The way consumers shop has been evolving for some time now. The steady pivot away from brick-and-mortar shopping to online purchasing has accelerated significantly over the last few years. Over half of American consumers prefer to shop online according to research compiled by Fit Small Business. This trend in consumer preferences presents both challenges and opportunities for online retailers.
In this post, we’ll explore the importance of e-commerce packaging and the role that it plays in connecting retail brands with consumers. We’ll cover the most common types of e-commerce packaging and share some tips to make yours stand out. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some inspiration from ten companies that are taking full advantage of the opportunities that innovative product packaging presents.
What is E-commerce Packaging?
E-commerce packaging is, at face value, the vessel your product comes in when customers order from your e-commerce business. This includes the shipping materials as well as the product packaging. The purpose of e-commerce packaging is to protect the product while also representing your brand. For well-designed e-commerce packaging, you must go beyond simply fulfilling the purpose.
Well-designed e-commerce packaging is important for multiple reasons. First, the shipping materials protect the product from distributor to consumer. Since customers aren’t visiting a physical storefront and carrying their purchases home themselves, extra care must be taken in getting the product to its destination. Second, e-commerce packaging is your chance to showcase your brand’s personality and give your customers that personal touch without face-to-face interaction.
Types of E-commerce Packaging
There are a number of ways to package products for e-commerce applications. The right choice for your products will largely depend on what you’re selling. First, you’ll need to consider the outer packaging for your product (if applicable). Here are some common and not-so-common outer packaging concepts.
- Folding cartons – Folding cartons dress up and add extra protection to your product. This extra layer can also serve to display required information about your product, allowing you to use the label as a canvas for your creativity.
- Paper tubes – Paper tubes are a unique packaging concept that adds interest to any product type. Companies like Paper Tube Co. create customizable rigid cardboard tubes of varying sizes that protect your product and provide a fun unboxing experience.
- Fabric bags – Fabric bags can add a premium look and feel to your product. Providing texture and a memorable unboxing experience, fabric bags can also become a fun branded keepsake for your customers.
Next, you’ll need to choose your shipping materials. Your choice here depends on what type of product you have and how fragile it might be. Check out the most common outer shipping materials for e-commerce packaging.
- Corrugated cardboard — The most indestructible of all e-commerce packaging materials, corrugated cardboard can take quite a beating while protecting its precious contents. Double- and triple-walled boxes are the most common way to package and ship e-commerce orders. They’re ideal for shipping just about anything that’s likely to break if it sustains a hard impact.
- Padded mailers — This material is ideal for products that are unlikely to break on impact but need a little extra padding. Think books, jewelry, or clothing. Padded envelopes are cheaper to produce and cost less to ship than corrugated boxes.
- Poly mailers — The lightest and cheapest of all e-commerce packaging, plastic mailers provide very little protection during the shipping process. If you’re selling clothing, fabrics, or something else that can be bent and flexed without damaging the product, their very low production and shipping costs make poly mailers hard to beat.
Additionally, you’ll need to consider infill. Choosing the right infill is extremely important as this is what protects the product within and prevents it from being jostled during shipment. If you’ve ever ordered something from a large e-commerce store and received it in a box too large with a small square of bubble wrap, you know the irritation customers can feel when their products aren’t packaged properly. Here’s a list of some common infill types, though this is by no means a definitive list.
Infill for packaging
- Packaging paper – This infill can fulfill a variety of needs, making it one of the most common infill types. Packaging paper can be used to wrap individual items for extra protection and balled up to fill in empty space and protect corners. Best of all, this infill is easily reused and recycled. A similar but even cheaper alternative to packaging paper is recycled newspaper, especially if you aren’t shipping a large number of items.
- Bubble wrap – We all know this infill. Not only is it a fun stress-reliever to stomp on, but it also makes for a very versatile infill type. Bubble wrap creates a very secure cushion for breakable items and is extremely pliable so it can contour your product and fill your box. The only downside to bubble wrap is that it is very rarely made from recycled materials, so it may leave a sour taste in the mouths of eco-conscious businesses and consumers alike.
- Crinkle paper – Shredded paper that has been folded up like an accordion, this infill is whimsical and versatile. Crinkle paper easily fills all empty space within boxes and creates a cushion for your product. It is also compostable and recyclable. The downside is that it can be messy (those little bits of paper just go everywhere) and the base cost of this infill can be a little steep.
Cost of E-commerce Packaging
Speaking of price, you also need to consider the cost ratio between your product and its packaging. You don’t want your e-commerce packaging to meet or even come close to the cost of your product. If it does, say goodbye to any profits you would’ve made. Stick to a small percentage for your packaging materials, around 1-3% of your product cost.
Here is an example. Let’s say you create hand-poured soy candles that cost $30 each. The packaging costs should be around $0.30-0.90 per product. To help save money, you could run special deals for your candles to motivate customers to buy multiples at a time. Instead of buying one candle at $30, offer two candles for $55, the customers save $5, however, you can then package them in the same box and save more than if you were just shipping one candle.
Buying in bulk is the easiest way to keep packaging costs low. If you’re selling small units at first, you may need to keep customization to a minimum but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate it altogether. Branded stickers can do just as much for your brand as custom printed packaging. A few thousand custom printed stickers with us would cost you around $0.10-0.15 – use most of them for your e-commerce packaging and resell the rest for some extra revenue.
Alternatively, you can also choose to partner with a copacker to keep costs low. Copackers usually have many customizable options for you to choose from, and they handle everything from designing the packaging to filling and shipping. Copackers typically have minimum order quantity requirements, so this option may only be viable once your business has gained some momentum.
Benefits of Great E-commerce Packaging
E-commerce packaging extends far beyond just protecting your product as it travels to your customers. The online shopping experience has reduced the number of touchpoints brands have with consumers. As a result, product packaging now plays an outsized role in marketing efforts.
Strategically packaging your product to make a lasting impression on consumers is an invaluable way to build brand loyalty. Creating a memorable unboxing experience presents an easy opportunity to differentiate your brand from competitors. By weaving in high-end touches, custom-designed packaging, or surprise add-ons, you can build a following and the opportunities for repeat sales that come with it.
5 E-commerce Packaging Tips
E-commerce sales provide almost unlimited options for creating memorable packaging experiences. From boutique packaging options to customized packing insert cards, the sky’s the limit.
1. Use Innovative, Sustainable Packaging
Sustainability sells. Consider creating e-commerce packaging that’s eco-friendly. Whether you choose to use 100% recycled cardboard or bioplastics for your poly mailer, be sure to emphasize how your packaging goes light on the planet. You can go a step further by purchasing paper packing materials that are infused with wildflower seeds to contribute even more green to the planet. That way, you and your customers are partnering together to help the environment.
For certain high-end products, creating packaging that’s too pretty to toss is an easy win. Product packaging with a second life as a decorative storage container extends your advertising reach far beyond the life of the product it originally held. Gorgeous glass or ceramic vessels for candles find a second life as storage containers or even mini planters. Custom-printed fabric bags double as makeup bags, jewelry holders, and more.
2. Use Your Packaging To Tell Your Brand’s Story
Your e-commerce packaging can serve as a canvas to educate consumers about what your company stands for. Use your box and other packaging elements to convey your unique message. Print your mission statement on the inside of your boxes, or include a short paragraph about your company on the outer packaging of your product. Sharing your company’s story helps customers feel closer to you and more likely to buy from you again.
Shipping materials that include your branding and mission statement reach more people because they’re easily seen. Whether using a logistics company like UPS or shipping products via the USPS, many hands come in contact with your products as they travel to your customers. Why not take advantage of that exposure?
3. Creatively Brand Unexpected Packaging Elements
Think beyond the box. Packaging tape, tissue paper, shredded filler, and inserts can all be tailor-made to fit your brand. If your budget doesn’t allow for branding all of your e-commerce packaging, determine which elements offer the most bang for your buck and customize them in unique, creative ways. This can be as simple as choosing tape or other materials that match your brand colors; custom-printed items can be enticing but pricey.
4. Connect With Consumers for Product Reviews
Online product reviews are the lifeblood of e-commerce retailers. Potential customers regularly rely on these as a trusted source of information when making purchasing decisions. Consider using an insert or sticker to ask for a favorable review on the platform your prospective customers frequent. Make it easy by listing the website URL along with the ask or, better yet, using a custom QR code.
5. Use Custom Inserts To Add Value
When the consumer is opening your box, they’re a captive audience. Keep their attention longer by including stickers, coupons, or an informational brochure describing your product’s unique value proposition. Customized packing inserts are relatively inexpensive to produce and, when used creatively, can punch far above their weight. Handwritten notes are especially effective, particularly among small businesses who want to make lasting connections with their customers.
10 Examples of Great E-commerce Packaging
1. Warby Parker
A nationally-known purveyor of budget-friendly, cutting-edge eyewear, Warby Parker’s e-commerce packaging is designed to delight. Whimsical messages like “Good Things Await You” are printed on the exterior packaging and help to build anticipation. “Nice to see you” greets you as you open the glasses case. Even the cleaning cloths come with a fun Warby Parker themed short story printed on them. Simple, concise directions printed on the inside of the outer box ensures a well-oiled experience.
2. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
If the concept of mail-order, artisan ice cream wasn’t exciting enough on its own, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams has an unboxing experience to match. Their box sports a colorful, logoed exterior with two packaging insert cards. The first one is a customized thank you note, and the second is a visually appealing product description that goes into depth on what makes their product exceptional.
3. High Peak Cannabis Co.
High Peak Cannabis Co. makes some of the most Instagram-worthy THC-infused confectionaries out there. Everything about this company is fun, from their products to their e-commerce packaging. Their polyhedral truffles look like a work of art in themselves, and they’re packaged in custom-printed boxes with designs that complement the treats themselves. Their chocolate bars feature colorful custom printed wrappers and their bite-sized candies, like gummies, are packaged in uniquely designed pouches.
4. Tiesta Tea
Tiesta Tea is an energetic and festive tea brand, and its e-commerce packaging shows it. Fun branded tape on the outside of Tiesta Tea’s shipping box gets customers excited to open the package. Inside, teas can be seen through a clear window in the primary packaging, inviting customers to go ahead and enjoy a cup. Their labels sport bold color palettes unique to each flavor, creating an almost collector-like experience when trying their teas.
SQUEAK is a company dedicated to clean cleaning products. Their passion for safe cleaning products results in packaging that is bright, transparently educational, and (for lack of a better word) clean. SQUEAK displays their ingredients on the front of their labels because they’re proud of their products, a bold move that reinforces their company’s passion and purpose. They also communicate their mission on their shipping materials as well, effectively ensuring that they spread their message of safe cleaning products to everyone, including the many hands involved in getting their products to their customers.
6. Casa dell’Unknown
Casa dell’Unknown is a handcrafted luxury candle brand that embraces both form and function for its e-commerce packaging. Their candles are poured into beautiful matte black vessels and feature a minimalist label. The outer packaging, however, is a matching matte black paper tube with custom printed labels on top. The reason for packaging the candles in paper tubes is twofold; they add an extra layer of branding as well as extra security during the shipping process. The result is an absolutely stunning finished product. As a small business, Casa dell’Unknown also reuses shipping materials from their suppliers in order to keep costs lean and reduce stress on the environment, a worthwhile technique to adopt for large and small businesses alike.
7. Homebody Candle Co.
Homebody Candle Co. is a candle and home fragrance company with a focus on positivity. Their candle line called Burn + Bloom is one of the most interesting products they offer. Their opaque white candle vessels include a beautifully designed label and a wildflower seed-infused dust cover. Once the candle has been burned completely, they advise planting the dust cover in a bit of soil either in a planter or in the empty candle jar itself. This packaging approach is brilliantly eco-friendly and feels like the customer is getting two products in one.
Buying mattresses online is now the norm in many ways. Brands like Purple Mattress have understood the assignment by taking their branding to the next level. The proprietary purple color of their mattress materials permeates throughout their branding. When you order a mattress from Purple, it’s delivered to you in a large purple plastic tube and includes extras like a matching sleep mask and even purple mini-mattresses to showcase their unique technology.
9. The Musgrave Pencil Company
The Musgrave Pencil Company is an American family-owned pencil manufacturing company that’s been in operation for over 100 years, but don’t let their longevity fool you–the packaging for their pencils marries legacy and modern design perfectly. Their crown jewel is their Pencil Variety Pack. This bunch of twelve unique pencils is packaged in a gold-embossed paper tube that is designed to look like a pencil. The paper tube is durable enough to store pencils and other items for years to come, thus solidifying Musgrave Pencil Company as a staple for lovers of analog writing implements.
10. Am Happy Soap
Am Happy Soap is a small e-commerce business that sells beautiful handmade soaps. When packaging their product for customers, they either hand wrap them in custom printed tissue paper with a custom label, or they fit them snugly in a branded box with a custom label. Either way, their e-commerce packaging feels like opening a present with each order. A final personal touch Includes soap samples in every shipment, beveled and wrapped with care.
How Does Your Packaging Represent Your Brand?
E-commerce packaging is one of the most effective avenues brands have for building loyalty with online consumers. By strategically packaging products in ways that appeal to the target audience, brands create a new, powerful touchpoint that they can leverage to increase consumer engagement and the likelihood of repeat, future sales.
You might also like:
- Beginners Guide to Packaging and Labeling
- The Ultimate Guide to Skincare Packaging
- 10 Characteristics of a Well-Designed Product Label
- How To Ship Perfume, Makeup, and Cosmetics Safely
This post was originally published in December 2020 and has been updated on November 22, 2021 with new information.