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Demand for mailers is projected to increase 7.2% annually to $3.2 billion in 2026, with advances supported by continued robust levels of e-commerce sales and concomitant gains in the total number of packages shipped. In addition, mailers will take share from corrugated boxes in the packaging of shipped parcels due to a number of advantages including:
- lighter weight, which reduces shipping costs
- lower material use, which aids in source reduction efforts
- lower overall packaging costs, as mailers do not require void fill
New Curbside Recyclable Paper Mailers to Experience Strongest Gains
Curbside recyclable paper mailers will grow at the fastest rate of any mailer type, boosted by recent new product development by various companies to improve the sustainability as well as protective performance of paper mailers. These new mailers feature improved padding materials, making them fully curbside recyclable – unlike mixed material paper bubble mailers – while weighing less than traditional pulp padded mailers and offering comparable or improved protective capabilities. Usage by major e-commerce players such as Amazon will be a major factor in their strong growth.
Health & Personal Care Products to See Largest Gains in Mailer Demand
Though most every application will see healthy growth in mailer demand, health and personal care products are especially ideal for both e-commerce and mailer packaging, as online shopping offers increased selection and price comparison compared to in-store shopping, and these items tend to be small enough to fit snugly in mailers. In addition to large gains stemming from strong growth in e-commerce sales, these products will benefit from the continued popularity of mail order prescriptions.
Sustainability Remains a Primary Concern & Key Driving Force
Due to its single-use nature and high visibility to consumers, packaging remains at the center of many companies’ efforts regarding sustainability. In an effort to improve sustainability, companies are focusing on more easily recyclable monomaterial mailers, such as bubble mailers composed entirely of polyethylene, and padded paper mailers featuring recyclable cushioning. The new curbside recyclable paper mailers in particular will experience strong growth due to their recyclability but also due to improved strength and performance, which allows them to be used for larger packages and with products requiring greater protection.
E-Commerce Sales Outlook
The US is the second largest e-commerce market in the world, with online sales in 2021 totaling $736 billion. E-commerce has been quick to develop in the US due to the country’s:
- cultural preference for convenience
- highly developed network of stores and malls
- consumers with a tendency to spend significant amounts of time online
E-commerce sales in the US are forecast to expand 9.8% annually to $1.2 trillion in 2026. The massive size of this market means that gains will be substantial, and although online sales have advanced rapidly, they still account for only a small share of overall retail activity.
Opportunities for increasing US e-commerce sales include expanding marketing and shopping through social media. Although these platforms are already established in some countries (such as China, where direct payments are offered via social media apps such as WeChat), they have a lower penetration in the US.
The most common products shipped via e-commerce include health and beauty products (including pharmaceuticals), clothing and accessories, and electronics. Most products will register strong growth in e-commerce sales.
Changes to Shopping Habits Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Consumers changed a number of their shopping habits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while many of these habits involved increased use of shipping boxes, this could present opportunities for mailers. While some consumers report returning to pre-COVID-19 era habits, many have still retained the changes.
41% of respondents noted ordering items other than groceries online compared to pre-pandemic levels. While not all online orders are shipped in mailers, it is more common for smaller orders and lighter weight or soft products. Boxes are still a relatively common form of packaging for online orders such as groceries, subscription packages, and items that are larger, heavier, or more fragile.
Browsing in stores is one activity that a number of consumers reported doing less because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, 40% of respondents noted that they were doing it less compared to before the pandemic. This is a habit change that benefits increased online shopping, and thus greater use of shipping mailers.
Frequency of Online Shopping
While online shopping is something almost all people do at some point in a year, the frequency of online shopping varies by demographic categories. Overall, the most frequent online shoppers are younger, urban, and higher income.
Consumers aged 18-54 are the most frequent online shoppers. More than half of those under 55 shop online at least once per week, and more than 80% in this group shop at least 2-3 times per month. In contrast, 29% of those 55-74 and 35% of those over 75 reported shopping online no more than once per month.