Consumers like shopping online. However, sales of even the most finely crafted item can suffer from improper packaging. From online display to shipment, the wrong outer layer leads to consumers to competitors' well-packaged products.

Online commerce is no longer the last ditch "I'll check it out online to see whether it's available there" shopping option. E-commerce sales growth continually outpaces total retail sales figures (16% versus 5%), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And there's more:

  • E-commerce annual sales will likely reach $410 billion by 2018, according to Forrester Research.
  • The NRF predicted that in the 2014 holiday season, the average shopper would do about 44% of his/her holiday shopping with online retailers.
  • A E-commerce Packaging Survey reports that over half of consumers were more likely to make another purchase from an online retailer when orders included premium packaging. If in-store purchases include premium packaging, those consumers expect it to arrive with online purchases.

Online retailing is an incredible source of revenue. However, successful e-commerce involves more than a photo, a website, and a box for mailing a purchase. Though "hardcore" discount online shoppers may be satisfied with utilitarian warehouse-to-doorstep packaging, many e-commerce buyers expect (and deserve) more.

Packaging Makes an Impression

Unlike brick-and-mortar retail store buyers, online shoppers cannot pick up, turn around, shake, or smell an item. They often shop online to compare prices and find more options, and a site's presentation of products is often all online shoppers can rely on.

  • Thumbnails: If your product packaging is clear enough to be viewed as a small thumbnail, which is common for many sites, consumers will be able to identify your brand quickly.
  • Multiple viewpoints: Providing multiple images of the product and presenting it both in and out of its packaging permits "virtual inspection" of the item by consumers.
  • Provide zoom image viewing: Consumers read descriptions of product listings, which often include the "fine print" on packaging. Allow consumers to view the information printed directly on product packaging to increase their confidence in the item.

Meeting Consumer Online Expectations

Online consumers are often primarily concerned with purchases arriving safely (and quickly) at their door, but they also want brand recognition. Far too many e-commerce sites make shipping packaging their only packaging concern, but shipping only comes into play after a purchase is made—and purchases arise only from great online presentation.

For a great e-commerce presentation, all product information that appears on a product's physical packaging (especially ingredients, labels, and prices) should be incorporated in listings.

Consumers want products purchased online to look like the product they buy in the store. Poor online presentation can mislead consumers, which discourages future purchases.

If the information on the packaging differs from that shown in the e-commerce listing, consumers may suspect they received a counterfeit product or lose faith in the brand. Ensure packaging accurately represents the quantity and quality of items offered.

Turning Brand Loyalty Into Marketing

Consumers are brand loyal. If a product's brick and mortar store packaging is attractive, the packaging for e-commerce should be the same. Invest in quality photography that presents the best views and features.

Once a consumer makes a purchase, retailers have the opportunity to market their products further by creating the right packaging for shipments. Consider the many shopping bags repurposed as tote bags, book covers, and wall decorations, or the number of boxes that store clothing in millions of Americans' closets.

  • Shipping boxes emblazoned with brand logos provide instant advertising.
  • Packaging (outer or inner) that incorporates reusable features, like a branded cloth bag for a pair of shoes, continually market the product.

Protecting Purchases During Shipping

No amount of online presentation makes up for a damaged delivery. Avoid this by viewing shipping materials as an integral part of the sale.

  • Bubble wrap works well for lightweight items.
  • Inflatable air bags fill empty spaces but may deflate when used with sharp-edged or heavier items.
  • Packing peanuts provide great void-fill protection but may not work well for flat or narrow items, nor for electronics due to static electricity.
  • Custom-made Styrofoam provides security for heavier items.

Remember to keep items away from box walls, and aim for about 2 inches of padding between items.

Packaging different types of items in one box requires special care. Ensure one item does not damage another. (For example, scented soaps can infuse a toy's packaging with a particular floral scent.) Use boxes or shipping bags with adequate strength to protect items, and consider placing boxes within boxes for both better protection and premium presentation.

The Un-Boxing Rush

Online customer contentment begins with providing great imagery and written descriptions of items, and it continues through until customers open the delivered product.

  • Create a great virtual impression with packaging that accurately and attractively displays an item.
  • Keep listings realistic and up to date so that customers trust that what they receive is the product they ordered.
  • Ensure the consumer's "ooh, ahh" moment of opening the shipping package by not only protecting merchandise but doing so in an attractive, exciting way.
  • Make packaging attractive and versatile enough so that it continually works for you as a marketing platform.

Ensuring the safe delivery of products while creating attractive and exciting packaging will amount to a great customer experience—one that brings those customers back.

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From Browsing Online to Delivery, Product Packaging Matters to E-Commerce Shoppers

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image of Amy Finn

Amy Finn is vice-president of Finn Industries, a folding carton and set-up box manufacturer located in Southern California.

LinkedIn: Amy Finn