Last updated: E-commerce packaging: Branding beyond the brown cardboard box

E-commerce packaging: Branding beyond the brown cardboard box


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With the shift to e-commerce during the pandemic, shelf appeal of a product has gone from a must-have to an also-ran. Now, product packaging is all about how it arrives on a customer’s doorstep.

In a world that’s gone digital far faster than anyone expected, companies that make everything from candy to sunglasses have had to reimagine how they market their items. They’ve had to double down on e-commerce packaging and think beyond the nondescript brown boxes showing up at people’s doors.

How your product arrives and the unboxing experience is one of most direct touchpoints your brand has with a customer. It’s become paramount as more traditional means of brand marketing have become harder, if not impossible.

Here are some creative approaches retailers are taking to e-commerce packaging:

  1. Putting their products in reusable boxes that buyers can repurpose
  2. Focusing on sustainable packaging material
  3. Using unique shaped boxes, labels, and printed tape

E-commerce packaging: Make it memorable & delightful

Many of the traditional ways that companies connected with customers have been upended by the pandemic, making product packaging all the more critical.

In-person trade shows – a primary marketing tool for companies across dozens of industries – became a thing of the past. Networking events were replaced by impersonal Zoom calls. Even activities as simple as using branded items to create visibility were muted thanks to a year and a half of social distancing.

Today, brands like Allbirds have set the pace in creative e-commerce packaging that excites their customers.

Reusable packaging: The multiplier effect

Many retailers have upped their game in terms of how they present their products, by putting their products in reusable boxes that buyers can repurpose.

Not only is this a more sustainable approach to packaging, but it also provides marketing opportunities by creating a second branded item that will continue to be seen long after the initial product has been used.

Customers might also find fun ways to reuse their boxes and post them on social media, extending your brand-marketing efforts.

And as it turns out, #unboxing is a popular hashtag

Green packaging, sustainable e-commerce

In addition to reusable packages, many brands are focused on sustainable e-commerce packaging. Consumers are increasingly concerned about their impact on the planet and aware of all the packaging waste going to landfills.

Brands are trying to reduce the amount of packaging, eliminate plastic, and use recycled, recyclable or biodegradeable packaging. Styrofoam peanuts are being replaced by eco-friendly shredded cardboard infill.

Online retail giant Amazon continues to expand its Certified Frustration-Free Packaging program, in which it works with vendors to increase the amount of packaging that is recyclable and comes without excess material.

According to Packaging World, Amazon said the recent expansion of the program to smaller products will help elevate the customer experience and drive sustainability in line with its corporate goals.

Branding on a budget

There are many ways to make packaging unique. Unusual-shaped boxes, printing on the inside of the box, logo-embossed packing tape, and personal notes on receipts are just some of the creative approaches companies are taking.

Of course, custom packaging can get pricey. But creative packaging doesn’t have to break the bank.

Traditionally, it’s been incredibly expensive to create custom packaging because of high minimum order requirements. It’s one thing for Hershey’s to purchase 100,000 embossed boxes for its high-end chocolate, but smaller retailers don’t have that kind of flexibility.

Fortunately, advances in digital printing have made it possible to purchase innovative packages with no minimum orders. This is great news for smaller companies that want to make a visual impact and create a great brand experience.

Another option are unique labels that can be affixed to off-the-shelf boxes. At first glance, this might seem a bit “low end,” but even top-shelf companies are using this approach. New printing techniques and materials have taken labels out of the dark ages and given companies of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing ground.

The way e-commerce shipments are packaged will remain a critical aspect of the customer experience, even as stores reopen. E-commerce will only continue to grow, making online deliveries and engaging packaging a great way to build customer relationships and boost brand affinity.

Amazing every time.

A CX that drives loyalty + bottom lines starts HERE.

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