How to think creatively about ecommerce product packaging

cardboard boxes of various sizes placed on the floor

Apple is usually pointed to as a leader in building the best customer experience — all the way down to the unboxing of the iPhone. And it shows the power that a great packaging and unboxing experience can have.

And you can tell that there’s a lot of work that went into the first minute you have with your new iPhone. The box has a nice heft to it, and it’s solid enough to prevent the phone from getting damaged. It isn’t so awkwardly shaped that it’s an eyesore. When you pull off the plastic, the top of the box slides off at an almost constant speed. It pops off seamlessly without tearing or breaking. And then you get to your phone, neatly cradled in a precise cutout in the box.

Putting together a pristine unboxing experience like that is probably not at the top of your priorities. But by doing this, Apple is sending a message. It cares about the details all the way down to the experience you have when you’re taking out your iPhone for the first time. You’re probably going to throw the box away, and might do so even minutes after taking out your phone. That’s the actual product, but you’ll usually remember the whole experience you had opening the phone for the first time.

That precision and care is embedded into the company and its culture, and as a result, customers come to know that Apple is a company that invests heavily on even the minor details. That level of precision is low-hanging fruit for any company, too. In a survey conducted by Ask Your Target Market, 70% of those surveyed said that packaging is an important aspect when it comes to their opinion of a company. 

Well-designed packaging sends a signal to your customers. It shows you care about the entire experience, from capturing their attention the first time all the way through to them using the product. Each step matters and is an opportunity to communicate the message you want them to get when they are using your products.

To better think about this, let’s walk through a few examples of ways to think about how to create your packaging.

How to think creatively about product packaging

It’s hard to just decide you want “great packaging” for your products. You have to think carefully about what message you want to send your customers. You aren’t selling them an iPhone, but you’re still trying to sell them an experience and a memory. And if it’s a great memory, they might even share it with their friends and network.

Let’s say you’re a company selling an ongoing subscription product for some kind of healthy food like cooking ingredients or some kind of packaged food (like a granola bar). Your customers are likely to buy your products because it makes them feel better and more healthy in their day-to-day lives. But they still have to open the packaging to get that granola bar (at least we hope there’s packaging).

Now that it’s in your hands, it’s time to think about what message you want to send them. You might consider using eco-friendly packaging as a way to say that you care about health in general — their own personal health and the health of the environment. Sending your packages in recyclable cardboard, like your local CSA, could be a good start. When they open the granola bar, they should immediately be greeted with the experience they want. You might want to ensure they see a very obvious healthy morsel to eat the moment the packaging comes off.

Now consider a situation where you’re an electronics company trying to sell a product to customers. Let’s say you’re marketing wireless earbuds to a customer. You obviously want packaging that will protect those headphones, but you also want to communicate that you’re about to give them a listening experience. 

You’d want to think about color palettes and imagery that evoke that feeling of wearing headphones and listening to music. And when they open the box, you might consider showing them the headphones immediately rather than just hiding them in a charging case.

Understanding the basics for packaging

They’re two radically different examples, but it’s a good way of starting off that brainstorming process to figure out what it is you’re trying to communicate. But there are a lot of table stakes to consider to begin, as well:

  • You shouldn’t be wasting their time. Creating difficult-to-open packaging will automatically start your relationship with the customer off on the wrong foot. It doesn’t matter how beautiful an iPhone box is if it doesn’t slip open easily.
  • You shouldn’t create excessive waste. If someone is getting a pair of headphones, they probably don’t want a massive box. You don’t want to come across as a brand that doesn’t care about the amount of waste you’re creating — at least not in 2019.
  • Be sensitive to culture. Different imagery and colors mean different things all around the world. You might consider specializing your packaging for each region, or trying to create packaging that will resonate universally. But you aren’t Apple, and that’s probably not going to work.
  • Think about the Tweet. What will your customers tell their friends, or the world, about your products when it gets in their hands? If it’s a fantastic experience, you might get a nice lift. If it’s terrible, you’re going to get dinged hard across the Internet.

The good news is you don’t have to build this whole process from scratch. These days there are services like Arka, Packlane, or Pakible to help streamline that whole process. You’ll probably want to focus on your own products instead of trying to create a whole supply chain on your own.

So focus on the little things. That first impression for your product is likely to create a lasting one — and you want it to be a good one.

Photo credit: Leone Venter on Unsplash

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