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Amazon Downsizes to Make Shipping More Sustainable

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‘Tis the season for millions of Amazon orders—and along with them almost as many boxes.

In response to consumers’ environmental concerns and increasing shipping costs, Amazon is improving its packaging, including box sizes, to reduce the carbon footprint of its fulfillment operations.

The retailer announced that is attempting to send each order in an accurately sized package, instead of shipping multiple boxes, The Wall Street Journal reported. The e-tailer is currently working with manufacturers, using algorithms and adding bubble envelopes to create smaller packages for online sales.

Amazon began improving box sizes this year with advanced machines in its fulfillment centers. To meet consumers’ demands for less packaging, the machines develop padded mailers that fit smaller items—including those that have the dimensions for Amazon’s smallest delivery box. Kim Houchens, director of customer packaging experience at Amazon, said nearly half of Amazon’s products fit into these smaller packages—which are a result of the company’s robust algorithm technology efforts.

Houchens’ team is currently working to create even better algorithms to determine the proper size box for products and the number of products allocated to each shipment. With the help of machine learning, the algorithms can test new package combinations—for example, shipping delicate products in a smaller box with less padding to see if they work. Unlike other technology, this technology learns from insights like product reviews, which it uses to improve future shipments. Considering consumers place multiple items in their cart, order products from different warehouses and expect their packages to arrive in a short time, the algorithms could help Amazon make a seamless purchasing journey for busy consumers.

[Read more about Amazon’s business efforts: Amazon Pushes Sellers’ Limits With Latest Pricing Policy]

Product manufacturers are also a critical part of Amazon’s reduced packaging efforts. The e-commerce company said it is currently collaborating with brands to develop smaller packages for digital orders. Unlike the packaging that’s designed to grab consumers’ eyes on shelves, which contain elaborate details and larger features to boost spending, online orders don’t need the same bells and whistles. Companies, including Hasbro and Philips, have created alternative boxes for Amazon that are up to 80 percent smaller in volume than boxes sold in stores and reduce the use of multiple boxes for orders. When consumers go to Amazon checkout to buy selected Hasbro and Philips’s products, they may opt for this “frustration free” packaging or “standard” packaging.

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