Product packaging: How your brand can deliver a great customer experience

The role of packaging differs between brick & mortar retail and eCommerce

The basic role of packaging is to protect a product from damage. The protective requirements are higher for products shipped directly to consumers. That’s because of the extra handling involved with small parcel shipment. The same package that looks great on a store shelf can get banged up during delivery to a consumer’s home.

In physical retail, packaging must also deter tampering and theft. Theft deterrents must be cleverly designed. Otherwise, they can be off-putting to legitimate customers. Those frustrating-to-open clam-shell packages? They’re difficult to open precisely because intent is to deter tampering and theft. Theft is less of an issue with eCommerce. Brands can gain a customer experience advantage by using easy-open packaging for these goods.

The overall appearance of your packaging works in slightly different ways. In physical retail, the visual elements serve to influence the customer’s purchase decision. In eCommerce, your product listings, photography and video already sold the product. Thus, for goods ordered online, the job of packaging is to reinforce the customer’s purchase decision.

In eCommerce, packaging must reinforce the consumer’s purchase decision

If you’re an online-only seller, the unboxing experience is your customer’s first moment of truth with your brand.

First impressions count. Customers form them instinctively based on the materials, construction, heft, visual appeal and on-the-box messaging. If your packaging misses the mark, they perceive your product as lower quality. You’ll end up with more buyer’s remorse returns as a result. Consumers like to feel like savvy shoppers, so any disconnect between their impressions from your product listings and your packaging and unboxing experience leads to greater returns and lower product reviews. Whether your packaging is difficult-to-open or your instruction manual is confusing, consumers will let you know via negative product reviews, which will ultimately affect your product’s future sales potential.

Packaging also presents an opportunity to surprise and delight customers

Target’s shipping boxes, printed with playful designs, no doubt delighted the children whose parents bought products online. A child’s imagination has long led to the creative re-use of boxes as cars and castles, and these designs tap into what children already do. These playful designs add smiles at minimal extra cost.

Kiwi Crate, a subscription box company, delivers monthly kits for kids and their parents to explore science and creativity. The shipping boxes themselves are often incorporated into an activity. In one month’s crate, which was full of themed activities related to baking, my niece received stickers which turned the shipping box into an oven and stove top. Imagine the joy on your 4-year-old’s face as he or she plays with the “toy oven.”

What surprises and smiles can you add to your packaging?

Consider different packaging for different store environments

In physical retail, packaging must stand out on the shelf. The bar is even higher for products in a competitive selling environment than for products in a captive-brand store. Brand owners should not settle for packaging which looks great on its own, but instead, consider how it looks in the competitive shelf set. Customers won’t pick up your product off the shelf unless it visually stands out from its competition.

The importance and overall amount of on-the-box messaging increases as you move from assisted-sale to unassisted-sale environments. A brand can use far less text on a package in a high-end or specialty retailer because the sales staff’s training and product knowledge ultimately sells the product. In housewares, for example, the fancier stores tend to sell products with plainer packaging. A brand which sells products in competitive, unassisted-sale environments such as big box stores depends on the on-the-box messaging to do the heavy lifting of selling its product to consumers.

Strive to make a great impression, but be mindful of “packaging guilt”

Elaborate packaging can create a great first impression, followed by a wave of packaging guilt. Consider the specific item when determining whether to use more elaborate or more minimalist packaging. Is this item typically purchased as a gift or for oneself? How likely is the customer to store the item in its original packaging or to discard it right away?

Need an example of guilt-inducing packaging? There was a plastic-coated, magnetic-closure box. It had a laser-cut foam bed. All for a pair of very high-end salt & pepper grinders at a leading furniture & housewares retailer. At first glance and touch, the packaging is very engaging. This creates a super-premium impression of the product. It looks like a great wedding gift. Upon second thought, however, you may realize that most people would keep salt & pepper grinders on display. The original box would be discarded right away. Now you recognize the wastefulness of the packaging, which is clearly non-recyclable. Pangs of packaging guilt, felt prior to purchase, can turn potential customers off your product.

Making it all come together is both a science and an art

Smaller companies still spend big dollars on packaging, so you want to get great return on investments in product packaging. From the selection of exterior and interior materials to drop-testing and from copywriting to visual design, it’s challenging to manage the range of specialists you need to create even a single package. It’s even harder if your company relies on a mix of junior staff and freelancer specialists. Who is accountable for ensuring all the elements of each package work harmoniously and support your brand vision? Who is accountable for creating consistency across all the products in your brand’s portfolio? Who owns the myriad decisions so you can deliver the “wow” for your customers?

To create standout packaging, you need a more-experienced individual who can see the big picture and provide the integrated direction that makes each element — the physical design and materials, sensory elements, photography, imagery, typography, layout, copywriting — come together in a way which delights your customers.

Market and customer strategist. Results-oriented coach. Curiosity + empathy to discover consumer insights and accelerate your growth. Find me at Adeptation.

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