Good packaging can make or break a product, especially online where the visual experience is the entire experience.

One in five online consumers has purchased a product because of an online review that mentioned the product’s packaging, and roughly the same number have written positive reviews that talk about the packaging itself.

Think of a product right now. You’re more likely to picture the packaging and logo than the product itself, aren’t you? We don’t think about the beverage when we hear Starbucks or Coca Cola, but we do think about the cups, bottles, and cans that contain it. When you really think about it, it’s a little difficult to define where packaging ends and the product begins.

No matter what you’re selling, you have the same opportunity to turn packaging into part of the experience and product enjoyment. This is especially true, and especially important, for eCommerce operations like yours.

Buying online is essentially a way to welcome your brand into your customer’s home, so the experience with your packaging can be a make-it-or-break-it moment. Here are some considerations behind that experience and ways you can maximize your relationship with customers.

Unboxing is marketing gold

Most eCommerce brands have heard about the popularity of unboxing videos on YouTube. If you haven’t, picture them this way: an adult is as excited (or disappointed) as a kid on Christmas tearing open their presents, sharing the whole experience with their digital family.

And, sometimes it is almost literally a kid opening toys during a holiday, as the unboxing YouTube channel Ryan’s Toys Reviews demonstrates. This little guy opens, plays with, and reviews toys online, reaching about 6.18 million subscribers and eclipsing more than 9.77 billion video views since March 2015.

Ryan’s channel was the most popular on YouTube for multiple months in 2016.

eCommerce purchases are now gaining prominence in another popular type of YouTube video: The Haul. These predominantly focus on apparel, makeup, and home goods where a YouTuber opens, shows, and reviews products. Popular videos in this segment tie product types to the channel focus and are a mix of purchases and promotional goods.

Mediakix identified Haul and Unboxing videos as the sixth and tenth most popular video types on YouTube, respectively, based on early 2016 data. Using a full review of 2015 data shows that “unboxing” was searched for more than 51 million times.

Positive and negative experiences generate huge amounts of views and have the potential to drive significant traffic to your eCommerce store, or to the stores of your competitors. If your products land into the hands of an influencer and the experience is positive, you have an amazing opportunity to capitalize on the raw joy and emotion the YouTuber is sharing with potential customers.

Social media is now the digital shelf.

Start strong and simple on the outside

Packaging is the easiest face you can present to your customer to showcase your brand. And, major eCommerce players show that you don’t always need the fanciest box, just a branded one.

Take Amazon, for example. The clear majority of Amazon packages arrive with no products or goods that were made by Amazon — they’re a mix of other items from other brands. However, the smile logo on the side of the box and a branded strip of tape over the tape create an instant impression that Amazon has sent someone the purchase.

amazon packaging

Image from

Through simple, but direct branding, Amazon is the name we associate with these boxes. The company that worked hard to create a compelling product and convinced the consumer to make a purchase plays second fiddle to the excitement of the “Amazon box.”

Having branding on the outside of your parcel ties excitement to your package and your company. Plus, it allows you to set the entire stage of the unboxing experience. Pick your core message and highlight it right away. This is an area where many companies will focus on sustainability, noting that a box is made of recycled materials, and if the internal packaging is too.

Your box is the first touchpoint to generating excitement and trust, so match the outside to your values for an early win.

Increase your options with just packaging

Many eCommerce businesses sell items that simply compliment each other. You’ve likely got a recommendation engine on your site that lets visitors know what other products are similar to or purchased with whatever they just put in their cart.

Track that data and turn it into a brand-new product, all through packaging. Kitting — pre-packing a larger box and selling multiple products together as a unit — can make it easier for your visitors to buy those common items and may lead to buy more or choose a product that requires additional purchases down the road.

You’ve seen this during you last trip to the grocery store:

Razor brands like Gillette do this consistently. It’s a proven way for them to get you to buy their razor handle, increasingly the likelihood that you become a loyal customer. And, Gillette invented no new product for this new SKU.

Some other benefits you can experience from kitting include:

  • Potential to reduce return rates when customers are satisfied with some bundled products. Also, potentially fewer returns when you kit everything that the customer needs to use and enjoy your product in a single package.
  • Enhanced exposure for your products because they are now listed (and advertised) in more locations. Customers may see the kit first and look for individual items to learn more.
  • Options to reduce shipping costs may also happen if you’re kitting a handful of items. Pre-packaged kits may drive down costs by decreasing the number of boxes you ship and reducing returns when staff must customize a kit for each new order.

Packaging in this way allows you to directly target the three things Rare Consulting identifies as the primary drivers of any given purchase: price, product quality, and convenience.

Help for heading into stores

For many eCommerce brands, every new sales channel is a worthwhile investment. A common goal is to find a way onto store shelves with at least one distribution partner to improve exposure.

Smart packaging can help in this realm in a few different ways. Pleasing packaging can help make your case to store purchasers and help ensure success when you land on those shelves. Consumers care about the look and feel. A recent WestRock study found:

  • 70% of in-store shoppers use packaging to learn more about your brand, not just the product.
  • 66% were willing to try a new product specifically because the package attracted them.
  • nearly 60% of in-store buyers compared packages before they made a purchase.

Your eCommerce business can benefit from great packaging as well because it allows you to create additional compelling product images that can be used across more pages and advertisements. If you create a great package right now, your focus can then be making sure the outermost box is durable and safe for shipping, while the interior packaging is engaging.

What you can do to optimize packaging now

There are a few options you can consider immediately for your packaging plus planning for your next product refresh.

  1. Use tissue and stickers right away. These are simple packaging options that you can add to just about anything. They also help brand your box, even if you can’t switch away from traditional brown cardboard just yet.
  2. Stick to your colors and logo size across everything from website to eCommerce cart to package. Visual continuity can translate into trust and help customers know what to expect from you.
  3. Print your priorities. Do you care about carbon offsets? Seals? Ending food deserts? Printing this message on your product packaging will help your customers create an attachment to your brand when they share the same priorities.
  4. List your sizes clearly in your store. Did our note above about kitting get you excited? Well, make sure your customers are excited and stay happy by always plainly stating product sizes and shipping sizes. It’ll also help you pitch the bigger pitch for the bigger size.
  5. Add a little extra on top. You don’t have to reprint your packages to give them a little boost. There’s always room for a little lagniappe whether it’s glittery tissue paper, a handwritten note, or a printed recipe that you tie on with a ribbon. You can add to what you have and give even a processed product a hand-crafted feel.

In everything you do, always bring it back to the customer. Review your existing product packaging and the additions you are considering from the point of view of your potential customer. Does it tell them immediately what the product is? Does it address them as an individual buyer, and support the way they’re making that purchase?

Your packaging is so much more than just the practical protection for getting something from warehouse to the customer. It’s the perfect chance to show who you are and how much you care about that buyer, so we hope this guide helps you make the most of that opportunity.