To automate or not to automate – that is the SME question

Last year e-commerce in the UK was worth a staggering £133 billion, representing a 16% growth in the market. Noticeably, there has been a significant rise in the number of ‘at home businesses’, such as eBay sellers and people offering bespoke hand-made goods.

This growing community of web entrepreneurs is starting to rival larger online retailers. For instance, the craft site Etsy has seen its number of sellers double in the last year, with some individuals fulfilling as many as 72,000 orders a year - that’s 1,384 a week!

Scaling an online business is extremely difficult, particularly when it comes to packaging. For SMEs, the decision about when to introduce some degree of automation can be a difficult one, particularly because of the high fluctuations in demand experienced by online retailers.

To help, we’ve put together some key considerations for SMEs looking to improve their packaging operations:


1 - Automated bag packing isn’t only for large businesses

View of our Autobag AB 180 opening a mail bag

Whether you’re just stepping up from hand bagging or looking for a machine that will fill, seal and label bags for you, there are automated packaging systems to suit all order volumes and space availability.

The smallest models are portable tabletop bag sealing machines, like our Autobag PS 125, which are suitable for even the smallest premises, such as home offices or garages. For online retailers with higher volumes, the next step up would be a larger, automatic filling and bagging machine, like the Autobag 500, or the state of the art Autobag 850S uniquely designed for mail order fulfilment.


2 - Consider an integrated printer

Automated Packaging Systems Mail Packing Bags

The ability to track parcels is increasingly important to consumers and as such, coding and labelling of packages is becoming critical for even the smallest online retailer. If you’re thinking of investing in an automated bagging system, then definitely consider one with an integrated printer. Not only is it a huge time saver, but it’s also better for the environment. An integrated printer eliminates the need for separate labelling because the unit contains a printer that can efficiently print high resolution text, graphics and barcodes directly onto bags, saving time, reducing environmental impact and making parcels much easier to trace.


3 – Build flexibility into your system

Silhouette of a person doing a back bend 

When investing in bagging machines, don’t just base it on your current order volumes. Online retailers have to cope with massive fluctuations in demand and it is important to build flexibility into your packaging operation in order to manage this and prepare for future business growth. Choose a packaging system that is modular, or can be up-scaled, to help you adapt to growing demand.


4 - Think about void fill to improve product protection

Person using AirPouch High Loft FastWrap to protect a large picture frameReducing the empty space inside packages prevents shipping damage, reduces product losses and returns and increases your chances of repeat business. As a quicker and cleaner alternative to loose-fill polychips and paper, consider using an inflate-on-demand pillow system to fill empty space and limit movement of goods during shipping.

Introducing the right level of automated packaging can bring significant time and cost saving efficiencies to SMEs, enabling them to adapt to growing demand or take a step up to compete with larger online retailers. However, the decision about when and how much to automate processes can be challenging. Seeking the advice of an expert, like Automated Packaging Systems, can help make this decision process easier and ensure that the most cost effective and efficient system is chosen to suit the business’s current and future needs.


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