Packaging is a very important part of the shipping and fulfillment process. It protects your products from bumps and bruises and is the first thing your customer see when it shows up at their door. It’s your brand’s first impression in-person and it’s a big deal.
In this chapter, you’ll learn all about how to package your products, the different types of packaging available, and a plethora of resources to get you started.
Utility Packaging Vs. Branded Packaging
Now that you understand your options for charging your customers, it’s time to look at your packaging options. It’s important to note that your packaging options, depending on cost can also affect the strategy you use to charge your customers as packaging can be a significant contributing factor in your overall shipping costs.
There are two extremes of of packaging options with a whole lot of grey area inbetween the two. Let’s take a look at those two extremes:
Utility-Focused Packaging - Nothing fancy. A plain envelope or brown cardboard box and any necessary filler to protect your product.
Branded, Experience Focused Packaging - The sky’s the limit on how fancy and memorable you want your customer’s experience to be. Though the use of packaging, you can create a unique experience that also acts as a marketing channel. We will discuss this more below.
Image Source: Packaging Of The World
As mentioned previously, the two options listed above are extremes. For most businesses, your packaging will likely fall somewhere in between utility and some custom branded experience.
Standard Packaging Options
Before you can ship your products, you’ll need to package them for safe transport. There are a few common options for utility focused packaging including boxes or envelopes (padded or unpadded).
Unless you’re shipping a very small or ultra durable product, most businesses and products will require some type and size of box to protect the order for safe transport, as well as some form of stuffing or product cushioning.
Image Source: Uline
Uline is a popular choice to purchase packaging materials including over 1,300 sizes of boxes, bubble mailers, and package cushioning, however we have provided many more resources for boxes and cushioning later in the resource section of this chapter. Some providers like The Packaging Group have also developed valuable resources that get into the details of each solution, helping entrepreneurs understand the best choice for their business.
The Importance of Package Size
Because most shipping couriers and shipping options are charged based on size and weight, you want to do your best to keep your packaging as small as possible. This will help you save not only on shipping costs incurred by you and your customer but to also keep packaging costs from eating away at your profit margin.
Depending on your business and your product line, you may want to consider carrying a few strategically selected sizes of packaging materials, like small, medium and large size boxes.
What this boils down to is that you always want to use the smallest packaging available, while still providing your products with enough protection to get them to your customer safely.
A Branded Packaging and Unboxing Experience
For ecommerce businesses, the shipped package represents the most direct touch point and connection with the customer. It also happens to be one of the most under-utilized marketing opportunities for merchants.
Packaging in ecommerce came out of necessity for protecting the most important thing, the product that the customer ordered. However, as ecommerce evolves and as consumer habits shift, delivering a complete brand experience extends beyond the product itself and transcends into the whole experience.
What Exactly Is a Branded Packaging Experience?
Simply put, a branded packaging experience is a thoughtful selection of packaging and shipping materials as well as the deliberate presentation of your products. Its purpose is to provide additional value for your customer as well as your business through the ability to create a memorable and sharable experience.
Unlike physical retail, ecommerce merchants have less touchpoints to impress and wow customers with so it’s important to utilize each one to create a branded experience that sets you apart from competitors and creates a memorable experience.
TrunkClub is one such company that has taken the customer unboxing experience seriously. To start, instead of choosing a standard box sealed with clear packaging tape, they opted for a custom printed box with a handle that resembles a trunk, closely matching and accentuating their brand.
From the moment a trunk from TrunkClub arrives at your doorstep, you know you're in for a great experience and one you can't wait to open.
Image Source: Trunk Club
Inside the trunk, the contents are thoughtfully laid out to create a presentation and experience. To further build a custom branded experience for their customers, all orders include a handwritten card from a personal stylist explaining the selection of products. It truly makes you feel part of something special and exclusive.
Image Source: Trunk Club
The Importance of a Branded Packaging Experience
A big part of building a long-term, sustainable brand is bringing customer back time and time again. It’s almost always less expensive to get a current customer to purchase again than it is to always find new customers.
Consider this, with every package shipped, your customer's experience with your brand will either:
Fall below expectations
There are many ways, some even out of your control, that your customer's experience with your brand can fall below expectations. If everything goes well and the shipping courier isn't late, you may meet your customer's expectations. It's the little extra things though, like great packaging, marketing inserts, and surprises that will help you stand out, exceed expectations and get your customer telling friends and family about your business.
In a recent survey, Dotcom Distribution found that 52 percent of consumers are likely to make repeat purchases from an online merchant that delivers premium packaging. In that same study, Dotcom also found that nearly 4 in 10 consumers would share an image of a delivery via social media if it came in a unique package.
The value of premium packaging extends far beyond the customer experience into residual marketing effects. The experience goes beyond the online order to when the customer actually opens the beautifully wrapped package and shares that experience across social networks. That act of online and social recommendations drives loyalty from your customers and promotes brand awareness.
- Maria Haggerty, CEO of Dotcom Distribution
Fundamentally, people like sharing great experiences. Going back to our TrunkClub example, if you do a search for "TrunkClub Unboxing” on Google, you’ll find thousands of blog posts, images and videos. Many of those pieces of content were created by customers, further helping TrunkClub get their name out there to more people, along with valuable backlinks to help improve their search engine rankings and visibility.
Still not convinced how important an unboxing experience is for customers? According to Google, in 2014 alone, YouTube hosted 1.3 million unboxing videos with 10.3 billion collective views. More importantly, 62 percent of users viewing unboxing videos are actually doing product research with the intent to purchase.
The Elements of a Custom Branded Unboxing Experience
There can be many elements of a well-designed, branded packaging and unboxing experience. You don’t have to include every single one, however, looking at each element can help you decide which ones deliver the best experience and the most value for your customers. Strategically choosing just a few of these items below can go a long way in creating a better and more memorable experience for your customers.
Let’s take a look at some elements you may want to consider in your branded, unboxing experience:
Box - The biggest element to consider is the main shipping box. Traditionally, white or brown corrugated packaging options ruled the world as they are cheap, sturdy and get the job done. The shipping box represents the biggest opportunity to begin creating that wow experience, but can also come at a high price. There are a variety of options, including colored boxes, custom printed boxes or custom size/shaped boxes.
Tissue Paper - Wrapping your products in tissue paper adds an extra level of mystery and excitement for the unboxing experience. Some options to consider here are using custom printed tissue paper or colored tissue paper.
Protective Cushioning (Filler) - Traditional protective cushioning includes styrofoam packing peanuts, foam inserts, air pillows or bubble wrap. Other forms of packing filler to consider include crinkle paper (colored), or excelsior.
Stickers - Stickers are a versatile and fairly inexpensive way to brand your packaging and can be used in several ways. If you use tissue paper, a branded sticker can be used to seal the tissue paper together or it can also be used instead of custom (expensive) printing on your box as an option to brand it.
Receipt - It’s pretty standard to include a receipt in your package, but there's a lot of room for improvement on how the receipt is presented to the customer. Consider how and where to present the receipt to your customers. Some higher end brands will use a custom envelope to present the receipt in an elegant way.
Tape - The standard is clear packaging tape but these days you have some options of different colored tape that can complement your custom packing and brand colors.
Internal Marketing Collateral & Package Inserts
Marketing collateral and package inserts can be a cost-effective and versatile medium for building a solid relationship with your customers. It's these relationships that can help increase sales, average order size, and profit.
Let's take a look at some of the other top reasons packaging inserts are so important:
Packaging inserts are low cost - Below we will discuss five package insert opportunity types, each of them are very low cost, yet can yield high return.
Inserts can be highly targeted - They are already a customer and you know what they bought. This can allow you to tailor your package insert closely to the exact person receiving it.
The cost of delivering the message has already been paid - The package is already being shipped so you might as well make the most of it.
Package inserts are perfect for cross-selling - Because you know exactly what the customer already likes, you can add highly targeted cross-sell opportunities.
Package inserts are a great channel for liquidating merchandise - Hard to move merchandise can be converted to a marketing expense and used to bolster your relationship with current customers.
The right inserts increase loyalty - By making the customer feel special, inserts make the customer feel like they are important and provide a reason for them to share their experience.
Package inserts seem pretty simple - just throw a flyer or coupon in the box whenever you ship an order. However, there are a lot of options on the table you can use and mix to deliver more value and build greater loyalty with your customers. Let's take a look at some of the most popular types of packaging insert options.
1. Discount Offers
One of the most popular types of package inserts are discounts offer on future purchases. Sure these could always be delivered by email but including discounts or credits for future purchases right in the shipped box ensures your customers will receive the offer and leaves them with a tangible reminder.
As an example, Julep, an online beauty brand makes use of several types of discounts to build loyalty.
One of the most cost effective ways to create discount or deal offers to be included with your packaging is to print them at business card size (business cards are such a commodity at this point they are extremely inexpensive). You can use a service like VistaPrint, OvernightPrints or, for a more premium quality, Moo Cards and upload your images for print. You may want to consider including two discount cards with each purchase, one for the purchaser and one for the purchaser to give away to a friend. You may also want to test out different types of offers to see which one your audience responds best to.
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2. Product Samples
Samples can be a great value add to your packages for a few reasons. First, depending on the products you sell, you can sometimes get samples for free from your vendors. Second, product samples provide a great way to cross-sell customers and introduce them to other products and product lines that they may not know about or have been curious about trying.
Beardbrand, a premiere beard grooming brand specializing in beard oil will sometimes provide small beard oil samples to their customers and wholesalers. This small sample provides customers with additional value and increases Beardbrand's exposure.
Image Source: Beardbrand
3. Small Gifts
Much like samples, small gifts can be a great way to surprise and delight customers without them feeling like you are trying to sell them on other products. The gift you give doesn’t have to be expensive. Since it’s not expected, most people will be pleasantly surprised by any additional gifts.
Take for example what Ryan French did. As the founder of GameKlip, he decided to add a small package of candies with every order. It was so well received by his customers that they talked about it all over social media, forums and blogs. Today, if you search Google for “GameKlip Rockets Candy” you’ll find nearly 27,000 results of people talking about the surprise they received.
Image Source: Pikdit
GameKlip isn't the only one taking advantage of adding small gifts to their packages. Johnny Cupcakes, a popular streetwear brand, knows exactly how well additional inserts can impact a customer's experience. They include a variety of items in their packages that provides additional value and leaves customers with a smile.
When Nikki Mueller received her package, it contained the following in addition to the t-shirt she ordered:
Image Source: Not Made In China
On her blog, Nikki wrote:
There was also several little branded ziplocs with a gorgeous mini-brochure, a Power Rangers card, a button, and a breath mint! Digging the randomness. So basically Johnny Cupcakes is my new hero.
Just how effective can a small, almost valueless gift be? It's been well documented that the little candies delivered by servers at the end of a restaurant meal help increase tips.
Two experiments were conducted to evaluate the impact of this gesture on the tip percentages received by servers. Experiment #1 found that customers who received a small piece of chocolate along with the bill tipped more than customers who received no candy.
Experiment #2 found that tips varied with the amount of the candy given to the customers as well as the manner it was delivered.
So what can be learned from this study? The little, seemingly valueless gifts, combined with some personalization and presentation makes people feel special encouraging them to return the favor. It's the law of reciprocity and it’s a powerful psychological trigger.
4. Thank-You Cards and Personal Notes
The simplest, least expensive and most personalized insert you can add to customer packages is a handwritten thank-you card. A simple card can be a really thoughtful gesture that can help build loyalty. This can be particularly effective when first starting out, as it’s a competitive advantage that most larger scale companies can no longer compete with. Use this to your advantage.
Brandon Eley, founder of 2BigFeet posted the following photo in a popular ecommerce forum:
Image Source: 2BigFeet
Brandon went on to explain:
One of the ways we encourage repeat business is by sending our best customers a handwritten thank you card with a coupon for future purchase. It's my goal to send 1,000 cards every year, which works out to just 4 cards every weekday. I write all of them personally, but I'm automating the procedure of running the reports, making the coupon codes, etc to cut down on the amount of time it takes me every day.
A customer appreciation campaign like the one from 2BigFeet has the ability to produce massive results and can be done with a very small financial investment for the cards and just a small time commitment to write them.
As another great example of a really personalized note comes (again) from TrunkClub, the premium subscription menswear service. TrunkClub includes handwritten notes from personal stylists explaining their selection of products with all orders:
Image Source: Sketch42
If it's financially feasible, try to use quality stationary.
Be sure to use the customer's name.
Express your gratitude, clearly stating the reason for sending the note.
Mention details about what you enjoyed about your experience with this customer (a fantastic opportunity to be specific and thoughtful).
Allude to your future interactions with the customer.
Close with professional but warm sign-off and a signature. (i.e Best, Kindest Regards, Sincerely, Cheers, etc.)
5. Product Review or Social Share Request
Since the shipped package usually represents the end of the transaction for most customers, packaging inserts can also be a great place to ask for a product review or to share their experience on social media.
Frank Body, a coffee based body scrub, encourages social interaction at almost every touch point. This includes adding an insert which further bolsters their brand and a request to share their experience on social media.
As a result, Frank Body has built a massive community (615k on Instagram) of fans all promoting their product which provides social proof to others and further builds their brand exposure.
Costs of Branded Packaging
The costs associated with a custom branded and beautiful unboxing experience can be high and can quickly spiral out of control if you aren’t being careful. The benefits of creating an experience for your customers needs to be carefully weighed with the costs associated with it. These costs come in the form of both time and price. You’ll need to decide based on your average order size and profit margins what you can and cannot afford along with which options present the greatest value to your business and most importantly, your customers.
Custom boxes tend to be the most expensive costs associated with creating a custom branded unboxing experience. To have your own custom printed boxes you can be looking at a minimum order of 500+ and can cost $5-$25 per box.
Being creative can easily help you save costs and achieve similar results. Consider pre-designed colored boxes from places like Uline. These boxes come with much lower minimum orders and prices, at little as 50 boxes at $2.50 per box.
Another option is to search AliExpress where very similar colored boxes can be purchased with a minimum order of 50 units for as little as .39 cents per unit (depending on size) and free shipping to most countries.
If you wanted to further customize the experience you can consider adding printed stickers with your logo from a service like Sticker Giant or a similar service.
Use the chart below to help plan out what elements you want to include for your customer branded packaging and unboxing experience as well as the costs associated with it:
If you're looking for packaging material to create a great branded unboxing experience for your customers, take a look at our shortlist below of some great suppliers of various packaging supplies:
You'll also want to consider local packaging options. Many times, purchasing your main packaging locally can be cheaper by saving the shipping costs, which tends to be fairly expensive due to the size of boxes. Check online for packaging suppliers and box manufacturers in your area.
- Arka Custom Boxes and Product Packaging
Bonus: Free Shipping Supplies. Many carriers will offer a selection of free packaging products when you use them. Here are links to free packaging supplies from some of the biggest carriers: USPS, UK Royal Mail, FedEx, UPS.
Protecting Your Product
Depending on the products you sell, you may require protective material to ensure that your products reach your customers undamaged.
There are several options you can use to fill void spaces in your packaging and cushioning to protect your products including bubble wrap, foam, tissue paper, air pillows and packing peanuts.
Package Protection Test
So how do you know if you need protection for your products? As a good rule of thumb, you should fill any extra space with some type of filler in your packed boxes. You’ll also want to make sure that they can stand up to the abuse they're likely to endure while in transit. The standard test for this is called the 4-foot drop test.
Image Source: Shipwire
According to Shipwire, a popular fulfillment warehouse, your products and packaging should be able to pass a 4-foot drop test onto a hard surface without breakage. Doing this test on your packaging ensures that your products will be able to withstand typical impacts during shipping.
The 4-foot drop test consists of dropping your package at five different angles:
Landing flat on base
Landing flat on top
Landing flat on longest side
Landing flat on shortest side
Landing on a corner
In addition to the drop test, your products and packaging should be able to withstand a full minute of vigorous shaking without any contents breaking.
Carrier Packaging Best Practices
Each carrier also has specific requirements for packaging. Although these are mostly standard and common, you should review your chosen carrier's specific requirements and best practices.
Shipping Label Printing
Once you have figured out your presentation and packaging, you’ll need to determine how you want to label your packages. Many new ecommerce entrepreneurs start off by writing the shipping and return address on the package by hand. Although this can be a great way to start, it tends to be time consuming, tedious and not scalable as your business grows. Depending on your brand, the products you sell, and your particular customer, this may also been seen as amateur instead of personal.
The next step after handwriting customer addresses is to print shipping labels. Most ecommerce platforms will allow you to print shipping labels from your orders page that you can stick onto your packages using tape. If you want to take things one step further, consider sticker mailing labels you can buy for your home printer. These are available from any office supply store or online.
As you grow there are variety of shipping apps and tools that can further help you streamline your shipping process. This includes simple apps like the Shopify Order Printer which will help you print invoices, labels, receipts and packing slips, as well as more full-featured shipping apps like Shipstation or Shippo. Shipstation and Shippo will integrate with many of the most popular courier companies and your ecommerce platform so that you can print more than just shipping labels but the postage as well, charging it directly to your account.
Label/Postage Printing Apps and Services
Shopify Order Printer - Free - This is a must-have if you're on the Shopify platform. Order Printer lets you quickly and easily print invoices, labels, receipts, packing slips, and more. You can customize and create templates to suit any need or print in bulk to speed up your shipping process.
OrderCup - $20-$50/month - With over 250 reviews, OrderCup is one of the original label printers for Shopify stores. With OrderCup you can print USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL and Canada Post shipping labels in Batch or one by one. With seamless integration, OrderCup will also automatically update your Shopify orders with shipping information and automatically trigger Shopify to send tracking information emails to your customers.
Stamps.com - 15.99/month + postage - Stamps.com allows you to do almost anything you could normally do at a USPS post office, right from the comfort of your own home. Print postage and labels and prepare all of your packages for shipping all for just $15.99 per month.
Shippo - $0.05 per label + postage - Shippo integrates your Shopify orders and allows you to print labels with one click. Choose your parcel dimension, pickup date, service type and preferred carrier and you will get your label within seconds.
ShipStation - $25-$145 - Shipstation makes it easier to ship products yourself. It integrates with major carriers, including USPS, FedEx, and UPS, so that you can easily create shipping labels and packing slips in bulk. It offers a great deal of other tools for shipping management as well.
ShippingEasy - Free-$99/month - ShippingEasy prints labels and sends email notifications to customers for tracked parcels. ShippingEasy is free for up to 50 packages per month.
ShipRobot - $10-$50/month - Sync orders from multiple sales channels you use in real-time. Create and print shipping labels for all your orders with one solution. Update order statuses automatically once orders are fulfilled.
Shipping Label Printers and Hardware
Furthermore, as you grow, you can look at dedicated hardware to print shipping and postage labels for your orders like these label printers from Uline.
Image Source: Uline
Printers like these can really help you streamline and speed up your shipping and fulfillment as well as make your packages look more professional.