The struggles of the UK high street and the acceleration of retail sales from ‘bricks to clicks’ have never been more apparent than during the Covid-19 pandemic. With consumer use of e-commerce said to have accelerated by up to five years in the first UK lockdown, some retailers were initially left floundering as panic buying ensued and supply chains were challenged to keep shelves stocked, as well as extend their home delivery capabilities.

With e-commerce sales reaching 21.8% of total retail sales in the UK in 20191, climbing to over 38% in the first lockdown, and estimated to have settled in the region of 28-30%  subsequently, retailers are now accepting that larger online capability is not just necessary but expected. Locked down consumers, who were previously online-shopping averse, have been forced to ‘click n collect’ or organise home deliveries; a new convenience they now appreciate and will likely maintain post pandemic. Only time will tell whether e-commerce adoption rates will slow, but all estimates currently point to a healthy £123 Billion market by 2023.

Jon Walkington, Retail and System Integrator Sales Director, Schoeller Allibert UK

Where does this leave retailers and their warehousing and logistics operators? UK supply chains certainly have their own challenges in managing a lack of warehousing availability, which is driving supply chain costs upward. The ramifications of BREXIT are also now being felt and interestingly, a lack of capacity in the UK returnable transit packaging (RTP) manufacturing sector is on the horizon too. 

While returnable transit packaging (RTP) might not be the first concern of retailers and their supply chain partners in the current environment, the efficiencies and cost saving advantages that well-designed RTP systems can bring are significant. For both automated warehousing and retail distribution systems, RTP can make the difference between surviving and thriving in today’s challenged retail environment.

So, what is the role of returnable transit packaging in supporting this ‘new normal’ in retailing? Schoeller Allibert is the UK and European market leader in the production of recyclable, reusable and returnable plastic packaging solutions designed to deliver efficiencies into what is today a highly complex omnichannel supply situation. With production located in Winsford in Cheshire, the company is working closely with a wide-range of UK retailers, system integrators and warehousing and logistics operators to support their drive for operational excellence.

While retail distribution has mostly been about the journey to the retail shelf, it’s now more about building-out the supply chain to deliver into the hands of the consumer – be that at home, at work or whilst on the move at a convenient location of their choice. Well-designed recyclable plastic containers minimise damage to goods and facilitate ease of handling for these scenarios. Importantly, being reusable and recyclable, they help eliminate product waste across all touch points.

Retail distribution has complex needs varying according to the type of product being handled. From grocery to garments, RTP can be designed and customised for each case. It offers sustainability advantages welcomed by today’s enlightened e-commerce consumer, avoiding the irritating oversized boxes and bags that have to be disposed in household waste collection systems.

From foldable and nestable containers to pallets and dollies, as well as bespoke solutions for automated warehousing system integrators, Schoeller Allibert UK produces a wide range of standard and custom designed returnable packaging solutions that help to drive costs down. By focusing on manual handling, automation friendliness and traceability features that drive safety and ease of use into operations, RTP truly has the potential to change the game in retail distribution. 

By minimising secondary packaging, RTP removes one way packaging waste lowering disposal and unit costs for the retailer, while boosting in-transit protection. Achieving reduced labour costs, alongside return journey savings with nestable and foldable designs, returnable transit packaging offers a robust, reliable and sustainable approach to product protection. With hygiene and cleaning simplified due to the hydrophobic nature of the recyclable plastics used, complemented by enhanced stacking ability and strength, the benefits become obvious where sensitive goods in particular are handled. Combined with the opportunity for branding potential, RTP becomes the only choice for solving today’s increasingly complex retail supply chain cost and efficiency challenges.

To find out more about the benefits of returnable transit packaging and to discover the Schoeller Allibert 360 approach to RTP product and service innovation, please visit


1 E-commerce share of UK retail sales 2019-2024, Statista