E-commerce Packaging: A Beginner’s Guide 2021

image of shipping boxes

💡 10 tips on starting your e-commerce packaging in 2021
1. First Steps of E-commerce Packaging
2. Budget, Product Placement & Determining Dimension
3. Choosing the Best Packaging Style
4. Material Thickness Options
5. Choosing the Right Printing Method
6. Material Stock Type
7. Custom Inserts
8. Artwork Design
9. Prototyping
10. Production & Shipping

Given the issues that Covid-19 posed in 2020, the reliance on online shopping has grown and continues to grow exponentially this year. 

This has forced many businesses to rely on their e-commerce platforms to bring in revenue and keep their brand afloat. 

While 2020 has been an immensely difficult time for brick and mortar retailers, e-commerce has become the saving grace for many of these businesses.

2021 will continue to see a shift to e-commerce and we may be looking at a new norm of online shopping as the year passes.

But, what does this mean for brand differentiation?

Brick and mortar stores offered the upper hand for brands as customers were able to interact with their packaging and product first hand.

With online shopping it’s more difficult to brand differentiate as customers are only able to interact with images of your products. 

This is why it’s important to consider your e-commerce packaging and the impact it may make on your customers from their mail rooms to their unboxing experience!

Let’s start from the beginning and discuss the key aspects of e-commerce packaging that lays the foundation for a successful customer experience. 

What is Ecommerce Packaging?

Ecommerce packaging often refers to packaging that is used to ship your products directly to your customers. 

With the e-commerce industry rising due to covid-19 enforcing online buyers trends and retail stores transitioning to online stores to save on costs, shipping boxes are now becoming a vital part of the unboxing experience for most 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 at your disposal!

Read more on what e-commerce ready packaging is.

But, which packaging type is best for your product?

First Steps of E-commerce 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 your packaging complement your merchandise and brand identity.

Furthermore, custom packaging can help you create a strong brand identity 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;

However, fully-custom packaging that is printed and personalized to your brand allows your business to make a larger impact and align your brand with your customers.

Which one of these options works 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.

Determining your budget based on how much value your packaging can bring to your product, will help lay the foundations for a successful packaging design. 

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, can boost your brand visibility in turn boosting your sales.

Consider how many products you expect to sell in a period of time and how much of your margin you are able to invest into your product. 

This will give you a good ballpark range of what your packaging, design and shipping options will entail, allowing you to make a well rounded, informed decision on your packaging.

What is the target market and how are your competitors packaging their products? This plays heavily into your product/brand differentiation.  

All of these factors can help determine the type of packaging and the volume you need for your first production run.

Custom packaging can leave a lasting impression on 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.

Example of structural engineering
Source: Andrea Cheng

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

For example; If you’re in the cosmetics or beauty business 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.

Through structural engineering packaging specialists can help you create packaging that leaves minimal space for your product to move around in.

This in turn will offer your products more stability and minimize the risk of damage!

Choosing the Best Packaging Styles

Now that you have the dimensions finalized, you can start looking for the ideal structure to accommodate 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 e-commerce 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, sturdy and easy to unbox. 

Example of roll end tuck corrugated box
Source: 99 Designs

This is the most popular e-commerce packaging box due to its durable capabilities and unboxing experience.

Corrugated boxes offer versatile printing and finishing capabilities allowing you to build an authentic connection with your customers from the comfort of their own homes!

Regular Slotted Corrugated Box

Slotted corrugated boxes are your typical shipping box. 

The sheet is formed where one panel and one end panel can be joined together to create the box.

This style is ideal for large and heavy weight items that need that extra support and care during shipping.

Example of regular slotted corrugated box
Source: BP & O

This type of box requires manual taping when put together, but this is simple enough and can be done very time effectively. 

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.

Example of roll end tuck top box
Source: Little Troop

These boxes are ideal for;

  • Catalogs
  • Clothes
  • Gifts
  • Electronics
  • Health products
  • Beauty products
  • Small hardware

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 mailers. 

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.

Example of shipping poly mailers
Source: Dribbble

Unfortunately poly mailers are not great for heavy products, since it may not provide adequate protection and support.

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.

Read more on choosing your box structure.

Material Thickness Options

Typically, manufacturers can make the suggestions on the thickness of the paper based on the weight of your products and the dimension of your box. 

Example of material thickness
Source: Behance

It is still good, however, to have an understanding of what they are and how they can benefit your product.

E-Flute

The average thickness of E-flute is 1.2mm.

L x W x H = <570  Anything less than this total dimension is E-Flute.

Example of E-flute

This type of fluting is ideal for;

  • Software
  • Retail
  • Beauty
  • Food
  • Etc.

B-Flute

The average thickness of B-flute is 3.0mm.

L x W x H = >570 anything more than this total dimension is B-Flute 

Example of B flute

This type of fluting is ideal for packaging;

  • Shoes
  • Industrial products
  • Furniture 
  • Etc. 

Choosing the Right Printing Method

The quality of print significantly affects the presentation and overall look of your product packaging.

While your custom shape and size is important to accommodating your products, the printing is important to accommodating your customers.

Displaying clear and concise information is important to forming an authentic connection with your customers. Maintaining full transparency with allows you to build up your brand credibility and gain a loyal customer base.

Example of printed custom packaging
Source: The Dieline

Make sure to display content on your packaging including;

  • Hazards
  • Harmful chemicals
  • User instructions
  • Benefits of your product

Choosing the right printing method for your packaging is important to communicating with your customers as clearly as you can.

Think of it this way; there’s no point in displaying information on your packaging if your customers can’t read it properly.

These are the two main printing options for 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 your average printer your use at home or at the office. 

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 and can end up looking very low quality.

Digital printing is the best for low quantity orders as it is the most cost and time effective printing method. 

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
  • High quality boxes

The set up costs are quite expensive for offset printing. However, the quality is impeccable!

Due to the set up costs being so high, it’s best to opt for offset printing if you have a high quantity order. 

Check out our off-set printed 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;

These finishing capabilities are much more difficult to achieve with the digital printing process.

Read more on printing methods.

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 there is no coating required.

Custom Inserts

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

Inserts offer extra support and durability for your products and also allows you to enhance the unboxing experience.

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

Protective Inserts

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

These types of packaging inserts will prevent your products from moving around in the box during transit. 

They also enhance your brand identity through offering a higher end unboxing experience.

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 on your inserts can be a powerful statement to reflect your brand’s narrative while improving your customers’ unboxing experience, ensuring your brand remains in the good sentiments of your customers..

Example of promotional insert
Source: Bazaar

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 out of your brand.

Furthermore, customers look to make an authentic connection with brands and this is a great way to work towards aligning your company with your customers.

Read more on box 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 when looking for your packaging in their mailrooms.

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 narrative that shows off the personality and value of your brand.

Furthermore, speaking directly to your customers allows them to feel a sense of connection with your brand. 

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 colors into your artwork to really establish a unified brand narrative. 

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 target market’s needs and desires.

This should be visible the moment they receive your box.

This can be achieved through exterior and/or interior printing of your brand logo.

Make sure to allow your brand name to stand out and be memorable to your customers.

Making your brand logo be the star of the show allows customers to remember your brand and in turn repurchase your products with ease. 

Prototyping

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 your 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 and causing your company added stress and time to your product launch.

Example of prototyping packaging
Source: Dribbble

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 physical prototype of your custom packaging.

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 your customers would get.

Read more on why box samples are important for your packaging.

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.

Example of shipping boxes
Source: Behance

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 new customers!

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

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