Yes, we were taught to never judge a book by its cover; but never underestimate the power of premium retail packaging when it comes to ecommerce and brick-and-mortar sales.
Branded retail packaging is one of the elements of the customer experience, which can turn an otherwise “meh” experience into an actual “yeah!” moment. And in this highly visual era of social media, the right “wow” packaging can translate into “wow” sales.
Not taking our word for it?
We spoke with three brands and retail experts who regularly deliver the goods.
For starters, Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder and publisher of Retail Minded, and co-founder of the Independent Retailer Conference, breaks it down:
"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."
As an avid shopper myself (I confess!), I can vouch for the fact that receiving a package with branded details and premium elements makes me feel like I’m opening a gift to myself — even if there’s no element of surprise and I know what’s inside.
Unwrapping the box, peeling back the tissue paper, removing any stickers, and reading a personal note from someone at the brand touches on every experiential element of the brand. It makes this writer want to jump up with glee, snap a pic and post to Instagram, and likely shop at that store again. And that’s the common reaction of shoppers who receive this kind of premium retail packaging.
Skincare and cosmetics ecommerce retailers like Glossier and ColourPop are renowned for their retail packaging, which feature stickers and a signature millennial pink “bubble wrap” pouch in the case of Glossier, and a handwritten personal note in ColourPop’s case.
To drive the point even further, here are some stats courtesy of the 2014 Contract Packaging Association and The Paper Worker:
- More than 50% of web consumers say they’ll make additional purchases from a business who 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.
- Over 75% of shoppers will recommend products they like to their friends and followers on social media.
Image Credit: Sticker MuleAs an online retailer, you likely put care and thought into every element of the user experience, from your home page and product descriptions, to your emails and checkout page. So ,consider the retail packaging as the final step in the customer journey — and one of the most important ones.
Tyler Vawser of Sticker Mule, “the world's fastest sticker printer,” explains: “Unboxing has become a core part of customers’ experiences with companies. 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. At Sticker Mule, we want the post-order experience to be as enjoyable as ordering. We send all of our orders in branded poly mailers or use custom packaging tape on boxes. Recently, we started to offer custom mailers as a product, so our own customers can brand their shipping too.”
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.” —Tyler Vawser, Sticker Mule
Alyssa Kerbel, founder and owner of baby and kids apparel retailer, mini mioche, puts it this way: “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.”
Image Credit: mini mioche
As a result of Kerbel’s personal positive experiences with retail packaging as a consumer herself, she ensures the unboxing experience of mini mioche items ordered online includes a perfectly wrapped box with a nicely designed sticker that reads: “Really Cute Things Inside” (since many items are purchased as gifts). All of mini mioche’s retail packaging (for both in-store and online purchases) features these custom-branded stickers.
Kerbel continues: “Of course, you have to be mindful of cost as custom packaging can be quite expensive and at the end of the day, generally gets thrown away. We try to do something cute and custom but in the most cost-effective way possible. For online, we ship the majority of our orders in a custom poly mailer that has our branding on it and also includes information on our monthly #liveinminimioche Instagram contest on the reverse side.”
Marketing Manager of accessories brand Vitaly, Calvin Sirbniak-Jones, 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.”
Takeaway #1: As a retailer, ensure your retail packaging is on-brand and consistent with every other element of the branding experience.
Another reason packaging is so critical, especially for a multi-channel or ecommerce retailer? It’s an opportunity to increase brand loyalty.
Lea Richards, “Head Hog and founder of Pig of the Month BBQ” (a subscription-based mail-order BBQ service), believes in packaging because of the brand loyalty it helps build. It also becomes a form of guerilla marketing.
“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. It's a great way to combine guerilla marketing techniques with company branding.”
Richards of Pig of the Month explains her own brand’s packaging strategy:
“Since we can't giftwrap our items because they're shipped with dry ice, we need packaging that could stand in for a traditional gift wrap. 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).’ 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!”
Takeaway #2: Have fun with cheeky statements and humor if it makes sense for your brand.
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.” —Calvin Sirbniak-Jones, Vitaly
Tyler Vawser of Sticker Mule emphasizes this point as well. “One of our favorite parts of our branded packaging and unboxing is our package inserts. Our package inserts are signed by a staff member working on the order, who also prompts the customer to share a photo of their stickers, buttons, mailers, or magnets on Instagram and mention @stickermule. Our packaging envelopes and mailers are also branded and have a playful side to them. An example of a message is: Open now for some sticker joy courtesy of your friends at Sticker Mule." (More about social media sharing in a bit.)
Our package inserts are the most popular. People love the personal touch and that they are signed by hand by our staff. We see a lot of photos shared on Instagram as a result of the inserts as well.” —Tyler Vawser, Sticker Mule
Retail Packaging: Brick and Mortar
Image Credit: mini miocheFor a retailer, a branded reusable bag is the gift that keeps on giving.
mini mioche produces reusable totes, which fit with its eco-friendly brand. And it helps that they happen to be adorable.
Kerbel explains: “For our retail stores, we introduced custom branded reusable tote bags about a year ago 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.”
Takeaway #3: If reusable bags and eco-friendly packaging is part of your brand DNA, then all the more reason to invest in developing reusable bags.
Kerbel agrees that branding is just as important at the brick-and-mortar level. “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. Once again, 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.
Image Credit: VitalySirbniak-Jones of Vitaly elaborates: 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.”
Tyler Vawser of Sticker Mule explains: “Brick-andmortar 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-andmortar 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.”
Packaging and Social Media
Social media has opened the gateway to the importance of the “unboxing” experience, with shopping hauls posted regularly by bloggers and influencers on channels like YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and even Facebook Live.
Ensuring your packaging has fun elements — from tissue and stickers to a branded hashtag — also creates an opportunity for more user-generated content.
Kerbel of mini mioche leverages this opportunity as bonus content for the brand’s social media channels. She explains: “For online, customers regularly share photos of their mini mioche packages arriving in the mail, which again 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).” Again, it’s a win-win.
Takeaway #4: By making your packaging appealing and interesting, you are motivating your 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. Boom.
Moving Forward with Premium Retail Packaging
Not investing in your packaging, both online and in-store is a missed opportunity. Here’s another stat from 2014 Contract Packaging Association and The Paper Worker: Without the right packaging, you may actually be missing the mark with 80% of your possible customer base. Keep in mind that retail packaging in all its forms and stages has become part of the (shopping) package!