If you’re an ecommerce business owner, you’ve already spent a great deal of time and effort developing your products. The next step is developing the packaging that carries them safely to your customers. Clearly, your first consideration should be protecting your product, but there are a million ways to do this without sacrificing your brand’s image.
Today we’re going to look at packaging options for ecommerce brands that not only protect your products, but also help communicate your brand’s values and personality.
Product Packaging vs. Shipping Packaging
There are two different categories of packaging that ecommerce businesses need to consider.
This is the packaging your product comes in directly from the manufacturer or supplier. It may be anything from a poly bag to a custom-designed, branded box. Some items, such as books, may not come in a package at all, but are identified by a barcoded sticker or tag.
Because most goods are shipped in bulk from the manufacturer or supplier to a fulfillment center or third-party logistics (3PL) provider, they are packed into large containers or boxes and transported by freight shipping companies. At the fulfillment center, they are removed from the bulk shipping container and sorted by SKU into smaller containers of individual units for resale and shipping to your customers.
As the ecommerce business owner, you have the last word in how your products are packaged. Product packaging runs the gamut from glass bottles, to custom-printed boxes, to clear poly bags with a plain barcode sticker to identify what’s inside. Either way, your product packaging needs to be tough enough to not be damaged during bulk transport and to withstand the minimal handling it will receive at the fulfillment center.
The second type of packaging is the box, bag, or mailer that the fulfillment center uses to pack and ship your products to your customers. This is the package your customer will see on their doorstep. The type of shipping package chosen will depend upon the type and number of products in the order, and the dimensions and sturdiness of the product packaging enclosed. Packages that are ready for shipping are sorted according to their shipping method and destination, and loaded onto trucks that specialize in small-parcel shipping.
Shipping packaging needs to be tough enough to protect your individual product during shipping. Soft products may be packed and shipped in a simple poly bag, whether plain or branded. Boxed or “hard” products may be shipped as is, if requested by the ecommerce seller as long as the box is large enough to hold a shipping label. If multiple items are included in the order, they will be packed together in a larger box or mailer.
Items in the order are packed carefully with enough fill or dunnage to prevent shifting and damage during shipping. To minimize shipping costs, the fulfillment center will carefully choose the best size box to hold the contents, including fill, without adding excessive space. It may be a standard brown shipping box, or it can be a custom box that shows off your brand.
Shipping Packaging Options
As the ecommerce business owner, you should have a say in how you want your customers’ orders packed and shipped. In the world of fulfillment and small-parcel shipping, there are only so many options. Most fall under one of these categories: corrugated cardboard boxes, poly bags, and padded mailers. Each of these options, however, can be made of eco-friendly materials and/or custom-designed and printed to match your brand’s colors and display your logo. Some fulfillment companies don’t offer custom options simply because they don’t have the technology or bandwidth to manage them. Others, like ShipMonk, are happy to accommodate either standard or branded packaging, custom packing materials and package inserts.
1. Poly Bags
Standard poly bags for shipping are made of a tougher plastic than the clear poly bag your clothing comes in from the supplier. You can choose your color, or may be stuck with whatever standard color your fulfillment center uses.
2. Corrugated Boxes
Cardboard boxes suitable for shipping are usually corrugated, because they are lightweight, but offer some padding and stiffness to withstand rough handling. You are limited to the standard brown color, but do have options as to how they open and whether or not they are lined. Keep in mind that you will need more than one size to accommodate different products, as well as multiple products in the same order. Uline, a shipping supplies manufacturer, offers over 1,700 different sizes of corrugated boxes.
3. Padded Mailers
Padded mailers are paper envelopes of different sizes, lined on the inside with bubble wrap. They are suitable for mailing small objects like jewelry, or stable products like books. You may or may not have a choice regarding the color of the exterior paper.
4. Custom Packaging
If you are fulfilling your own ecommerce orders, or your fulfillment center/3PL accommodates custom packaging, each of the options above can be customized to better represent your brand. Poly bags and padded mailers can be printed in your signature colors and feature your logo or other brand messaging. Corrugated boxes can be printed inside and out to be as bold and colorful as your brand. Stickers or branded tape added to standard brown packaging can also convey your brand’s personality more affordably. If you are cultivating an earth-friendly brand persona, eco-friendly options abound, from biodegradable bags to boxes made from recycled or compostable materials. To learn more, check out our blog: Eco-Friendly Packaging + Shipping Materials for Ecommerce Orders
All About Dunnage
What’s inside the box can say as much about your brand as the outside of the package. There are many different types of dunnage, or filling material, to suit different needs. Bubble wrap, air pillows and packing peanuts are used most often to protect fragile items and keep items from shifting. Corrugated rolls or inserts may be used to separate or protect heavy objects, while gel packs and liners may keep items cool. Kraft or crinkle paper is an inexpensive and eco-friendly choice that is both effective and can easily be recycled.
If your products are exceptionally fragile, sensitive to moisture, or have an unusual shape, they may require special handling or custom dunnage. Ideally, individual products would be packaged in these materials before they arrive at the fulfillment center, but some 3PLs may offer special handling services, or kitting or assembly services to repackage them.
Create a Memorable Unboxing Experience
Custom packaging is a great way to create a memorable first impression for your customers. YouTube is full of unboxing videos where customers open packages they’re excited about receiving. These videos are created by customers, influencers, and brand evangelists. They may or may not be compensated with free products for their efforts, but are nevertheless watched by millions of potential customers, helping ecommerce brands build a following.
The unboxing experience should reflect your brand’s values. If, for instance, you are the low-price leader and pride yourself on saving your customers money, you may choose the no-frills, unbranded-corrugated-box approach. If your brand is all about sustainability and natural ingredients, you might choose a more environmentally conscious approach by using compostable bags, or recycled (and recyclable) materials. If you can’t avoid the use of bubble wrap, you can purchase carbon-neutral credits to offset the carbon footprint of shipping – and don’t forget to mention that on your packaging! In general, the more expensive or unique your product, the more effort you should put into making your packaging match your brand’s aesthetic.
If you’re looking for custom-printed boxes, bags or mailers, there are many companies that specialize in custom packaging. You can design your own, hire a designer, or source a packaging company that will help you design and print it using popular templates. You supply the exact colors, fonts and artwork or logo, and they do the rest. The same goes for tissue paper, stickers, packing tape or kraft paper. The colors, fonts and materials should all work together, inside and out, and flow from your brand identity.
Enclosing an insert in the order, such as a promotional postcard, free sample of a new product, or a thank-you note, is another way to add brand personality. This is one more chance to speak directly to your customers, so get creative and think about how best to use this opportunity. Happy customers are repeat customers, and they often create new customers by telling their friends!
When choosing your custom packaging, give consideration to reducing waste. Many ecommerce businesses and fulfillment centers, including Amazon, have eliminated the use of packing slips and return labels to reduce waste. When choosing packaging, consider sustainable, recycled or recyclable materials. Choose kraft or crinkle paper for filling material instead of bubble wrap wherever it makes sense. Plastic bags can be biodegradable, or sourced from ocean plastic. Poly bags and boxes can also be reused as packaging for returns, if they’re easy to open and resealable (and if you mention it on the package). Lastly, if your product already comes in a box (like a shoe box, for instance) and it’s the only item in the customer’s order, does it really need to be packed into another box for shipping? A simple poly bag for weather protection is all it needs. That’s a simple request your fulfillment center can easily do.
Can my 3PL Handle Custom Packaging?
We can’t speak for all fulfillment centers, but at ShipMonk, adding custom packaging to your fulfillment operations is as easy as adding a new product. The special packaging, dunnage, and inserts get picked as part of the order, and the contents are packed according to your exact specifications at our packing stations. Our ecommerce clients can add custom packaging or inserts to their entire product line, or select specific SKUs for the custom treatment.
First impressions count. Whether low-cost or high-end, the right packaging option for your brand is one that protects your products while meeting or exceeding your customers’ expectations about your brand. Don’t discount the delight that custom packaging can bring to their unboxing experience. For more ideas or help adding custom packaging to your fulfillment services, contact ShipMonk today!