Amazon appears to be testing a new packaging-free delivery service with some of its customers, adding an additional layer of convenience for consumers and potentially helping it make good on broader targets for more sustainable fulfillment operations.
The company recently alerted Amazon Flex drivers of packaging-free delivery to participants of its Key-In-Garage program, which permits drivers to leave packages inside a customer’s garage. Only customers that are invited and have agreed to participate are part of the test.
“To provide this service to customers, Amazon packaging will be removed from the deliveries and returned to the station at the end of a block [delivery shift],” a company alert to drivers said. “A trial for this service will begin this week for a limited number of Amazon Key deliveries from Amazon.com stations in your areas.”
Drivers in markets where this is being tested were told they’ll receive gloves and a box cutter to unbox items before leaving them in a customer’s garage. Drivers would then be required to return the packaging to their delivery station.
“You will also be offered a postcard with information about the delivery for any customers or community members who may be curious,” the notice to drivers said.
About 8 percent of Amazon’s shipments went out without a secondary form of packaging last year, according to the company’s website. The remainder of its shipment packaging is comprised of corrugated boxes, accounting for 43 percent of shipments in 2021, and flexible materials, about 49 percent of 2021 shipments. Flexible packaging includes padded mailers and unpadded bags.
“We are always innovating on behalf of our customers to create convenient delivery options that improve their experience,” an Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal on Friday.
The spokesperson declined to provide additional details about the specific markets where the program is being tested.
Packaging-free shipping is not new at Amazon.
It rolled out a similar program in India in 2019, starting with nine cities in which customers were shipped their items without additional packaging. In other words, customer’s items were shipped to an address in their original, manufacturer’s packaging as opposed to being placed in a box or mailer before being delivered.
An algorithm is used to determine packaging-free shipments by factoring in how far an item has to travel and product category. The exceptions to the packaging-free program in India are personal care products, liquids or items dubbed fragile.
That service was then expanded to more than 100 cities in India in 2020, with more than 40 percent of orders going packaging-free as a result of the program being broadened.
“We have been working with several brands to provide e-commerce friendly packaging to further reduce use of secondary packaging. The expansion of [packaging-free shipping] to 100 cities within a year is a testament to our commitment towards sustainability,” Amazon India director of customer fulfillment and supply chain Prakash Kumar Dutta said in a statement at the time of the India program expansion.
The packaging-free program in India and this new test for Amazon Key-In-Garage customers, if expanded, could help in pushing Amazon closer to a goal of becoming net-zero carbon by 2040, a target it set for itself in 2019 as a co-founder of The Climate Pledge.
Amazon, when it comes to packaging, has set a more specific goal for itself of making half of its shipments net-zero carbon by 2030 via measures such as zero-emission vehicles and packaging reduction.
Retailers are increasingly focused on reducing waste in their e-commerce supply chains as they prioritize on sustainability and transparently communicate these efforts to customers. Electric delivery vehicle fleets and packaging have been key focus areas in the last mile when it comes to sustainability efforts.
American Eagle Outfitters Inc.’s logistics arm Quiet Platforms has been rapidly building out its customer base as it looks to achieve scale, the key to unlocking greater efficiency and cost optimization across a network.
Shekar Natarajan, AEO’s executive vice president and chief supply chain officer who also heads up Quiet, has been frank in pointing to the waste within the logistics industry and the idea that further expansion of the infrastructure is not as important as brands banding together for the sake of scale if they want to be more efficient.
To that end, Quiet is in the midst of developing a new shipping container system called Tag Along that will begin being tested in the market by the end of the year. The modular containers would be used to ship multiple brands’ products in a single package to one customer, eliminating multiple boxes and deliveries to an address.
Natarajan told Sourcing Journal in an interview last week the expected growth of e-commerce and what would be needed to support such demand would include 8,000 delivery hubs, 823 fulfillment centers, 5,000 distribution centers, 750,000 delivery vans and 16 million workers. In all, it would come at a cost of $1.6 trillion.
“The way we are all doing logistics today is simply not sustainable,” he said, “not at the way at which it is moving.”