You only get one chance to make a great first impression!

It is no surprise that Valentine’s Day will be quite different this year. A great number of us will be relying on e-commerce retailers to deliver our loved ones a special gift, as we are either unable to purchase from a shop, or unfortunately cannot be together to celebrate.

To make a great impression on this special day purchasing flowers from a florist is certainly a popular choice. Have you ever thought beyond the flowers themselves though, what other elements trigger happiness or joy? The florist does not put the flowers in a crushed brown box and hand them to you. Instead they take the time to arrange and wrap the bouquet in decorative paper, use ribbon for a bow and include a personalised card, all of which provides a luxurious presentation that really creates a WOW factor. The minuscule moments a gift is received is vital for any e-commerce business, and the packaging is the first point of contact. This first impression can have a large influence on whether your customer  purchase again and if the recipient will post positively or negatively on social media.

The amount of time people has spent watching unboxing videos on YouTube is the equivalent of watching the classic ‘Love Actually’ more than 20 million times – it’s over 45,000,000 hours. The YouTube channel ‘Unbox Therapy’ has over 13m subscribers, and 2.4bn views. These figures show how the humble corrugated box that was once viewed as necessary transit item, has become an integral part of the customer experience and opportunity for communicating with your customers in their own homes.

As e-commerce Design Manager for DS Smith, Gavin Mounce is often asked to evaluate e-commerce packaging solutions on behalf of retailers and couriers. So, is there a secret formula to creating a great and memorable unboxing experience? “The unboxing experience starts already when the parcel arrives at your front door and the first thing in your mind is the condition of the external box,” says Mounce. “You scan for any sign of it being crushed, ripped, torn or punctured. Is there anything to report immediately to the driver? Once you have concluded that it is in good condition, you start to check visually if it looks as expected and then how to relieve your goods as quickly as possible from their imprisonment in the corrugated transit case. Does it have an easy opening feature, or are you going to need some form of tool to get inside? These first few steps of an unboxing experience illustrates that it is not about one single element, but a combination of multiple needs combined together that makes the experience.”

Mounce has identified over 15 different areas that contribute to the overall experience and they can all fit within four main elements: Structural Design, Customer Experience, Visual Impact and Circularity.

Structural Design

This element covers everything from how easy it is to open or return, the amount of protection it offers during transit, if the design has been tested for supply chain performance, or is it right sized or the physical shape.

All of the above combined can play a large part in the overall experience.  However, it is also important to remember the practical element of shaped designs when a package travel through automated handling and labelling processes.

Customer Experience

Does the packaging received at home provide the same feeling or emotions as if you purchased in store? Although they are completely different supply chains, customers expect a consistent service level and an experience aligned with your brand. If you purchase from a luxury brand, you expect a quality box – that arrived in good condition – is easy to open – product packed carefully – maybe a personalised message or card – and a return feature. You want to be made to feel that your purchase was important and valued by the brand.

Other thoughts may include if the packaging rewards you. Are there any way to connect with the brand through AI, AR or QR codes? If you purchase from a value brand your expectations may be different, but it does not mean that you have any less feelings in regard to the importance of the order.

Visual Impact

Is the packaging a visual delight? Does it have an outside print, or is it discrete to protect the goods contained?

Many online businesses focus on inside print to create a WOW factor, while some brands have successfully explored outside printing of their pack to create humour or creativity. Many years ago, the best recommendation for any business was word of mouth, but these days social media is the new ‘word of mouth’. Get it right and your unboxing experience could go viral, get it wrong and the effects can be devastating.

One brand in the Netherlands has put their packaging to great use as a marketing tool by using bright colour print to inspire their customers creativity. The packs have been turned into many different craft objects through online photography competitions, ranging from pet beds to toy cars and planes.

Not everything is about print in the visual element, clever combinations of materials, textures and finishes can also create striking results that grab attention.

Circularity & Recyclability

Questions you should be asking yourself as a business include how much air are we shipping? Too much and it could be a problem to store or kerbside recycle. The customer may feel that you are not taking sustainability seriously and that you are wasteful. Do you offer customers an environmentally friendly alternative to mainstream packaging? Some online businesses offer plain or more sustainable packaging, whilst others offer combined delivery solutions to save on the number of boxes shipped. There are many more in this element, but it highlights the importance of considering circularity as part of the unboxing experience.

Mounce concludes, “The above provides a lot of food for thought when it comes to creating a great unboxing experience. The next time you are developing e-commerce packaging and want to create a great unboxing experience, think about all these elements, but most importantly, which ones will make the experience great for your customers and are aligned with their expectations of your brand.”

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