Published Mar 18, 2022

e-Commerce Packaging: Mastering The Unboxing Experience In 5 Minutes

Table of contents

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Notwithstanding how much we love this phrase, online customers always judge products by their covers.

e-Commerce packaging represents the first physical touchpoint that a customer has with your brand. You want to make a good first impression with your purchasers, don’t you?

If you answer in the affirmative, this guide is absolutely right for you.

This is a comprehensive guide on e-commerce packaging, covering a range of packaging materials, infills as well as excellent brand examples for you to learn from. Waste no time, let’s get started!

  • What is e-commerce packaging?
  • Why is e-commerce packaging important?
  • Four e-commerce packaging materials you must know
  • E-commerce packaging infills for extra stability
  • Best packaging examples (for inspiration and ideas!)
  • Some last words

What is e-commerce packaging?

e-Commerce packaging refers to the way in which you pack and protect your products prior to shipment. It is usually done with the use of packaging materials and infills, such as corrugated boxes, bubble wrap, kraft paper and air pillows (more on this below).

Why is e-commerce packaging important?

Good e-commerce packaging not only has the practical function of protecting goods from damage during shipment. It also serves an aesthetic purpose of building your brand identity and delighting customers.

If that sounds a little vague to you, below are some reasons (supported by data!) to explain why packaging for e-commerce is so important.

1. Protect your goods during shipment

According to an e-commerce study by Dotcom Distribution, a vast majority (82%) of online shoppers want their packages to arrive in a box, not a poly bag. The top reason for their choice is that boxes provide better protection during transit.

That’s definitely true.

After leaving the warehouse, parcels go a long way before they reach customers.

For example, transit in trucks, planes, or ocean vessels could cause your goods to shift, collide or break. Mishandling by courier could also cause scratches or broken parts in your products.

All these are factors out of your control, but product packaging is one way to avoid damage to your goods.

2. Build a strong brand identity

We’re now in the 21st century. Online sellers are everywhere. You have a lot of competitors.

To make customers remember your brand, serious branding efforts are needed. The best practice is to make your brand identity apparent at every customer touchpoint — product packaging included.

The global cosmetics brand, Sephora, for example, always adds their brand name and iconic black and white stripes to carton boxes used in packaging.

These are quick identifiers of the brand. They’re simple, yet easily recognizable. Customers receiving the parcel will know where it comes from without having to unbox.

E-commerce packaging by Sehora
Source: Sephora Facebook

3. Delight your customers

No one would turn down a sweet little surprise, right? 

Consider the following facts about online shoppers:

  • 49% of young customers are excited by gift-like packaging.
  • 39% to 43% of online shoppers think gift-like packaging makes a brand more upscale.
  • 14% to 27% of e-commerce customers say they’re more likely to make repeat purchases with a company that creates branded and gift-like packaging.

The figures speak for themselves.

Nice product packaging makes customers happy. Delighted customers are more likely to buy from your shop again. Loyal customers mean more sales and revenue.

So e-commerce packaging isn’t just about aesthetics. It does have an impact on your company’s financials.

If you’re still sending out goods in plain, boring bags or boxes, it’s time for a change.

→ The takeaway: E-commerce packaging is important as it protects your products during shipment. It also helps build brand identity and delight your customers to cultivate loyalty.

Four e-commerce packaging materials you must know

When it comes to packaging for e-commerce, there are many materials to choose from.

However, choosing the right packaging materials depends very much on your product type, size and shape.

We’ve made a list of popular e-commerce packaging materials, so you’ll have an idea of what you need to protect your goods.

1. Corrugated boxes

Corrugated boxes are containers with multi-layered walls. The wall of a corrugated box typically has three layers:

  • An inside liner
  • An outside liner
  • A fluting medium sandwiched between the two liners
Structure of a corrugated box
Source: Great Little Box Company

The special structure of corrugated boxes gives them strength and durability. For sellers of large, heavy items, corrugated boxes are a must-have at your shipping facility.

Here is an example of Amazon’s corrugated shipping box:

Amazon's corrugated shipping box
Source: Pinterest

In addition to sturdiness, below are some other features of corrugated boxes which make them a popular packaging material:

  • Light-weighted
  • Inexpensive
  • Recyclable

2. Padded envelopes

Padded envelopes are also known as cushioned mailers or padded mailers. They are envelopes made of thick paper, lined with protective padding on the inside.

As you can imagine, padded envelopes are not very large in size. They are therefore suitable for holding small, flat and fragile items.

Below are some delicate products commonly shipped in padded envelopes:

  • Accessories
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics
  • Books

3. Bubble envelopes

Bubble envelopes are also known as jiffy bags in the UK. Similar to padded envelopes, they are used to protect small, delicate items during shipment.

While padded mailers and bubble envelopes are both made with strong, durable paper, the latter offers more protection as its interior is lined with bubble wrap.

Padded envelope vs. bubble mailer
Source: Blue Summit Supplies

4. Poly bags

Poly bags are made with polythene, a form of soft plastic. This is what poly bags look like:

Two poly bags
Source: Pinterest

This type of bag is an economical choice if you sell items that don’t break easily.

Think about a courier hurling your package onto a delivery truck. Or having a hefty item put on top of yours. Will your product spill, break or deform?

If the answer is no, your goods will likely be safe in a poly bag.

Here are some items which could be shipped in a poly bag:

  • Boxed products (e.g. shoes in a shoebox)
  • Stuffed toys
  • Apparel

The takeaway: There are different types of e-commerce packaging materials, each suited for different types of products. Below is a quick summary.

  • Corrugated boxes: Large, heavy items
  • Padded envelopes or bubble envelopes: Small, delicate items
  • Poly bags: Items that don’t break easily

E-commerce packaging infills for extra stability

When you ship products in a box, infills are most certainly needed to fill the empty space in the box. They add extra safety and stability by preventing your items from moving during shipment.

A broad range of infills is available for e-commerce shipping. Here are some common ones.

1. Bubble wrap

As a kid, you’ve probably popped a few bubbles on the bubble wrap. It’s fun for children, and perhaps stress-relieving for adults.

Bubble wrap sample
Source: Pinterest

When used in e-commerce packaging, bubble wrap is ideal for protecting fragile items from shock and damage during delivery.

Pros of using bubble wrap

  • Light-weighted: You don’t have to worry about the extra weight on your parcel or shipping bill.
  • Low cost: Bubble wrap is readily available at supply stores at affordable prices.
  • Flexible: You can use bubble sheets to wrap around items of different sizes and shapes.
  • Versatile: Bubble wrap can be used for wrapping, interleaving or filling.
  • Shock-absorbent: Bubbles of air act as soft cushions to protect your goods in the event of unexpected movement.
  • Recyclable (technically): Bubble wraps are made with recyclable plastic. But just like plastic bags, they’re not curbside recyclable.

Cons of using bubble wrap

  • Space-consuming: Big rolls of bubble wrap could take up considerable floor space in your shipping facility. With air-filled bubbles, the sheets might increase the size of your package too.

2. Foam wrap

Foam wrap is sometimes seen as an alternative to bubble wrap, except that it’s thinner and takes up less space.

Like bubble wrap, foam wrap serves as a soft cushion to protect delicate items in transit.

A foam wrap roll
Source: Walmart

Pros of using foam wrap

Foam wrap shares a lot of similarities with bubble wrap, so are their advantages.

For the economy of words, the merits of foam wrap are briefly listed below.

  • Light-weighted
  • Low cost
  • Flexible
  • Shock-absorbing

Cons of using foam wrap

  • Non-recyclable: Unlike bubble wrap, foam wrap is not recyclable. Using foam wrap in your e-commerce packaging may not create a good impression on eco-conscious consumers.

3. Kraft paper

Kraft paper is brown in color and coarse-textured. In fact, it’s the type of paper often used to make envelopes.

Envelope made with kraft paper
Source: Muji

Easily ripped and crumpled, kraft paper can be used to fill the void in a box, so that your products won’t move around during delivery.

Pros of using kraft paper

  • Low cost: You can easily purchase kraft paper at reasonable prices from suppliers of packaging materials.
  • Easy to store: Kraft paper doesn’t take up a lot of space, compared with bubble wrap.
  • Eco-friendly: The production process of kraft paper produces minimal chemical waste.
  • Recyclable: Kraft paper can be recycled, so it would go really well with brands and customers who care about sustainability.

Cons of using kraft paper

  • Less protective: Unlike bubble wrap and foam wrap, kraft paper itself is not shock-absorbent. Kraft paper works fine as a box filler, but it cannot offer much protection against shock and vibration.

4. Air pillows

Air pillows are also called air cushions. They are inflatable plastic sacs filled with air.

Although they can be space-consuming when inflated, air pillows occupy considerably less space before inflation.

Some air pillows
Source: Amazon

Pros of using air pillows

  • Light-weighted: The only weight they add is that of air and thin plastic pockets.
  • Versatile: Air pillows can be used as cushions beneath, above or around your products in a box.
  • Recyclable (technically): Made with high-density polyethylene (HDPE), air pillows are recyclable. However, it could be difficult to find a recycling center that processes these materials.

Cons of using air pillows

  • Costly: Special machinery is needed to fill the little pockets with air, making air pillows a rather expensive choice of infill.
  • Not suitable for all products: Sharp edges could puncture the pillows. Heavy weight could cause the pockets to pop. You should avoid using air pillows with these product items.
  • Not suitable for shipping to all places: Air expands when heated. Air pillows would therefore grow in size when transported to hotter areas. You might want to think twice before shipping goods with air pillows to places of hot climate.

5. Packing peanuts

Packing peanuts also go by the name of foam peanuts or foam popcorn. As its name suggests, packing peanuts are shaped like real peanuts (unshelled ones). This particular shape enables them to interlock with each other when compressed, but they would spread out when no pressure is applied.

A box of packing peanuts
Source: Pela Case

Pros of using packing peanuts

  • Quick and easy to use: As a type of loose-fill packaging material, packing peanuts fill spaces in boxes quickly.
  • Reusable: Packing peanuts don’t pop or break during shipment. They can be used more than once.

Cons of using packing peanuts

  • Space-consuming: Packing peanuts aren’t deflatable like air pillows. They could take up a lot of room at your warehouse or fulfillment center.
  • Difficult to manage: As boxes are unpacked, packing peanuts tend to ‘boom!’ and go everywhere. A mini explosion certainly isn’t the best unboxing experience for your customers.
  • Environmental concerns: Made with styrofoam, packing peanuts are known to be a cause of plastic pollution. For this reason, some states and cities (such as New York) have banned the use of single-use foam products, packing peanuts included.

The takeaway:E-commerce packaging infills are shock-absorbing materials used to fill the space in boxes and protect your goods in transit. Five types of infills are discussed in this section:

  • Bubble wrap
  • Foam wrap
  • Kraft paper
  • Air pillows
  • Packing peanuts

Best packaging examples (for inspiration and ideas!)

The e-commerce landscape is competitive, but no one should go down without a fight.

In addition to proper protection of your goods, a superior unboxing experience is what sets you apart from rivals.

Here are the best packaging examples that we’ve found, and we want to share with you.

1. Apple Inc.

Apple Inc., the leading consumer electronics company, leaves no aspect of design untouched. 

Everything from product design to packaging is thoughtfully crafted. It’s an art.

iPhone in a box
Source: The Economist

To begin, the classic Apple box has a matte black/white surface. With just a mockup on top, product name and logo on the side, the box speaks nothing but minimalism.

Next, an iPhone’s default wallpaper (or that of other Apple products) is abstract but elegant.

Looking inside the box, you’ll see pamphlets and accessories protected by mold in custom shapes, all carefully stacked together.

Simple. Classy. Reliable. That’s exactly the brand image Apple wants you to perceive.

Known to be a perfectionist company, Apple Inc.’s attention to detail is not to be doubted. And it’s a remarkable brand example to learn from.

Apple’s packaging delivers a strong message about the brand. Silent but impactful, it imperceptibly shapes what you think of Apple Inc.

2. Casetify

More than 80% of shoppers find it important for brands to act sustainably, a recent consumer survey revealed. It also found that 71% of consumers care more about product sustainability than the year before.

Casetify is a company that exemplifies the corporate shift towards eco-friendliness.

For instance, one of Casetify’s Facebook posts introduces its 100% compostable packaging. The post was met with positive response from the online community, thanking the brand for its contribution to protecting Mother Earth.

With their commitment to sustainability, Casetify has won some loyal customers too!

Casetify's Facebook post on eco-friendly packaging
Source: Casetify Facebook

3. Kylie Cosmetics

Founded by American socialite Kylie Jenner, Kylie Cosmetics has a practice of sending handwritten notes to customers.

Kylie Cosmetics' lip gloss and memo
Source: Pinterest

A handwritten memo in the box adds a personal touch to your business communication. It also makes customers feel valued and important.

Here is what the owner of the photo said about her online shopping experience: 

“To [my] surprise, the box has a stylish design and a note from Kylie Jenner. [I] tried on the lip gloss and love[d] it.”

Pro tip: With a large volume of online orders, it may not be feasible for larger businesses to write a personalized note to all customers. In that case, a typewritten thank-you card works too.

4. Fairyloot

Fairyloot sells young adult books with a twist. Packed with fairy-tale treasures in fancy boxes, it surely creates a memorable unboxing experience for young readers.

A Fairyloot box
Source: Fairyloot

Shown above is a Fairyloot box. Accompanying the main product (a book) are collectible tarot cards, a travel mug and some washi tape.

The surprise box is not only visually appealing to your own eyes, it’s Instagrammable too.

It’s hard to forget such a magical experience, right?

The takeaway: Packaging is one way to create a lasting impression of your brand on customers. It helps you stand out from competitors and cultivate customer loyalty.

We’ve rounded up what you can learn from the packaging examples above:

  • Apple Inc.: Branded packaging
  • Casetify: Sustainable packaging
  • Kylie Cosmetics: Personal note
  • Fairyloot: Memorable experience

Some last words

In common parlance, people say that actions speak louder than words. With online sellers, we say e-commerce packaging speaks louder than any of your marketing messages.

Using the right e-commerce packaging materials and infills would help protect your goods in transit. But it’s always good to take a step further, create a pleasant customer experience and turn first-time purchasers into loyal ones.

At Choco Up, we always take that extra step (we’re not an e-commerce company though).

As Asia’s leading growth platform, we provide flexible funding to e-commerce companies of all sizes to accelerate their growth.

In addition to monetary funding, we’ve also built a suite of products tailored for e-commerce businesses, providing multi-faceted strategic support for our clients.

To learn more about how we help businesses grow, check out our success stories or get your free preliminary offer today!