Clémence Avignon tells us the story of RePack which provides reusable packaging to e-commerce retailers. Learn about how consumers are encouraged to return the packages as well as how many uses each package gets!
JJ (the host of the Understory Podcast): Welcome to The Understory Podcast. We're here to share perspectives on sustainable innovation, and we are so excited to have Clémence Avignon to be with us today. Clémence is part of the company called RePack, and we'll talk more about RePack today. Clémence, welcome to our podcast. Tell us about RePack and what you're working on.
Clémence Avignon: Hi! RePack is basically the first reusable packaging service for e-commerce. It started here in Helsinki, Finland when our founders were working in a postal warehouse and seeing every day how much packaging that was to be used just once and then thrown away.
Here in Finland, we still have the bottle region system, so whenever you're using a can or bottle you can return it to the store and get some money back. With this system it's more than 90% of containers that are returned, so they were wondering: Why not adapt this to e-commerce? So that's what we did.
Brands work with us and they can offer their customers the option to receive their order in reusable packaging. All the person has to do is take your order. Let's say you order T-shirts. You keep the T-shirts and you fold the RePack and put it in a postbox anywhere in the world and it will come back to us. Then, we will clean them and make sure they're ready to go again.
JJ: Wow. It's a really simple idea and you describe how it works so elegantly. Let's actually talk about the RePack product. It looks like any other packaging that people are receiving today from their e-commerce shipping.
Clémence: Yeah, we tried to make it as familiar as possible, so basically it's a soft packaging. It's quite thick so it protects anything quite easily, but it's not as rigid as cardboard. It also helps webstores reduce the air that they're shipping because that is also a massive problem -- like the enormous boxes for really small items.
We use Velcro to seale the packaging to the product while still protecting it from water or from shocks. We have three sizes so that you can have some really small items like a t-shirt or really big items like two boxes of shoes plus a winter jacket.
JJ: Do the brands, who are your customers, have to educate the consumers when they open up the RePack and have to tell them: Hey, don't forget to send these back. Or, is it pretty clear because you have instructions on the back. How do you change that behavior on the consumer side?
Clémence: This is a very crucial part. First of all, we do have instructions right on the bag so it explains: Hello, I'm RePack, your reusable packaging. But it's such a way of considering packaging because for all of us, packaging is something that you throw away, but it really is super important for brands to communicate about it.
There are two different paths to do this. If the brand ships everything in a RePack, then it is very, very important to at least have a paper explaining to really communicate to consumers so that they get used to it. They could have a single time use packaging. Or, you can also offer RePack as an option at checkout so you know that if someone chooses it willingly, they will educate themselves. What is that? Why should I choose it? What is the impact and why is it so important that I return it?
That's how we work and this is also why we work really closely with the brands. We don't just sell RePacks to anyone, we really want to know how they will be presented by the webstores.
JJ: That makes a lot of sense. Can you tell us the type of brands that gravitate towards RePack and they get really excited about this process -- engineering to ship to more sustainable packaging. What are the type of brands that you are also looking for and vice versa?
Clémence: We started with brands that are really environmentally conscious. For example, our very first brand was one that does upcycled products, so that fit quite well with their product range. But, we also work with more high-end fashion brands like Ganni. More and more brands are realizing that it's very important for them to reduce waste and carbon footprints. It's not just for really environmentally conscious brands anymore. Let's say we just started a pilot with a lender who is quite big here in Europe.
It's a really mainstream brand and it doesn't matter. You would be really surprised by how many brands contact us every day. But, it's also great to see that the fashion world is really moving and going in the right direction for that. Overall, no really specific brand.
JJ: Interesting. From a business model perspective, how do you consider your pricing versus the brand's business model? Is it more expensive for them to use RePack? Or, is it about the same and there is the added benefit of sustainable packaging and recycling?
Clémence: You can't really compare a single use packaging cost with the RePack cost because there is also obviously the price of the prepaid return to us that is included. But, as I was telling you earlier, we have two paths of how a webstore offers RePack. Either the orders are not in RePack, and then it's at no cost for the customer. Or, they offer it as an option and then essentially, it costs nothing for the web store so people can just decide: I would like to have a more sustainable delivery so they pick RePack.
What makes it interesting for the customer is that we promise them that whenever they return their RePack to the postbox, we will give them a reward that we've already set up with the brands. It can be a discount on the next purchase or it can be a charity donation. Also, it's a pretty good incentive for people to actually remember to return it. The brand can have RePack at no cost and the customer is rewarded, so it's pretty much a win-win for everyone.
JJ: That's really clever and it builds brand affinity and loyalty as well. How about measuring impact? How do you measure impact now with brands in Finland and around the world?
Clémence: Just on our scale, we know how much CO2 or weight savings you can have with these RePacks so it really depends on how many times we use it. We track exactly how many times a RePack has been used. You see that the more RePackages, the better the impact.
That's how we track it. Basically, we count how much CO2and how much waste has been saved and we can share this information with our brands if they want to communicate about it.
JJ: Do you have a sense, or if you can share with the audience here, on average, how many times would a RePack be reused?
Clémence: We know that our RePack can be used about 40 times from our last place test on average. We are trying to build more awareness on it and the more people use it, the more it's going to be used and the better the impact.
JJ: Tell us where brands can partner with RePack. What's the process? Where can they find you?
Clémence: It's quite simple, you just contact us on the website and someone will pick that up and just really make sure that you understand the concept. We really want to know what is your mission behind it? Do you want to reduce waste? What’s your long term mission? Then, we will send you some RePacks and start building communication with you. It’s quite simple.
JJ: I know you're also Instagram. What's your handle?
JJ: Great. Clémence, thank you so much for sharing your story and what the RePack team is doing both in Finland and abroad. We're really excited that you're building this and we hope to see more RePack being used and being shipped all over the world.
Clémence: Thank you so much and having us!