E-commerce Packaging: A Beginner’s Guide 2020

image of shipping boxes

Starting an ecommerce business?
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This guide is made to help you through the ins and outs of packaging for
your e-commerce business.

What is Ecommerce Packaging?

Ecommerce packaging is often referred to packaging that is used to ship your products directly to your customers. With the e-commerce industry rising due to buyers trend and retail stores transitioning to online stores to save on costs, shipping boxes are now becoming a vital part of the unboxing experience for many consumers. Many brands are now taking this opportunity to showcase their creativity and brand identity by fully customizing their shipping boxes to stand out from their competition.

E-commerce packaging is as big as ever but conceptualizing your product’s packaging can be nerve-wracking, especially if you lack design experience or don’t know what your options are. There are so many packaging types available for you, however which packaging type is best for your product?

First Steps of Ecommerce Packaging

Packaging has become just as important as the product in delivering a first impression. Thorough research and planning, will help you find ways to have it complement your merchandise and brand identity and create a branded packaging experience that’s sure to impress your customers.

If you are in the beginning stages of deciding your first e-commerce packaging for your online products, we’ll help you out in deciding which options work best for your product.

At very low quantities, consider standard sized packaging options with inexpensive customized additions.

Standard sized packaging can be made fancier through the use of ribbons, labels and sleeves, or fully-custom packaging that is printed and personalized to your brand.

Which one of these options work best for you?

Let’s get started.

Budget, Product Placement & Determining Dimension

Before starting anything, you will have to know what your overall goal is for your packaging and determine your budget based on how much value your packaging can bring to your product. This way, your packaging will not exceed your budget, coming out of your profit margins. Well designed packaging will almost always pay for itself, adding value by promoting, protecting and complimenting the respective product.

Illustrates the process of brainstorming your next custom e-commerce package.

Your budget and planning can shape the type and the direction of your packaging and how it adds value to your product.

Consider how many products you expect to sell in a period of time and how much margin you are able to put onto your product. What is the target market and how are your competitors packaging their products? All of these factors can help determine the type of packaging you need and how much need in your first production run.

At low quantities, custom packaging can be expensive, so if you expect smaller quantities sales to start, you can start by ordering standard sized packaging from Uline or other packaging supply stores, or add the cost of custom packaging to your product cost as a marketing expense. Custom packaging can impress your customers giving your products a higher perceived value and quality.

Once that’s settled, start thinking about how you’ll place the product in the packaging, as this will determine the structure of your box.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for preparing your first custom packaging: 5 Steps For Preparing Your First Customized Packaging

If you’re in the cosmetics or beauty business, for example, it’s common to place the merchandise where its entire size, shape, and color can be seen without having to open the packaging.

It will all depend on you, but it is also essential to consider how big or how small your packaging will be, as this will influence the cost as well.

Based on where you want to place the product and how much space it may occupy, you can now determine the measurement of your packaging.

To be the most cost effective, it is best to minimize the dimensions and keep the packaging lighter and smaller, while still remaining protective to save costs on materials and shipping fees.

Various examples of corrugated e-commerce packaging.

Choosing the Best Packaging Options

Now that you have the dimensions finalized, you can start looking for the ideal structure for your product.

Consider how much protection you need and the weight of your product. 

Heavier and larger items generally require greater protection to withstand harsh shipping and handling conditions.

Some of the most popular and cost-effective ecommerce packaging options used for shipping can be found below:

Roll End Tab Lock Corrugated Boxes

The tab lock roll end box or mailer boxes are corrugated box styles that are well sealed and sturdy and easy to unbox. This is the most popular e-commerce packaging box due to its durable capabilities and unboxing experience.

example of roll end tab lock corrugated box

Regular Slotted Corrugated Box

Slotted corrugated boxes are your typical shipping boxes. The sheet is formed at a joint where one panel and one end panel can be joined together. The style, however, requires manual taping. It is ideal for very large products. 

an example of a slotted container corrugated box

Roll End Tuck Top Corrugated Boxes

Roll end tuck top boxes are boxes that can be folded without hassle during assembly. The top can open and close smoothly and ensures maximum closure with a tuck based on the inside of the box.

These boxes are ideal for shelves, tea packaging, catalogs, clothes, gifts, electronics, health, beauty products, and small hardware.

an example of a roll end tuck top box

Shipping Poly Mailers

The poly mailer is a flexible packaging type, made from polyethylene LDPE, or paper. Think of an Amazon bag or FedEx mailer bag – these are both poly mailer. A padded envelope is also considered a poly mailer. 

With it being light and versatile, it is a popular choice for e-commerce businesses that ship all types of products of light to medium weights, but not great for heavy products, since it may not provide adequate protection.

This packaging type is very cost-effective, lightweight, and space-saving. It is also tear-resistant and usually waterproof. Poly mailers have a self-seal adhesive strip for easy closure and are available with a padded interior or as a simple flat-packed bag, making packing and assembly a breeze.

Material Thickness Options

Typically, the manufacturer can make the suggestions on the thickness of the paper based on the weight of your products and the dimension of your box. It is still good, however, to have an understanding of what they are.

E-commerce packaging material thickness.

For corrugated packaging, flutes are used as a basis for material thickness. The following are average material thickness based on flutes:

Read our comprehensive Corrugated Guide: Corrugated Box – The Master Guide


The average thickness of E-flute is 1.2mm.

L x W x H = <570  Anything less than this total dimension is E-Flute (Software, Retail, Beauty, Food, etc…)


The average thickness of B-flute is 3.0mm.

L x W x H = >570 anything more than this total dimension is B-Flute (Packaging Shoes, Industrial Products, Furniture, etc…) 

Choosing the Right Print Type

The quality of print significantly affects the presentation and overall look of the products’ packaging.

These are the two main printing options for packaging:

Digital vs offset printing in custom e-commerce packaging.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is the process of transferring a document on a desktop or any digital storage device to a particular printing substrate through a device that accepts graphics and text output.

The ink of the printer is printed directly on the packaging material, working similarly to an inkjet printer.

It is perfect for low quantity orders and is far less expensive than other printing methods, since no printing plates and dies are required. 

Check out our digital printed corrugated boxes: PakFactory’s Digital Corrugated Boxes

Just a reminder – try to keep your artwork as minimal as possible in terms of details and colors. The simplicity will provide a better output quality when printing in digital.

Having too many small details and lots of colors in digital will fog the overall quality of the artwork.

For digital, you can either go for no coating or a gloss varnish providing a minimalistic semi-gloss effect.

Offset Printing

Offset printing is a printing press technique that transfers the ink from a plate to a rubber roller (or blanket) and then to a paper material.

It is typically used for printing large quantities of newspapers, brochures, stationery, magazines, and boxes in the best printing quality.

The cost for offset printing is best for large quantity orders (more than 1000 units) as higher quantities offset setup and plating costs.

Check out our off-set print corrugated boxes: PakFactory’s Freedom Offset Corrugated Boxes

What makes offset the desired choice for printing is its ability to print in PMS Color and produce special printing processes such as matte & gloss lamination coating, spot UV, foil stamping, and embossing, which is more difficult in the digital print process. 

Material Stock Type

Choosing the right material stock depends on your artwork and your brand. Check out the different options below:

Natural White (Digital & Offset): For colorful and flood printing

Bleached White (Digital): Brighter output of colors to mimic offset printing slightly

Kraft (Digital & Offset): Environmental and rustic look – perfect with black print and no coating required.

Add Custom Inserts

You can also consider adding inserts for protection or promotion purposes.

To help you decide, we have enumerated some types of inserts for different purposes.

Corrugated e-commerce packaging for a custom donut box.

Protective Inserts

If you want to protect and organize your product, you can use cardboard or foam inserts to divide your products.

These types of packaging inserts will prevent your products from moving around the box during transit. They also enhance the experience of your customers when they receive their boxes.

Protective inserts are typically a bit costly to add, but if you have the additional capital, you can opt for this option.

Thank You & Promotional Inserts

Thank You inserts are one of the cheapest ways to promote your product and increase brand awareness, customer loyalty, and sales.

A custom message only your insert can be a powerful statement to reflect your brand’s messaging while improving your customers’ unboxing experience, ensuring they don’t miss your company branding.

Promotional inserts, in addition, gives them the motivation to continue to engage with your products and an opportunity for them to get the most value for your products and/or service.

Check out our custom made inserts: Custom Packaging Inserts

Artwork Design 

Here are simple elements you can incorporate into your artwork to resonate with your customers. The printed design is, in fact, the first thing they see and interact with.

Personalized Messaging

You don’t need fancy letters or designs to capture the attention of your customers. All it takes is having a well thought out brand message that shows the personality and value of your brand.

Both the inside and outside of the box have quips like “This is my good side” and “Well done. You obviously have excellent taste.” It’s nothing fancy, but DSC’s packaging goes a long way in promoting their unique brand and voice through brand messaging.

Francesca Nicasio, Vend

Unlimited Brand Color Scheme

What is great about custom printed e-commerce packaging boxes is that you can use unlimited colors for your artwork without any additional charge.

Therefore, make sure to include all of the elements of your brand color into your artwork. If your website, blog contents, and product all use pastel colors, then it would make sense to incorporate that into your packaging as well.

You can also consider color psychology and choose which colors you would like to trigger based on your customer’s emotion.

This should be visible the moment they receive your box (whether inside or outside of the box). Make sure to make your name stand out and recognizable.

For more design ideas, you can check out: 2020 Design Trend Report

Need to find a designer? You can contact PakFactory for multi-service design & production or outsource talented packaging designers for a good cost from these platforms:

Don’t Skip the Process of Prototyping (Especially for Large Quantity Orders) 

Prototyping is one of the most critical steps in the packaging process.

It is recommended that a prototype is made (to confirm the structure and printing of the final output of the packaging).

Imagine receiving hundreds or thousands of boxes with the wrong dimension, or inaccurate fit. 

Unlike in-stock products, custom packaging is made specifically for your products and cannot be returned or refunded. An incorrect batch of packaging will need to be written off and recycled, coming out of your costs.

Get a physical CTP proof to check color and printing accuracy and a non-printed sample can help ensure product fitment.

Another great option is a custom physical prototype. A prototype is a one-off make of your packaging in either production or sample grade. 

This provides the closest experience to your actual packaging to look, feel and experience the unboxing feeling your customers would get.

Production & Shipping

You will have minimal involvement in the last step of this guide. This is when the manufacturer mass produces your packaging based on your final packaging specifications.

Typically you will be the one to take care of this part of the process on your own by finding a freight forwarder to complete the shipment for you, or asking the manufacturer to ship the product to you with their forwarders or by express.

There are four main ways you can ship your products:

  • Sea Freight (Coming from overseas and typically the least expensive option for international shipping)
  • Air Freight (Overseas or local, quickest and most costly)
  • Ground Freight
  • Express (Courier)

Logistics can be a daunting process, especially, if you are shipping internationally, requiring several documents for declaration, customs clearance and policy.

The benefit of working with a courier is that they are able to help you through the clearance process, while shipping through freight may require a bond which needs to be purchased and renewed annually.

Et Voila!

Don’t let the process overwhelm you — instead, see it as an opportunity to connect with your target market.

When you understand what your target market is looking for, it will enable you to come up with packaging that will help sell your products and attract customers!

While it may seem troublesome to start on your own e-commerce packaging project, with proper preparation and support from a reputable vendor, any business can achieve a professional ecommerce packaging solution.

Looking to create your custom ecommerce packaging? Get in touch with PakFactory for all your custom shipping packaging needs.

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