Illustration of a man and a woman holding a shipping package while smiling

Product packaging 101: A simple guide for ecommerce sellers

SkillsCategory
13 min read
Shan Lian

If you haven’t put much thought into your product packaging, now may be the time to do so — especially if your ecommerce business could use a lift in sales. From unique design elements to fun personalization, online brands (large and small) are finding creative ways to make a customer’s unboxing experience truly memorable.

So, what is product packaging and why does it matter?

Product packaging consists of the production, materials and design efforts that make up the box, bag or container you choose to send to customers when shipping their products out. It’s the first thing customers come into contact with when their product arrives at their doorstep.

So, making the unboxing experience impressionable is going to help set your brand apart from the competition.

Ultimately, your product packaging can be a driving force in pushing customer loyalty if you can capture the value of authenticity. And considering other companies might easily overlook this area, you have the opportunity to capitalize on this sentiment — especially as a small business owner.

How much should product packaging cost?

When you’re looking for cost-efficient product packaging, you’ll want to source materials based on the size, strength and weight that’s most suitable for your products.

So, if you have a product that sells for $100, your product packaging should fall between $10 to $40. This should include any fillers, packaging tape and any other shipping costs related to the packaging process.

A few ways to keep material costs down are:

  • Buying materials in bulk
  • Decreasing shipping weight by nixing any unnecessary packaging materials
  • Choosing low-cost fillers/stuffing or making your own using recycled paper and a shredder
  • Adding your own custom designs (vs using a third-party vendor) by using branded stickers and stamps as decorations

And although the goal is to keep costs down as much as possible, it’s important you take your product’s shipping needs into consideration. Products that might easily break or fall apart in transportation need the proper protection necessary to arrive intact. If they arrive in poor condition, your brand might be impacted in a negative way.

Thus, a balance of cost-efficiency and proper protection is key for deciding which materials you go with.

Product packaging types and materials to consider

Shopping for packaging materials can be overwhelming at first. But weighing out your options, based on your product’s needs, is the most important element to look out for. Think about how you can ensure the type of packaging you choose is going to ship, look and hold up in extreme weather conditions.

But also, don’t break the bank by opting for containers that aren’t the right size or bulk buying more materials than you need. Start with only the necessities and build up from there, as you scale your business.

Here are some of the most popular options you can consider:

Shipping boxes and cartons

A standard cardboard box can come in many shapes, sizes and styles. It’s a reliable choice if you’re looking for something sturdy to accommodate larger products. But can quickly add up in costs when it comes to larger sizes and quantities.

Pros:

  • Good for larger products
  • Sturdy and durable for fragile items
  • Can be reused (think returns or exchanges)

Cons: 

  • Can be pricey for larger sizes

Corrugated mailer boxes

Corrugated mailers are similar to shipping boxes, but require less paper and glue to make — resulting in lower costs. And because they’re more compact than most standard shipping boxes, they tend to save you on postage.

Because this option is more compact than shipping boxes, you’ll need to consider the size and fragility of your products first. Over stuffing or not having the proper filling (more on that later) can result in damaged goods in transit.

Pros:

  • Lighter than shipping boxes
  • Saves you on postage fees
  • Recyclable

Cons: 

  • May not be suitable for larger products
  • Requires proper filling for smaller products

Envelope and bubble mailers

Envelope mailers are lightweight options that can house products ranging from books, clothing, electronics and more. Some envelope options come lined with padded bubbles, while others are flatter and made from plain paper. Depending on the type of product,

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to store
  • Less expensive than boxes

Cons: 

  • Not suitable for large products
  • Potential risk for damages if fragile items aren’t properly supported

Bags and poly mailers

Bags range in many different sizes and materials. Some are made with tear-resistant exteriors like polyolefin (aka poly bags), while others can be more suitable for eco-conscious brands (like organic cotton). You might also consider small drawstring bags for jewelry or foil-sealed bags for food products.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to store
  • Can come in tear-resistant or waterproof materials

Cons: 

  • Not always suitable for larger products

Custom packaging

When you’re looking to make a statement with your packaging, custom packaging is the way to go. You can add printed messages to the exterior and interior of your packaging boxes, while also playing with your business logo, fonts, colors and graphics.

And customization doesn’t end there. You can also apply it to branded tissue paper, ribbon and note card inserts, too. This option is more of a premium choice for businesses, but it’s well worth the investment if you’re looking to make a statement with your packaging.

Pros:

  • Adds a statement that’s unique to your brand
  • Offers you creative freedom for a variety of packaging types

Cons: 

  • Production costs can be pricier than most other options
  • May need to hire a graphic designer for the execution

Packaging fillers and other essential supplies

The right fillers can make all the difference in how your product arrives at your customer’s doorstep. No one wants to open a package with disheveled or broken items thrown all over the inside. Think about all the things that could affect the final presentation during the shipping journey. Then, decide on the most efficient way to maintain a polished aesthetic upon arrival.

Here are some popular choices: 

  • Tissue paper: Adds an extra layer of cushioning and you can choose from a variety of colors, branded customizations and graphic designs.
  • Corrugated bubble wrap: This type of bubble wrap is more eco-friendly than the traditional plastic version and adds an extra layer of protection for fragile items.
  • Air pillows: Similar to bubble wrap, air pillows provide extra cushion and protection for your products. They also use less plastic and many come in biodegradable materials.
  • Packing papers: Choose from a variety of different packaging papers (think crinkle or colorful) as fillers for your boxes. You can even DIY them yourself using recycled paper and a shredder.
  • Packing peanuts: Traditional styrofoam versions can be cost-effective, but not ideal if your brand is opting to be eco-friendly. A biodegradable version can be a good alternative, but note that it may be pricier.

Once you’ve figured out which fillers to use, make a list of other items to include in your production costs. Just remember, you don’t need everything all at once. Start with what you need first, then add any extras as you scale up your business.

  • Business cards
  • Customized stamps
  • Branded stickers and ribbon
  • Tape and glue
  • Label makers
  • Packaging labels
  • Shipping scale
  • Tagging gun
  • Branded inserts (think note cards and promotional materials)

Establishing your brand’s product packaging design

Another element of product packaging involves decisions that target your brand’s design style. The aesthetic you choose needs to match your brand identity. And to do this, you need to be aware of what your brand stands for and who your target audience is first.

Once you determine your identity, you can choose to hire a graphic designer that’ll help you pick out color palettes, fonts and design templates to match your brand’s packaging story. Don’t forget that this could include designs on custom boxes, too.

And if you don’t have the resources for a designer just yet, you can always DIY the smaller details first. An image editing app like GoDaddy Studio can help you create graphics for thank you letters and business cards using professional templates and illustrations. Plus, you can find creative ways to zhuzh up your boxes and bags with branded stamps and stickers.

Simple ways to elevate your design themes

The design of your packaging theme will depend on the type of niche your products fall into. Look for design trends that match your style’s personality and choose packaging materials that coincide with the aesthetic you’re going for. If you need inspiration, check out some of the design ideas below.

Eco-conscious

If your brand is all about making a positive impact on the environment, think about utilizing sustainable packaging materials that customers can either recycle or compost with. You can also include informational inserts that highlight your company’s eco-friendly contributions and choose color templates that are earthy, clean and minimal.

Inspirational example: Mindful Goods

Fun and whimsical

Going with a kitschy or kid-friendly theme? Go with bright colors and bold shapes or pair with punchy messages to show off your playful side. You can also play with fun colored tape, ribbon and tissue paper to contrast any plain colored containers you use for shipping materials.

Inspirational example: Bibbidi Boxes

Modern and chic

If you want to stand out as a company that prides itself on high-quality products, you’ll need to choose a design theme that feels elegant and sophisticated. Earthy and pastel colors are typical for this kind of style, along with adding hints of gold or silver in things like ribbon and tissue paper.

Inspirational example: Tiffany’s

Dark and moody

Thinking of a packaging design that’s more edgy and punk rock? Try playing with darker tones like purple or red and pair them with black, gold or silver accents. You can even incorporate graphics like skulls, roses or astrological symbols onto notecards or packaging slips.

Inspirational example: Witch Casket

Creative packaging ideas for a memorable unboxing experience

Because ecommerce stores lack the ability to present customers with in-store experiences, it’s important to captivate customers' senses using the unboxing experience instead. Making a good first impression with new customers can lead to positive reviews and increased social media engagement. Plus, shoppers are more likely to make a returning purchase from a brand they feel a personalized connection with.

In fact, companies that utilize personalization tactics in their marketing efforts often earn 40% more in revenue than their counterparts.

And making a memorable customer experience doesn’t have to be an expensive production. There are simple ways to win over your customers by adding small personalized touches. Peek some of the unique ways your brand can make the unboxing experience for your customers.

Add a QR code or social media hashtags for a boost in engagement

Many ecommerce companies utilize QR codes and social hashtags in a number of ways. Sometimes they’re used for offering special discounts and other times they’re used as invitations for customer feedback. You might even see them included with product instructions, as an interactive way for customers to view video guides or tutorials.

Whatever the case may be, you can use them as a tool to draw customers back to your website for added engagement. Just make sure to attract them with helpful content that gives them something in return or allows them to feel directly connected to your brand.

Include a handwritten thank you note

A simple way to personalize your product packaging is to include a handwritten note, thanking your customer for making a purchase from you.

If you’re a small business just starting out, you can take the extra time to write your entire message on fancy stationery. But as your business grows, you might transition to pre-printed messages on postcards with designated spots to write in something personalized (like their name or details about their purchase).

Add a free sample or gift

One surefire way to excite your customers is to include something totally unexpected for free within their package. This could include branded stickers or merch, new product samples or even small goodies like candy.

The beauty brand, Glossier, is a great example of pairing gifts that match their cute and pink aesthetic. They typically include fun branded stickers, so that customers can customize their makeup containers any way they like.

Include a tip guide or interactive activity

If you have a product that has a special backstory or unique concept, try emphasizing it somewhere within your packaging. This could look like a printed postcard message highlighting how each purchase benefits a local non-profit or a customized packaging design that invites customers to participate in a social hashtag challenge.

You can even opt to “gamify” your products by including a fun interactive activity. For example, Universal Yums, a subscription-based snack company, includes a scoreboard activity that allows customers to rate snacks featured within their box. Check out this Universal Yums unboxing by TikTok user @alyssa.loop for a closer look.

Add ornamental decorations for themed packages

A small way to elevate the theme of your product packages is to include ornamental decorations that coincide with your brand’s identity. This could look like twine ribbon and dried floral petals spread throughout the interior of the box for nature-based products. Or, you could add hand painted flourishes to the exterior of a box for fun or whimsical products.

Where to shop for your supplies

Need a quick list of product packaging supplies? Start with the list below and filter through the options that best suit your business needs most. Keep in mind that some choices offer services in multiple areas, so you may find that one or two suppliers will work best for you.

Remember to compare things like cost, quality and design options that fit your brand’s overall aesthetic.

Product packaging materials:

Fillers and supplies:

Custom packaging:

Final notes on boosting customer satisfaction

Before the shipment even arrives, make sure your customers have great things to say about your brand. A good way to spark positive engagement is by ensuring your customer service is always on point.

Here are a few ways you can build a positive relationship with your customers, from an ecommerce standpoint:

  • Make sure your store is mobile-friendly and intuitive. Optimizing it correctly will help customers surf and purchase products in a cinch. GoDaddy offers a large selection of responsive templates for your online store if you need extra help.
  • Offer free shipping. Many online consumers agree that free shipping is an important factor during the checkout process, and most will purchase more in order to qualify for free shipping.
  • Place return labels right inside the box. It makes that final purchasing decision easier for customers when they know they can always return the product hassle-free.

Lastly, it’s important you set an impressionable tone from the very start and work to maintain that same energy throughout all of your business processes. Aim to answer questions quickly and build a reputation as a problem-solver to build up trust.

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