eCommerce Packaging: The Ultimate Guide

eCommerce packaging is the only physical point of contact shoppers have with online brands. So it’s an incredibly important part of any eCommerce strategy.

Companies need to consider how they can use packaging to promote their brand, protect their products and create a positive customer experience – all while keeping an eye on costs and sustainability. Balancing all these different factors can be tricky, but thorough research will help.

To jump-start your journey, we’ve got an introduction to packaging types and eight great eCommerce packaging ideas for you to consider.

 

Why is eCommerce packaging important?

eCommerce packaging can impact so many aspects of your business, from branding through to fulfillment planning.

When it goes wrong, it can cause tons of problems. Damaged orders, customer refunds, product replacements and negative reviews can all skyrocket if your product packaging isn’t sturdy enough.

But when done right, eCommerce packaging can impress customers and boost brand visibility. It can even push customers to make another purchase, share photos on social media or write positive reviews.

Notably, sustainable eCommerce packaging is increasingly important, because it meets the needs of young and environmentally-conscious consumers.

 

Types of eCommerce packaging

Choosing the right packaging and infills is key to success – whether your priority is sustainability, look or cost. Here’s a brief overview of what’s available.

Cardboard boxes

When it comes to choosing eCommerce packaging, the choice generally comes down to boxes or mailers. Both come with pros and cons but, ultimately, your choice will depend on the products you sell.

Corrugated cardboard boxes are the packaging of choice for most eCommerce brands. They’re sturdy, recyclable and add very little weight to packages. They stack well and look great too. Brands can even order custom boxes that showcase their brand and fit products snugly for maximum protection. However, boxes need to be assembled, taped up and usually cost more than mailers.

If your brand sells hefty or fragile items, boxes will provide the best protection during delivery.

Mailers

On the other hand, mailer bags and envelopes are ideal for flat, light and durable products. Think clothing, jewellery, bedding and books. They’re strong, lightweight, weatherproof and self-sealing – but not always recyclable.

For products that need a little extra protection, padded envelopes are available. But they’re generally less environmentally friendly – unless you pad them with shredded paper.

Paper vs. plastic

While it may seem like the choice between boxes and mailers is a choice between paper and plastic, it’s actually more complex than that.

Boxes can be made from recycled cardboard and are also recyclable and compostable. But so are paper mailers.

Plastic mailers have their benefits too. They’re more energy efficient to produce and recycle. Plus, they’re even lighter than cardboard. Many mailers can also be reused to send back returns.

So it’s possible to choose whichever packaging suits your needs while also minimising your environmental impact. However, it’s worth noting that 77% of consumers think plastic is the least eco-friendly packaging material out there and 41% try to avoid it.

Choosing infills and inserts

eCommerce packaging infills provide extra padding for your products. Options include brown paper, shredded cardboard, air pillows and packing peanuts.

Packing peanuts are usually messy and made of styrofoam – which isn’t recyclable. So brown paper, shredded cardboard or air pillows are better options.

Using bubble wrap or foam wrap may also be necessary to protect delicate items, but they aren’t usually recyclable. Cardboard inserts and molded infills offer a greener option. But they are more expensive and need to be customised for every fragile item you sell.

 

The cost of eCommerce packaging

The price of eCommerce packaging varies widely. Mailers are cheaper and more operationally efficient than boxes. But well-designed boxes can be worth the investment if they reduce losses from damaged goods.

To save money, boost protection and reduce your environmental impact, try to minimise the dimensions of your eCommerce packaging. This way your orders will require less infill and be lighter and smaller to ship. This is also good for your brand image as 81% of consumers believe companies use excessive amounts of packaging to ship their products.

In some circumstances, it may be worth hiring packaging design specialists to reduce the excess. But if you can make standard-sized packaging work for your brand, it will cost much less than custom orders.

 

8 eCommerce packaging ideas for 2022

With the basics covered, it’s time to take a look at some additional design considerations and innovative eCommerce packaging ideas that could help your brand stand out from the crowd.

1. Custom marketing inserts

Add a personal touch to your eCommerce packaging with personalised thank-you notes, product tips, free samples and other custom content.

eCommerce personalisation encourages shoppers to spend more. So segmenting your customers and creating targeted experiences can really impact sales. You can even add short links and QR codes to your inserts to track interactions and drive traffic to personalised product suggestions and landing pages.

2. Upgrade generic packaging

#unboxing has been used on Instagram almost three million times, while videos with this hashtag on TikTok have received over 28 billion views. So there’s no doubt that your eCommerce packaging has the potential to be seen by thousands of people.

Custom product packaging is a great way to wow customers and showcase your brand. But brands on a budget can also make their standard-sized eCommerce packaging stand out with simple additions like ribbons, labels, sleeves and custom packing tape.

3. Add internal designs

The outside of your packaging can get scuffed and scraped while in transit. So it’s smart to add branded designs to the inside of your packages.

Beauty brand L’Occitane, for example, sends customers plain brown boxes. But when they open them, a bright white and yellow pattern is revealed. Sustainable brands could also opt for reversible boxes, which can be turned inside-out and used as giftwrap.

4. Stand out with tissue paper

If brown paper is too dull for your brand, add a touch of colour by using tissue paper instead. This delicate infill is often associated with gifts, which is a plus because 45% of online shoppers think gift-like packaging makes a brand appear more upscale.

So wrapping products with tissue should add a sense of luxury and quality to your orders. You could even consider designing your own.

5. Provide clear recycling instructions

A practical way to promote your eco-conscious values is to include recycling information on every part of your eCommerce packaging.

It’s not always obvious what materials are recyclable, compostable and biodegradable, so make sure to use packaging that is labelled clearly.

6. Consider using stickers

Stickers are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to brand your packages. They can feature lots of different messages, from ‘thank yous’ and brand logos through to social media handles and review requests.

You could even add cool stickers to your orders as a free gift in the hopes that customers will stick them up and provide free exposure for your brand.

7. Reusable shipping bags

Lots of clothing retailers are trying out reusable shipping bags in an effort to make their businesses more sustainable. H&M even provides discounts to shoppers who return these bags to their stores or by mail.

Brands like Rituals and H&M have also been trying to get shoppers to reuse their product packaging at home, with designs that double as decorative boxes and clothes hangers.

8. Use FSC-certified cardboard

Whenever possible, try to source FSC-certified packaging materials. This guarantees that your paper and cardboard is responsibly sourced.

eCommerce sustainability will be a big retail trend for the foreseeable future so it makes sense to source suppliers with this globally-recognised certification now.

Final thoughts

Once you’ve chosen your eCommerce packaging, order some samples and prototypes to ensure it meets your expectations. This is particularly important if you want custom designs as they cannot be returned.