Packaging

Boxes, bags or other packaging should be a good fit, and just enough to protect the product. No one enjoys carrying home an unnecessarily enormous package from the collection point.  Whilst you might wrap your child’s birthday present in a comically large box to disguise it, that is not a great idea when posting goods out to a customer.  You will also find that overly large packaging results in higher courier costs, and a higher carbon footprint to deliver the items.

Make Sure Your Packaging Protects

We have all experienced the feeling of receiving a battered parcel.  Even if the goods inside are intact, it does not paint a good picture of the supplier.  Make sure your package not only looks good but really is well protected in case it is thrown around in transit, gets wet or squashed. This will help keep your customers coming back, as well as getting this particular delivery there in one piece.  From hardback envelopes, to padded bags, cardboard tubes, bubble wrap and reinforced boxes – the perfect option for your product is out there.

Consider the Cost

We have to mention it.  We all know that customers spend extra if shipping is free.  Some will not shop with you at all if you charge for shipping, so packaging costs need to be built in to pricing early on.  How much can you afford? What is the best possible option within that budget?  Can you save money if you order in bulk? Do you have appropriate dry and safe storage space for that?

Choose Re-usable Packaging

Can your customer keep the product they brought from you in the box, tube or envelope it came in? Or peel off the label and use it again? Could the customer remove and reuse the bubble wrap their item comes in, whether to post an item of their own or just as a stress reliever? Any re-use options make the packaging better for the planet and more attractive to the customer. Think of the many uses the blue IKEA bags end up fulfilling!

Take Advantage of the Unboxing Opportunity

Opening your package can be exciting for your customer and is an important touch-point in your relationship with them. Read our blog on Unboxing to find out more about this phenomenon.

Keep it simple but don’t forget to use the chance to remind your customer who they bought from. We can help by supplying branded boxes, mailing bags or envelopes, as well as bespoke despatch paperwork, where you might want to include a personalised offer to further delight your customer.

Using a consistent type of packaging can help as well.  Take the Blue Tiffany Box as an example or Selfridges yellow carrier bags.

Choose Eco Friendly Packaging

Customers are increasingly environmentally aware, particularly when it comes to plastic packaging. It can be hard to judge how eco-friendly a packaging item really is.  To help you out, we score all our packaging products out of 5, depending on whether they are recycled, recyclable, reusable, biodegradable and/or made out of sustainable materials.  Our cardboard all comes from FSC or PEFC approved sustainable sources. Our mailing bags are made from recycled materials. Choosing the right size and weight of packaging will also help reduce the carbon emissions involved in its delivery.

So, it is not quite as simple as just finding a cardboard box.  Selecting the perfect packaging for your e-commerce products can not only make sure they arrive in one piece, but also ensure the customer is happy and likely to buy from you again.  Have a look at our packaging pages to see all the options we have available.

Do get in touch if you’d like us to help you choose yours.

Which is the best e-commerce platform for your online store?

E Commerce Platforms

How do you choose between the likes of Magento, Shopify, Woo Commerce, Big Commerce and Open Cart?

Whether you are a start-up business or have been trading for years and need to change, selecting the best e-commerce platform for your business is a big decision.

With even the bargain budget providers such as Weebly and Wix now offering e-commerce solutions, through to middle-of-the-road choices such as Shopify and WooCommerce, up to expensive and complex software such as Magento and BigCommerce, it’s hard to know where to start.

The answer to our question is, of course, that there is no one answer. The best solution is going to be the platform that most suits the unique needs of your business. We’ve looked at what you should consider when choosing an e-commerce platform, the features to investigate and how some of the leading providers match up.

Value

Perhaps the most important thing is to understand all the costs involved. You’ll need to look at the cost of developing the site, the ongoing costs of license fees and hosting, any commission for the payment methods you want to enable and subscriptions for Apps and Plugins to make the site do everything you’d like. Whilst WordPress/WooCommerce and Shopify offer cheap ways to get started, how long will that package meet your needs? What will it cost to scale up? Would it be worth spending more on developing in Magento and potentially have less ongoing costs?

Integrations

What does your e-commerce software need to integrate with? Must it play nicely with your inventory management system, your POS, your CRM, your email marketing tools, your accounting software? Do you also sell on other marketplaces such as Amazon or Ebay? Can it integrate with those? BigCommerce, Magento and Shopify all have many integrations. Just make sure you understand any additional costs involved.

Customer Experience

How easy is the platform for customers to use? Most e-commerce software is now built on extensive User Experience (UX) research, so there may be little to differentiate between the top providers. Look at sites built on the platforms you are considering and see if they suit your customers’ usage trends? How well do they work on mobile?
Once you have a short list, dig deeper and look at various sites built on the platform. Analyse its features more closely. If there are elements you know you want, for example reviews, a wishlist, abandoned cart emails and easy account management tools, check those are available and whether they require additional spend.

Which sites do you personally enjoy shopping on? How are they built?

Designs and Themes

The UX of an e-commerce site may be less to do with its platform, than its design. If you have a clear sense of your brand identity, does the platform have the flexibility to match that? If you are commissioning a bespoke build in Magento or OpenCart, this should not be an issue. If you are using an existing theme on Shopify or WordPress/WooCommerce, is there a theme that will be in keeping with your brand? Even bespoke templates are now highly customisable, so this is not likely to be a deal breaker but is worth considering.

Ease of Use

You’ve checked how easy the platform is for your customers. How easy is it for you? What is the process for adding or editing products? How straightforward is it to put together a landing page for a new collection such as a Holiday Essentials page for your clothing site? How will you see the orders you’re getting, look at analytics and pull data from the site? Most providers will have training videos you can look at. BigCommerce and Shopify both come with intuitive store management controls and clear, easy reporting.

SEO

You will want your store to rank highly with search engines. SEO has sometimes been a problem for e-commerce stores. Does your platform have the option for a blog? Can you independently edit page Titles and Meta Descriptions? Can you have content other than product pages? Can you choose your URL? Will you have Reviews? All will help with your SEO. Shopify, 3DCart, WooCommerce and Magento all rank highly for SEO but might require specialist help to set up.

Support

You’re going to need a hand to get started. Before you buy, it’s worth checking out the level of support available. What is the onboarding process? How quickly are you likely to be able to get in touch with someone for help? Do you have to pay for that? Shopify for example, have well written training content, a 24/7 support team and excellent forums for advice.

Scalability

How ambitious are you for your e-commerce store? Are you going to offer many more products in future? Would you like to sell overseas? Is there additional functionality you can’t afford now but would like to add? Get out your crystal ball and have a look at 5 years’ time. Will this platform still meet your requirements?

There is undoubtedly a lot to consider, and a lot of e-commerce platforms to choose between. Knowing what matters to you, your business and your customers in each of the areas above should help you make your shortlist. Best of luck with your choices and do let us know how you get on. 

If you’d like to talk to us about choosing a platform and how our integrated labels option fit with the different software solutions, do get in touch.