Shipping and Fulfillment

How to Package a Product: Advanced Tips for Merchants

Aaron Sullivan
April 24, 2024

For seasoned managers of ecommerce businesses, three questions probably come to mind before making a product-packaging decision:

  • Does the packaging create an engaging brand experience that helps retain customers?
  • Do packaging costs fall within budget limits?
  • Is packaging environmentally friendly?

Thanks to rising costs and declining customer loyalty, it’s more difficult than ever to get a consistent yes to each of these questions. But with the tips in this guide, you’ll learn how to package a product more efficiently while improving the unboxing experience. 

Let’s start with the first thing the customer sees: the packaging container.

Packaging containers

Whatever your product, ecommerce customers look forward to its arrival. The packaging container has the power to boost that anticipation when it finally shows up. And when combined with a product that meets or exceeds expectations, your brand perception gets a boost, as well. 

Your container choice depends primarily on the size and fragility of your products.

Boxes, envelopes, and mailers

Corrugated cardboard boxes are popular for larger items like electronics and furniture or for a combination of smaller items that might each have their own box or bag. Both single- and the sturdier double-walled corrugated boxes are recyclable.

Smaller, more durable items might be better fits for padded mailers or plastic envelopes. These don’t add much to the package weight or take up a lot of storage space, which pads your bottom line. Not all are recyclable, so double-check with your supplier before placing a big order.

Your brand also plays a crucial role in your chosen container type. A diamond ring is small and light, but you wouldn’t send that to a customer in an inexpensive plastic mailer. You’ll likely use a custom box with your logo that channels the ring’s luxury status, much like My Trio Rings.

Image of My Trio Rings jewelry box
My Trio Rings features its logo on a custom jewelry box. Image source

But whenever you customize a container, your packaging costs tend to go up.

Tips for customizing your containers

A customized container is the surest way to kick off a “wow” unboxing experience. Here are a few affordable and eco-friendly ways to do it.

Match the container as closely as possible to your product’s dimensions. A great way to spend too much on packaging (custom or not) is to ship your products in containers that are too large. Oversized containers add to shipping costs because they add weight, and they increase warehousing costs if they take up extra storage space.

Once you know the dimensions of your product, companies like Pacdora help you design the most efficient packaging to match.

Image of custom packaging offered by Pacdora
Pacdora allows you to create efficient custom product packaging. Image source

Send the product mockup to your supplier of choice, and it’ll recommend the most cost-effective packaging options.

Balance sustainability with durability. As younger consumers accrue more disposable income, they tend to expect brands to care about sustainability.

In a 2023 study of US consumers, McKinsey learned that “37 and 39 percent of Gen Z and millennial consumers, respectively … cited environmental impact as an extremely or very important factor when making their purchasing decisions.”

But when you choose a recyclable or compostable packaging solution, make sure it can protect your product during shipping. 

Compostable packaging provider Hero Packaging recommends testing its mailers for durability, especially if your product has sharp corners or edges. If your packaging fails, you’ll end up spending much more time and money to replace the product and salvage the customer relationship.

Keep your customized packaging simple. You want your container to pop, but too many colors in your palette increase costs. For example, bedding retailer Resident uses a simple black-on-white palette with its logo leading the way and a witty quote underneath the lid. In its case, less is more.

Image of dog on a bed next to Resident packaging
Resident's simple black and white packaging reinforces its brand identity for customers. Image source

Package filler

Package filler provides cushioning that protects fragile items from shipping damage. It can also play a huge role in the unboxing experience.

Standard fillers include bubble wrap, plastic air pillows, and styrofoam packing peanuts. These options may be cheap and effective, but they don’t do much for your brand. Think of packing peanuts. Who likes cleaning those up when they spill out of the box?

More environmentally friendly options like tissue and crinkle paper can match your brand’s colors. Tissue paper can also feature your logo and intricate designs. Here’s what national packaging provider Uline currently charges for select fillers:

A table of popular Uline filler types along with sizes and costs
Merchants can choose from many popular filler types offered by Uline.

Each filler above is recyclable. You may need to test different fillers before ordering in bulk.

Offset filler failures with shipping protection

Even if you stabilize your product with the right amount of filler, accidental breakage is still possible. Shipping protection helps salvage relationships with customers disappointed by these setbacks.

The last thing a customer wants is to send an email explaining the situation, wait days for a claim approval, and then wait for a new product to ship. Modern shipping protection allows customers to file claims online with just an email address. They learn within minutes whether their claim has been approved. 

Sure, customers might pay a bit extra at checkout for protection, depending on how a merchant chooses to offer it. But the payoff is saved time for your customers, which helps build trust and credibility, and financial savings for your brand. Within three months, Boutique Rugs saved $1.5 million in product replacement costs after switching to Extend Shipping Protection. 

Packing tape

Packing tape’s main job is to seal a box securely, and many brands stop there. But it can also play a significant role in creating the right brand image for customers.

Certain types of packing tape can hold custom messages, logos, and your brand’s colors on top of a secure seal. Many types are also eco-friendly.

For these reasons, many brands are turning to water-activated tape and leaving behind the cheaper but unrecyclable clear polypropylene tape. As you can tell from the name, water-activated tape becomes sticky when moistened. It has these advantages:

  • It tends to be more secure than clear acrylic tape, making it ideal for packages that weigh more than 25 pounds. 
  • It’s recyclable, and companies like EcoEnclose even use biodegradable, algae-derived printing ink for custom messaging.

That custom messaging can tout your commitment to sustainability or express gratitude to the customer for buying your product. 

Image of a box with custom tape showing off its eco-friendly shipping supplies
Packing tape can be eco-friendly and convey an important brand message. Image source

Yes, water-activated tape is more expensive than polypropylene tape. But as with most packaging solutions, the per-roll cost drops as you order more.

Complement packing tape with branded stickers

If your budget prevents you from investing in water-activated tape, use recyclable, custom stickers to enhance the unboxing experience.

Place them on top of the clear acrylic tape sealing the box or inside the box over the layers of tissue paper that cover the product.

Customize the stickers with a message like “Thank You” or “Happiness Awaits.” EcoEnclose offers zero-waste versions that recycle along with the shipping container.

Consider including a few extra stickers with your logo or tagline. Satisfied customers might stick them on their computers or notebooks, giving you some free advertising.

Product samples

Product samples help you say thank you to valued customers and give you the chance to cross-sell items they might buy in the future. As useful as they are, they impact your packaging in the following ways:

  • Samples take up space in a container. You might need to alter your product packaging design to accommodate them, plus train warehouse staff to place them in containers correctly.
  • To call attention to the samples, you might need to wrap them in a different filler tissue or place a sticker on the container’s interior.
  • Customers will need information about the sample, which you can include on a paper insert or in a delivery confirmation email.

Ecommerce retailer Jewlr is known to include a free sample — which it calls a free gift — in orders. Because its gifts are small and lightweight, they don’t add much to the packaging costs.

Image of a free gift offered by Jewlr on select orders
Jewlr sends free gifts to help enhance the customer experience and generate loyalty. Image source

But since product samples have a cost, you may choose to add them only to certain orders. 

When to send product samples

Consider adding product samples to orders that fit these criteria:

  • First-time buyer. The free sample gives them ideas for their next order.
  • Subscription anniversaries. Subscribers are valuable customers since they drive recurring revenue. A sample is a great way to show appreciation and encourage them to add it to their subscription orders. This boosts average order value.
  • Replacement products. The delight a customer experiences from a sample can further shore up your relationship with them after the disappointment of product breakage or theft.

Personalized notes

Like unexpected free samples, personalized messages show customers you care, and they might even influence customers to buy again. 

Handwritten notes make an even bigger impression. According to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, “a handwritten note has a positive and significant effect on customer spending.” 

Even better, notes take up almost no space in your packaging containers, so they won’t add much to package weight and shipping costs. The tough part is scaling them, especially handwritten ones.

Tips for crafting and scaling handwritten notes

The good news is note writing has never been easier to scale. Companies like Wami take your messaging and use robots to write notes with actual pens. The business can even coordinate with your logistics provider to insert the notes into packages.

Then there’s the content of the notes. Here are a few ways to boost their impact:

  • Address the customer by name.
  • Express gratitude for their order, and encourage them to reach out with any questions.
  • Include a CTA of some kind, like asking them to leave a review.

Finally, make your note the first thing the customer sees when they unbox.

Image of a product box with a handwritten note inside
A personalized, handwritten note can impact customer spending habits. Image source

This placement of the note can heighten the emotional impact of unwrapping a product.

Marketing collateral

Because ecommerce customers receive so much post-purchase information via email, many brands overlook the marketing potential of physical inserts. These inserts usually include receipts, packing slips, and promotional flyers. 

If you avoid inserts because of their environmental impact, keep in mind that there are eco-friendly options. Companies like Vistaprint claim that 95% of the paper it prints on “is certified to the highest standard of responsible forestry.” Most of its stock is recyclable as well.

Receipts and packing slips

The marketing potential of receipts and packing slips stems from giving customers quick access to the information and promos they might need after the unboxing experience, like:

  • How to contact customer support
  • The product return policy
  • Shipping protection claim instructions

To avoid overloading packing slips and receipts with too much information, use a QR code to send customers to a web page. This saves them the trouble of searching your website or their inbox for answers. You can also use QR codes to link customers to landing pages that hold special offers just for them. 

If you’re a Shopify customer, you can embed a discount code in a shareable link. Add that link to a QR code, and a scan takes the customer to a product page with the code already applied to the shopping cart. Shopify offers a free QR code generator.

Shopify also lets you brand packing slips with logos, product images, and more.

Promotional inserts

Even with a QR code, receipts and packing slips often aren’t enough to hold the information or CTAs you want your customers to have. In these cases, you should invest in customized promotional inserts. These are ideal for businesses whose customers benefit from the following:

  • Recipes to make using kitchen-related products
  • How-to-assemble guides
  • Recommended products for their next order

Jewlr uses inserts to build customer confidence in its jewelry. It includes a certificate of authenticity in each package.

Image of a promotional insert used by Jewlr to document product authenticity
Jewlr uses promotional inserts as a certificate of authenticity on its products. Image source

Remember, inserts add to packaging costs. For example, you might have to pay a graphic designer to create them, and you’ll have printing expenses, too.

Measure the ROI of your marketing collateral

A key benefit of including promo or QR codes on your marketing collateral is the ability to track their use and determine whether they’re worth the design and printing costs.

You might attach a QR code to instruction manuals, which takes customers to a YouTube video showing the product’s assembly. And a promo code nestled underneath recommended products encourages customers to buy.

For as little as $9 per month, Scanova offers unlimited scans for up to five QR codes. The platform also tracks the number of scans the QR codes get. To track Shopify QR code use, you must be a paying merchant.

If the orders or engagement from inserts consistently falls short of your KPIs, then you might be better off sending them in emails — or not at all.

Return labels

Returns are both costly and, especially for brands in the apparel space, inevitable. But if you make them as easy as possible for consumers, you’re more likely to retain them. Including return labels in your shipping containers saves customers the trouble of requesting and printing one, which makes their lives a bit easier.

Former Veho Chief Commercial Officer Eric Swanson agrees, “Time and time again, we see that businesses that offer easy returns experiences engender both stronger customer loyalty and higher conversion rates.”

Unless they’re used to return an item, these labels only cost you paper and ink. EcoEnclose’s recyclable labels start at $29 for a pack of 200.

Stopping returns before they start

Retail merchandise returns totaled $743 billion in 2023. To reduce this cost, consider how you can help customers try your product first to minimize returns. 

Biometric-ring seller ŌURA does this by sending out free sizing kits when customers place an order. The customer selects their size from the kit, and then the ring ships. Now, customers are much less likely to return the ring due to a poor fit.

Image of a ring-sizing kit sent by ŌURA to new customers
ŌURA sends customers a ring-sizing kit which they can keep or pass onto  others who might be interested in making a purchase. Image source

ŌURA’s ring-sizing package works for multiple reasons:

  • It makes a powerful first impression on new customers. The high-quality packaging clearly establishes ŌURA’s brand identity. Plus, it gives customers the feeling that ŌURA wants them to be happy with their eventual purchase.
  • Customers don’t have to return the ring-sizing kits. They can pass the kits on to friends who might end up buying a ring themselves.

Not all brands can follow ŌURA’s lead, of course, but it’s worth noting how good packaging and return mitigation can go hand in hand.

Logistics provider

Once you’ve finalized your packaging design, you need to bring it to life as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. You can either assemble the packages yourself or outsource the process to a third party.

If your online store only processes a few orders per week, it probably makes more sense to self-fulfill. But you’ll add these tasks to your to-do list:

  • Finding and paying for space to store your products, containers, filler, and inserts
  • Printing out your receipts and return labels
  • Seeking bids for custom packing that fits your budget
  • Arranging pickups with logistics providers like FedEx

Once you start receiving multiple orders per day, consider outsourcing packaging and ecommerce fulfillment to a third-party logistics provider (3PL). Sure, there’s a cost based on the complexity of your packaging and storage needs, but 3PLs offer some advantages:

  • 3PLs buy standard and recyclable packaging in bulk, saving you money.
  • You can store all of your customized tissue, containers, and stickers at their facilities.
  • They have preferred rates with FedEx and UPS.
  • You’ll need to train 3PL teams on assembling the package correctly, but then supervisors take over and maintain quality control.

Outsourcing packaging and fulfillment frees you to spend more time on marketing and growing your business.

Back up your custom packaging with Extend Shipping Protection

Eye-catching packaging makes your brand memorable, but you build brand loyalty by managing customer pain points when packaging fails. 

One of the best ways to stay ahead of these pain points is to offer Extend Shipping Protection to your customers. It’s available for a range of products, from wedding rings to electronics.

As a merchant, you get peace of mind knowing your bottom line is safe from unexpected package losses. At the same time, customers can rest easy knowing you have their backs when shipping damage takes place. Plus, Extend makes the online claims process simple, and your brand gets the credit.

Get in touch with us here to learn how Extend can help improve your post-purchase customer experience.

Interested in reading more? Check out these related articles:

The Ultimate Guide to Disruptive Post-Purchase Marketing

Shipping Insurance vs. Shipping Protection: Which is Better For Your Business?

Why Merchants Can't Afford to Skip Out on Shipping Protection

The 10 Best Ecommerce Shipping Solutions for New and Growing Businesses

Ecommerce Fulfillment Models: How to Choose the Best One for Your Business

Aaron Sullivan
Aaron Sullivan is senior content marketing manager at Extend. He specializes in writing about e-commerce, finance, entertainment, and beer.

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