Although we’re taught never to judge a book by its cover, retail packaging has the power to drive brick-and-mortar and ecommerce sales. A study by market research firm Ipsos found that packaging influences purchasing decisions for seven in 10 consumers.
If you’re running a small business, now might be the time to spend a little extra. Branded retail packaging can turn an otherwise “meh” shopping experience into a “yeah!” moment. And, in this highly visual era of social media, the right packaging can wow customers and translate into sales.
Keep reading to gain expert insights and inspiration for creating memorable retail packaging for your business.
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The importance of retail packaging
Packaging is more than just something to put your products in. It can help protect goods, serve as a marketing tool, provide product information, and even influence sales.
Packaging creates a barrier between your products, the box or bag they’re carried in, and the elements. It’s used to cushion products in transport, whether they’re being carried out of your store by a shopper, or shipped across the world.
Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, crumpled paper, and cardboard go a long way in protecting products as they leave your store or warehouse and travel to their final destinations.
The packaging you choose to use can help reduce the retail industry’s effects on the planet.
According to research by IBM and the National Retail Federation (NRF), “57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact.”
Ipsos found that three in four consumers are “more likely to buy products packaged in paper or cardboard than in other materials [like plastic] because they are better for the environment and less wasteful.”
Beyond using materials that are easy to recycle, you can create packaging that customers can repurpose and reuse. For many retailers, a branded reusable bag is the gift that keeps on giving.
Baby and kids apparel retailer mini mioche produces reusable totes that fit with its eco-friendly ethos and are adorable. Founder and Owner Alyssa Kerbel says, “For our retail stores, we introduced custom branded reusable tote bags… and our customers love them (and it’s always pretty fun when I see someone carrying one down the street!). Because we are an eco-conscious company, it makes sense to use reusable bags and it’s something our customers really appreciate. We also give customers who spend $150 or more in-store one of our premium printed cotton canvas tote bags. They feature a fun, limited edition print on one side and our logo on the other.”
Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder and publisher of Retail Minded, and co-founder of the Independent Retailer Conference, has the scoop on how packaging relates to branding:
"When a merchant invests in branded bags, they are also investing in continued marketing for their business. Once that bag exits their store, it begins a journey that may connect with simply a few or even many consumers along the way. From potential customers seeing it on the streets to the user of the bag repurposing it again, the journey may not be clear, but it certainly guarantees continued brand exposure."
“Custom packaging is so important these days! Especially if your company is marketed as a gift item—you're going to want the experience from doorstep and onward to be one that’s memorable. It increases brand loyalty and it's basically free marketing; think of how many Blue Apron boxes you see on people's doorsteps every week. I found out about those after spotting one at a friend’s house. Their box made me want to ask [about it]. [Custom packaging is] a great way to combine guerilla marketing techniques with company branding.”
Provide product information
Packaging may be the first interaction a customer has with a product, making it a great place to provide essential details. You can use boxes and other external packaging to share useful information about an item, such as directions and suggestions for use, ingredients, specifications, contents, or warning notices.
For example, the label on a can of Heinz Baked Beanz shares ingredients, nutrition and allergen information, and educational messaging about the importance of protein to a balanced diet.
- More than 50% of web consumers say they’ll make additional purchases from a business that uses above average or premium retail packaging.
- Nearly 40% of consumers say they’ll regularly share product packaging that is “gifty” or “interesting” on social media.
- More than 75% of shoppers will recommend products they like to their friends and followers on social media.
Packaging is pretty powerful stuff.
Types of retail packaging
There are many different types of retail packaging. Today we’re focusing on three: brick-and-mortar packaging, ecommerce packaging (including shipping ideas), and gift boxes.
Brick-and-mortar retail packaging
“As an independent retailer selling what many consider to be a mid-higher end ‘premium’ product, it’s very important that the customer’s in-store experience is a great one, and for most that includes not only the customer service they receive but also how their purchase is given to them,” says Alyssa Kerbel of mini mioche. “A nice, branded bag (especially one that’s reusable) can be an amazing and relatively cost-effective marketing and advertising tool for your brand.”
And mini mioche’s customers notice.
“At the store level, customers consistently give us positive feedback about our bags. They are an extra cost, but I consider it a marketing/advertising expense and I feel it’s well worth it.”
Bags and packaging are two pieces of the marketing pie; there’s also the visual presentation and merchandising displays that are key for any brand.
Calvin Sirbniak-Jones, Marketing Manager of accessories brand Vitaly, says, “It's important that our retail displays and brand collateral work together to help introduce Vitaly to our customers. We supply our wholesale partners with point-of-purchase displays and signage that reflect the design principles and aesthetic seen in our jewelry and clothing. At our flagship store we've designed the entire interior to reflect the simplicity and function of our products. This allows us to give the customer a full brand experience from when they walk in the door to when they leave with a Vitaly bag and sticker.”
Branded product packaging is arguably even more critical for ecommerce shopping experiences.
Tyler Vawser of Sticker Mule, “the world's fastest sticker printer,” explains, “Brick-and-mortar stores have more face-to-face interaction with their customers. While in-store branding matters, each individual branded space or item carries less weight. It's possible for a brick-and-mortar store to miss a few branded opportunities and still create a good experience. Ecommerce stores don't have that luxury and need to get the details right.”
Ecommerce businesses have fewer opportunities or ‘space’ to brand their customer experience, which is why it’s more important that they get it right and make that experience great.
As an online retailer, you likely put care and thought into every element of the user experience: from your homepage and product descriptions to your emails and checkout page. So consider retail packaging as the final step in the customer journey — and one of the most important ones.
“At Sticker Mule, we want the post-order experience to be as enjoyable as ordering,” Vawser says. “We send all of our orders in branded poly mailers or use custom packaging tape on boxes. We [also] offer custom mailers as a product, so our own customers can brand their shipping too.”
Alyssa Kerbel of mini mioche also recognizes the significance of ecommerce packaging.
“Custom branding is very important when it comes to the online customer experience. Not only is it the customer’s first impression of your brand, it’s also a way to set yourself apart from other online retailers, communicate your brand’s aesthetic, and increase exposure/marketing for your brand.”
Sirbniak-Jones of Vitaly agrees:
“For our online customers, unboxing their product is the first tangible experience they have with Vitaly, so this is an important moment for them and us. Our products are known for their clean, contemporary design: the aesthetic of our packaging reflects that.”
📦 PRO TIP: Shopify Fulfillment Network puts your brand first. Businesses can send in packing instructions, including your custom packaging and products inserts, and warehouses will ensure a consistent unboxing experience. Learn more about Shopify Fulfillment Network.
If you’ve seen Love Actually, you’re probably familiar with the scene in which Alan Rickman’s character shops for a holiday gift for his mistress. Rickman has no idea what he’s in for when he lets the sales associate, played by Rowan Atkinson, gift wrap the necklace he’s picked out.
Atkinson places the necklace in a box, ties the box with a ribbon, places it in a cellophane bag, fills it with candies and spices, ties the bag in twine, places it in a large gold box, and tops it off with a sprig of holly. Rickman’s character is less than thrilled by how long this gift wrapping takes–he’s trying to avoid being caught by his wife–but the final result is quite nice.
The moral of the story: special packaging instantly transforms any product into a gift.
And, according to research from Ipsos, packaging makes an impact on gift purchasing decisions for eight in 10 consumers.
Gift packaging doesn’t have to be complicated. Luxury ecommerce retailer Net-a-Porter places orders in an understated black gift box.
Gift wrap also doesn’t need to be expensive to be festive. Mini mioche packages gifts in a box, wraps them neatly, and embellishes them with a sticker that reads “Really Cute Things Inside.”
With gift wrap, you can even bundle products or samples and turn them into profitable presents. Take inspiration from Trader Joe’s, which packages 12 mini versions of their beauty products into a fun advent calendar and sells them for about $20.
Retail packaging tips
Here’s how to take your retail packaging from a necessity to something that surprises and delights customers.
Think about the unboxing experience
The rise of vlogging has opened the gateway to the importance of the “unboxing” experience. Influencers share the joys of shopping with their audiences by filming themselves as they unwrap or unbox new purchases.
The popularity of these videos underlines the power of attractive packaging and proves that shopping is a holistic experience that’s about more than just the product itself. Your packaging is an opportunity to surprise and delight customers.
“Unboxing has become a core part of customers’ experiences with companies,” says Tyler Vawser of Sticker Mule. “It matters at the individual level and at a social level: We want our customers and their friends and colleagues to have an experience every time a new order arrives.”
Layer elements within retail packaging to create an experience akin to unveiling a hidden treasure. Branded tissue paper, ribbons, stickers, and booklets can be part of the experience.
“We like to include funny stickers with each package, featuring slogans like, ‘We like big (pork) butts and we cannot lie’ or ‘I'm a heavy smoker (with a picture of a grill),’” says Lea Richards of Pig of the Month BBQ. “We get comments about those all the time and people tend to tag us in photos with the box or stickers and cards on Instagram and Facebook more than anything!”
Another tactic that adds to the packaging experience is the personal touch from someone within the brand.
Vitaly applies this strategy with every shipment sent. “Our customers receive a personal ‘Thank You’ note from our Founder and CEO with every online purchase. Vitaly started with the idea of making cool things for our friends so we wanted to make sure all our customers know that they’re part of the family when they buy Vitaly,” explains Calvin Sirbniak-Jones.
Leverage social media
By making your packaging appealing and interesting, you are motivating customers to post their goods on their own social media channels. This serves as free promotion for your brand and free content for you to leverage on your own channels.
Kerbel of mini mioche leverages user-generated content for the brand’s social media channels. She explains, “customers regularly share photos of their mini mioche packages arriving in the mail, which… is amazing exposure for our brand and in some cases we have re-posted these photos on our own feed (so it results in great, free content for us).”
Encourage social sharing by including a call to action and instructions in your packaging. Include the hashtag you want customers to use, and encourage them to tag your account. You could even provide an incentive for social sharing, such as the chance to win a gift card or be featured on your brand’s social media feeds.
Tyler Vawser explains Sticker Mule’s tactic for driving user-generated content.
“Our package inserts are signed by a staff member working on the order, [and] prompt the customer to share a photo of their stickers, buttons, mailers, or magnets on Instagram and mention @stickermule.”
Research from IBM and NRF indicates that 40% of consumers seek out brands that share their values. What do today’s shoppers find important? Eighty percent value sustainability. In fact, seven in 10 shoppers who find sustainability very important say they’d spend 35% more on brands that are “environmentally responsible.”
There are a number of ways to be sustainable with your packaging:
- Consider the materials you use. Packaging made with post-consumer materials can help you appeal to more customers, and reduce your negative impact on the planet.
- Let customers opt out of packaging. Instead of always wrapping products in tissue paper for brick-and-mortar customers, make it available upon request. Or, let online customers upgrade to more sustainable shipping materials.
- Encourage recycling and reusing of your packaging. Cardboard packaging is widely recycled, while tote bags, pouches, and decorative boxes can be used again and again.
Examples of successful retail packaging
These retailers have mastered the art of packaging. Study and adopt their tactics to elevate your packaging into an integral part of your brand.
Glossier’s packaging is as recognizable as the beauty brand’s best selling products.
Products come nestled in a bubble wrap pouch made in the brand’s signature color: millennial pink. Customers often reuse these pouches for storing makeup, jewelry, tech cords, and more.
Each order also comes with a logoed sticker, which changes every season and becomes a collector’s item.
Candle subscription company Vellabox makes each monthly shipment a delight.
Depending on the subscription, each petite box comes with either one or two candles, as well as several other memorable additions, including:
- A reusable canvas pouch for each candle.
- Notecards with product information, such as who made the candles, scent notes, and a discount code for your next purchase.
- A bonus freebie gift, like a snack or blank recipe cards. Subscribers never know what it will be ahead of time, which makes it fun.
- A notecard with an inspirational quote.
With carefully selected packaging, every box is a highly anticipated delivery for subscribers.
Cult bedding company Brooklinen disrupted an outdated industry with its direct-to-consumer luxury sheets.
Unlike products customers use in public, like apparel pos or automobiles, bedding doesn’t get shown to a very wide audience. Before Brooklinen had a brick-and-mortar presence, this meant it was difficult for their sheets to promote themselves by people seeing others using them.
So what did Brooklinen do? The retailer turned attractive packaging into a guerilla marketing campaign. Every set of sheets comes with a logoed tote bag. Walk through any hip, urban neighborhood, and you’ll likely see a handful of people using Brooklinen’s bags.
And because you can only get the bag by purchasing the sheets, which is cost-prohibitive for many, the bags have become status symbols and collectors’ items. You can even find them for resale on eBay and Poshmark.
The company also takes great pride in putting together their online orders. One customer said:
“Brooklinen included an adorable tote bag and welcome leaflet with stickers in the very first shipment, which was a delightful surprise. I felt as if my order was packed with the utmost care and presentation.”
Create your own packaging for your retail products
Now that you understand the importance of retail packaging, know your options, understand packaging best practices, and have seen how the pros approach packaging, you’re ready to create your own retail packaging.
This post was originally written by Karin Eldor and has been updated by Ana Cvetkovic.
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Retail packaging FAQ
What is considered retail packaging?
How do you package your own product?
- Create a packaging design: Research the design trends in your industry, create a design concept, and have a professional designer create the artwork.
- Source packaging materials: Find a reliable supplier that can provide you with the packaging materials you need.
- Source a printer: Find a reliable printer with the right equipment and capabilities to produce your packaging in the quantities you require.
- Print and assemble: Work with your printer to print, assemble, and ship the packaging to your customers.
- Monitor quality: Inspect your packaging to ensure the quality meets your standards and that your customers are satisfied with the final product.