When starting a business there a lot of things to consider, a multitude of vital procedures that will determine if you get your business up and running and are able to sustain a profit. If sufficient planning and execution lead to success, well then, congratulations. If you are selling something that someone wants and will continue to want, then your next step is to plan for the future. How will you sustain your brand? How will you stand out? How will you be perceived? These are important things to consider because there will always be someone coming up right behind you, looking to steal your share of the market. To stay ahead of the curve, you must be proactive and claim your territory. If you are selling online or selling at a store — remember those? — your brand must stand out from the others and announce your presence. And how is that done? Simple: packaging.
Whether you receive an online order by the US Postal Service or choose one off the shelves of a store, packaging has a visceral effect on us. Do children choose the brown box of cereal, or do they always beg you for the splashy colors of sugary cereals? Attention-grabbing packaging forces us as consumers to take notice. Why should your product be any different?
No matter where you are in the life of your business, just starting up or an established old dog, improvements to your packaging strategy can only help. And not just because loud colors and fancy boxes catch the eye, but because an overall strategy on packaging can end up saving you a lot of money. Materials, labor, storage, and shipping costs all factor into your bottom line, and especially as an independent e-commerce business, mailing your items gives you an opportunity to create a first and lasting impression.
Research shipping and packaging options
It’s your customer’s first impression of you. But if they open your wonderfully-crafted box and find that their much-anticipated product is broken — then their first impression will not be good. Having to deal with one more problems during their busy day will frustrate your customer. No matter how easy you make returns for the purchaser, it requires time and effort and waiting twice as long for whatever it was they ordered. Or they may see your product in it’s fractured, damaged state and choose to return it for a refund and continue to shop elsewhere. Shipping and packaging are perpetually linked. Settling on the cheapest shipping rates and materials might not be worth it if your prized item arrives in tatters. Choosing the fastest route or most expensive supplies may not fit your pricing model.
When products are shipped across the state, or country, or especially around the world, they are classified into a freight class, and that freight class will affect your cost. Using a 3PL or Third-Party Logistics company can help you plan your shipping needs and ensure that your product is transported in the most efficient, cost-effective way. If you can adapt your product to fit in a smaller box, or even better a bubble mailer, then you could save significantly on your costs. Plan ahead before buying packaging supplies in bulk.
Create a packaging budget
Begin with widely-available packaging to manage your costs. Nothing extravagant or expensive here. Source your research on shipping costs. A rectangular box will be easier to carry and therefore cheaper than a fancy box with 8 sides. Materials should be multifunctional for different sized orders. Most importantly, fully protect your product from potential damage. A drop-test is sometimes used to test the durability of a package before it goes out. You’ll want to tightly manage your supplies as you’re likely to have fewer orders to start. Store enough packing materials to cover your standard orders, and just enough more to handle a sudden sales spike.
Plant the seeds of your brand through packaging
Just because you’ve come to determine that the most cost-effective packaging for your product is a plain old brown Kraft bubble mailer, don’t despair! Looking back someday, this will be the shortest time in the life of your glorious and highly successful business. For now, though, it’s all about making that bottom line work. Showing off will come later. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative and add your unique flair to the packaging. This is where you plant the seeds of what your business will become. A useful tool to be used with the product, clear and concise instructions, a secret surprise in each box, a handwritten note, a coupon, a recipe, free limited-time membership to your fan club. It could be anything. But it says you care. In a totally sappy way. And isn’t that what we want? To tell our customers, “We’re not like the other guys. We want our relationship to last forever.” This may all seem ridiculous and unprofessional, but a lasting bond with your customers and their friends is exactly what you want and need. Serious consideration should be given to your branding, and your e-commerce packaging will become the esteemed ambassador of your company.
Phase one review:
- Research shipping and packaging options.
- Create a packaging budget.
- Plant the seeds of your brand through packaging.
Create an unboxing experience
You will be observing the competition, and looking to gain ground on them. Branded packaging is a great way to do it. Your package should be instantly identifiable as the mailman takes it out of the truck. No doubt, that package came from your company. But the outside of the package isn’t the only important part. The participation of revealing the actual product should be a pleasant surprise for your customers.
Interesting tissue paper, creatively adding graphics, special unique folding, custom colored boxes, recycled material. Anything that supports your message within budget. Remember, this could be your customer’s first interaction and impression of your brand, and you want to give them that “wow” moment. You want everyone to feel truly appreciated that you made a little extra effort to bring them a smile. See how important this is?
Just a warning, though. People value their time above all else, and if they have to spend half an hour unwrapping their order, or feel there’s an excess of wasteful material, your brand image will suffer in their eyes. Simple and clean yet unique should be a rule of thumb.
Develop a packaging system balance
You have a responsibility to find the best value both for your business and your customers. Obviously, in most scenarios, you’re likely to get lower prices on supplies if you buy more. Packaging supplies can get very bulky though, especially those big rolls of bubble wrap, so plan accordingly. Just don’t risk running out of your supplies and failing to get your orders out.
This means you need to find a happy balance between:
- Getting the best possible value on packaging materials.
- Making the best use of storage space available.
- Strengthening your brand through packaging.
Find the right packaging supplier
With your growth, your demand for specific supplies increase. Finding a supplier that can handle your business needs is crucial to your success. Does their output sync with your schedule? Do they have the widest possible choices of packaging materials? Are they flexible to last-minute changes? Do their customer service skills mirror your own? Do they have the imagination and experience to help you find the most practical and cost-effective solution to any packaging problem? Do they offer samples before any final decision is made? Finding the right packaging supplier will help reduce headaches and will hopefully lead to having a dependable partner in your growing business.
- Create an unboxing experience.
- Develop a packaging system balance.
- Find the right packaging supplier.
Continue to expand possibilities
From a design standpoint, this is where you can let your imagination run wild, creating a style all your own. You’ll want your packaging to truly stand out from the field, surprising consumers with unexpected and original ideas. Your packaging should say more about your personality than your product if you can wrap your head around that! Keep the Twitter and YouTube chatter going as customers delight in their unboxing experience. Do not underestimate your packaging as an incredibly powerful marketing tool.
Tie it all together
Your well-oiled machine will inevitably run into hiccups, but you will be prepared. Staying on top takes a lot of work, and you must always be finding ways to improve. Be flexible, loose, creative with ideas. Examine alternatives like reusable packaging, or a re-imagination of nostalgic concepts, or a mixture of cultural styles, or simplified return packaging. The possibilities are endless, and you now have the budget to explore any number of options.
Will people who have never tried your product before be as awe-inspired as your first customers? Will your returning customers become fatigued at the same old concept you’ve had since day 1? A proper packaging strategy will be built from what you have learned from experience and current market trends. By developing your custom approach to packaging, you will continue to stand out in a crowd of brown boxes.