Interview with Axiom Consulting

Ahead of this July's E-PACK Asia, we spoke with Chandra Arcot, CTO at Axiom Consulting, to get a sneak peek of what we can expect from his presentation on 'AI-driven package design for e-commerce'. Here's what he had to say...

Q1. Chandra, in your session, you will discuss 'AI-Driven Package Design for E-Commerce'. Can you give us a sneak peek of what you'll be presenting?

With decades of experience and in-house expertise, most brands have perfected the design of traditional palletized shipments. However, the explosive growth of E-commerce esp. D2C shipments in the last 5 years and the future projections makes non palletized shipments as the primary mode.  As this channel evolves, it introduces several new challenges, such as an increased number of handling touchpoints, more detailed transit scenarios, particularly in the last mile, all of which tests the limits of packaging science and engineering.
During this same period, the computing technology world has witnessed unprecedented growth in new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0, etc., which are used to solve big problems in every industry.
In my talk, I intend to share our experiences in applying AI technologies such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and Generative Design to E-Commerce/D2C packaging design challenges. 

Q2. What are the key changes you have seen in e-commerce packaging and supply chain over the last 5 years to now?

E-commerce distribution channels have seen phenomenal growth in recent years. In India, we have witnessed exponential growth not just in horizontal e-commerce platforms but also in niche vertical platforms as well.
The supply chain side of e-commerce has seen several technology startups become unicorns with a focus on high velocity delivery needs of D2C players.
Brands and converters are both working on several e-commerce focused packaging innovations to improve strength, volumetric efficiency, unboxing experience, and sustainability.

Q3. From your perspective, what are the key factors forcing that change?

In India and I am sure it is true worldwide; consumer income and spending have risen both in major cities and in smaller towns. The e-commerce platforms have setup robust distribution mechanisms to reach the most remote corners of the country to meet this growing consumer demand.
With growing e-commerce business, the brands are focusing on ‘unboxing experience’ to create consumer wow which has puts a huge demand on the packaging design.
Growing numbers of conscious consumers look for brands that are committed to sustainable products and packaging. Big brands have also committed to meet aggressive net zero targets, which puts a lot of strain on package design and development teams.

Q4. In your opinion, what e-commerce challenges does the packaging industry as a whole still need to overcome as a priority? What are some of the biggest opportunities?

A lot of research hours have been dedicated by brands, converters, and consultants to get the package to fully meet the challenges posed by emerging e-commerce trends. This area is rapidly growing and looking at the problem from a new perspective requires unlearning conventional design paradigms.
Some of the areas I could think of as opportunities would be
  • E-Commerce first package designs – Design from the ground up for e-commerce channels rather than modifying the existing designs.
  • Materials and Structural design – Developing new materials and designs that can meet the needs of e-commerce shipments, provide a great unboxing experience, and meet sustainability goals.
  • Shipments and route optimization – Logistics strategies, including algorithms to minimize reverse logistics costs, to minimize total shipment costs.
  • Minimize returns and recalls – Using packaging designs that minimize shipment-related damages and utilizing digital shopping experiences to maximize customer satisfaction by getting closer to 'What you see is what you get'.

Q5. How do you think the packaging industry will adapt/innovate further over the next 5 years?

Within the next five years, we will see an evolution of best practices for optimizing the packaging for strength and sustainability, with converters playing a major role in standardizing the packaging for D2C shipments. Standardization and simplification are keys to reducing costs and enabling vertical scaling.
In addition, there will be a lot of R&D investments in new sustainable materials and innovations to help circular designs for e-commerce shipments.
In the case of D2C brands and 'House of Brands,' it is difficult to devote the necessary resources to packaging when so much time is spent developing the product and consumer experiences. To address this there will be a need for software automation and AI tools to democratize art, science, and engineering of packaging, and I see this as a key innovation opportunity.

Q6. What session topics are you most looking forward to hearing about at E-commerce Packaging Asia Summit?

I am eagerly looking forward to all the topics in this E-Pack 2022. Among my top interests are
  • Session 3: Hearing from E-tailers and Brands (Brand Owners' E-Commerce Packaging Initiatives)
  • Session 6: Supply Chain Collaborations