Unboxing Effect: Creating The “WOW” Factor

The ecommerce world is evolving. These days, there are a multitude of elements that effect your ability to attract and retain customers. Aside from obvious attributes, like your product selection, pricing, customer service and support, returns policy and shipping rates and speed, how you brand your packages and ship them matters greatly, too.

With the bar set high by some of the leading ecommerce vendors, you must think outside of the box to help make your business stand out in a very cluttered e-retail world. How you package your items will serve several purposes, from safeguarding packages and preventing damage during shipping (ultimately resulting in more returns) to making the most effective use of your branding.

Don’t forget, if you need even more tips, make sure you take a look at our Ecommerce Shipping Guide for a complete breakdown. In the meanwhile, rely on these tips for packaging to help you get a head start.

Start with Premium Packaging

A premium packaging and shipping supplies company called Shorr surveyed hundreds of online shoppers representing a cross-section of Americans. The aim was “to understand consumer preferences around custom packaging and how shopping frequency and spending impacts those preferences.”

The main takeaway from the survey was that premium shoppers that spend at least $200 per month or more place an added value on custom packaging design. The survey found that just 11% of customers are satisfied with the packaging that they get today.

Packaging creates a wow effect that consumers desire, something that can drive improved loyalty and retention and that can increase the average order value substantially. Concurrent studies have found that a returning customers spends 67% more on their second visit – helping drive home the notion that you want to win customers over from the get-go with a well-designed package that exudes the wow factor.

Creating The Unboxing Effect

The packaging that you are sending your ecommerce goods in is a lot more important than you might suspect. Many e-retailers are so focused on the goods that they are shipping, that they think little about what happens after that package goes out the door. But, how you package your goods may be just as important as what they offer to consumers in the end.

So how do you create the desirable unboxing effect with your goods while adding that “wow” factor? We’ll deliver some examples and helpful suggestions in this guide.

Packing Has A Subconscious Appeal

Buyology, Inc., a consultancy and think tank, says that 85% of human decisions occur as a result of subconscious thinking. This also relates to how packaging, its designs, colors and consistency appeal to consumers, too, infers Pack World. Even certain packaging colors have been found to influence the subconscious mind in consumers. The results of which have led to more innovative approaches in packaging design, explains an article by Ruby Porter.

This graphic (below), courtesy of KissMetrics, helps us better understand why 93% of consumers look to visual appearance over any other element when they are shopping. Color and visual cues are the biggest contributor on customer influence. When it comes to your packaging, the more appealing it is, the likelier that consumers are going to be left with a favorable impression of your brand.


Simplify Your Design

While it has been established that consumers respond to certain colors and visual ques, this does not mean that you have to go overboard with your design. While some brands prefer an extravagant approach to their packaging, such doesn’t always have to be the case to win over consumers and create the unboxing effect.

A good example of this synergy in motion is Butter Better! It’s a brand design that was created to make it easier to enjoy butter on the go, like when at a picnic or in a packed lunch for work or for school. Note the subtle nature of the design and the handiness of the built-in and disposable, wooden butter knife.


Be Consistent

Consistency across your brand demographic is important. Even the biggest, most celebrated brands in the world have learned this lesson the hard way. One of those brands happens to Apple, one of the largest smartphone and computer makers in the world.

In a recent ZD Net report, they said that, “Apple is cleaning up retail store shelves with consistent accessory packaging.” The goal is to make the shopping experience as consistent and as simple and straightforward as possible for consumers.

Apple has also recently moved to putting iPods on shelves, in addition to removing the distracting iPad Smart signs as well. This is in efforts to bring more consistency to their packaging and in-store branding. The lesson learned here is clear-cut: consistency matters across your entire brand.


Go Bold

A German based design firm, design firm Gürtlerbachmann GmbH, was hired to create an intriguing design for a children’s shoe section at a department store called Görtz. The innovative design, as you can see from the image below, depicts a bold shape and aesthetic, with the shoelaces coming out of the nostrils of the bird.

Sometimes being bold is a great way to drive home brand awareness. As you can imagine, few consumers would ever forget such a memorable packaging memento. There’s no question here: it’s a wonderful example of the unboxing effect in action.


Be Artistic

A mom and her son, Lana and Dereck Lewis, run an ecommerce baked goods business called Thelma’s. They offer a wide selection of delectable eats, namely cookies that are packaged so artistically it’s hard to even want to order cookies from somewhere else.

The cookies are carefully packaged in a box that is shaped like an oven. The oven features two trays consisting of six cookies each to make a full dozen. When it comes time to snack, you simply pull your cookie tray out of the oven and enjoy a nice treat.


Inspire Creative Response

You do not have to be a major brand just to inspire a creative design that helps you attract more consumers to your brand while creating that desirable unboxing effect. Swedish design student Linn Gustafsson created a very palpable clothing design box (pictured below) that evokes all of the necessary elements of effective design while keeping cost in mind.


Think Outside Of The Box

Drawing creativity from others is always going an inspiration for your designing endeavors, one that could lead you to creating your own packaging brilliance. This point is accentuated by the blog TeenDIY, which provides an instructional on how to create Oreo Cookie cupcakes and matching oven-shaped boxes (something that can easily traverse over to a baked good store idea like Thelma’s.


Don’t Reinvent The Wheel

If the wheel isn’t broken, don’t fix it. A great example of this packaging credence in motion is found with Fit Buns, high protein bread for workout enthusiasts. Note how the packaging is very similar to any other bread packaging that you’d ever see. This is with exception to a notable standout: the buns are exposed to make it appear as if they are abdominal muscles.


Stay True To Your Brand

A lot of marketers worry that if they do something too persuasive, they won’t stay true to their brand. But the book, “How Brands Stay Hot” advises that you go for it. Being “cool” is the number one mainstay, because cool brands have a longer staying power. The How Brands Stay Hot website offers countless tips that you can glean from, too.

Go Green

Going green with more eco-friendly packaging is something that all business should strive to do. Also, Bev Industry says that it is the newest emerging trend in packaging. As consumers become more conscious of their carbon footprint, companies also need to follow suit to appeal to this growing demographic, social consensus and nomenclature. This infographic (below) by ModisLink offers more depth.


Treat Packaging Like A Marketing Expense

You can write it off your taxes (in some cases). Yes, you read the correctly. Now don’t let this replace any advice from your CPA, because they know best. But, it is helpful to know that in some situations it is possible to write off creative packaging as a marketing expense.

An article by Retail Packaging explains: “A savvy business owner decides to include their logo on the stationary cards, and have the company name printed on the ribbons used to hold the bouquet together. In this case, these items would be counted as a marketing expense.”

You Only Get 30 Seconds To Impress People

Why is your packaging so important? Well you only have about 30 seconds to impress any consumer with your packaging, that’s why, explains Harvard Business School. This is why retailers are so focused on color cues, subconscious influence and impulse when gauging what colors, fonts, shapes and designs to use in their packaging.

Don’t Forget The Extras

Getting your packages in order also requires that you add a few extras to the mix. Take note of the unboxing photo below that shows what an order from Trunk Club looks like when it’s opened by a consumer. One thing that is focused on is the extras that come in each package.


Be sure to include things like:

  • A handwritten thank you note to really add a personal touch.
  • The packing slip or invoice for the purchase.
  • A business card to drive referral business.
  • A coupon that can be redeemed on future purchases.
  • Instructions on caring for items (when required).

Brand Your Packages

When customers receive the package that you sent them, first reactions are priceless, indeed. The thought process here should be to wow the customer from the very first moment they set eyes on the package. This involves using effective branding, as demonstrated in the image below.


The given example above shows a well-branded package by t-shirt company FIA (Fun Is Awesome). Note how attractive and elegant the packaging looks, and think about how this would influence a customer who was just receiving their first order from your online store.

Branded packages serve to separate your namesake from other online stores that merely drop items into a box and drop ship them to customers. It also helps create what is commonly called the “unboxing effect,” where consumers are thrilled when they receive the goods they ordered because of branded packaging.

Understand Who You’re Competing Against

Another element that you should not overlook is who you are in competition with and what form of packaging that they are using to allure consumers. According to a Pack World report and study, you want to strive for package equality.

A poll of 125 retailers found that just 10% were doing enough with their packaging to leave a favorable impression on consumers. The conclusion of the Pack World study found that with the right packaging, you gain “an 80% advantage over the market.”

Wrap Fragile Items Properly

Studies by Stella Service have found that one in ten items are damaged during the shipping process. Damaged items denigrate your customer satisfaction rating and result in costly returns while detracting from long term retention rates. But, there is a simple fix that you can integrate to help reduce the potential for damage to occur to packages when in transit.


  • Carefully pack fragile items assuring that they are nestled in the right protective packing materials such as bubble wrap, air cushions, paper and others.
  • Use flat and firm backing when shipping any bendable items to prevent damage.
  • Protect against moisture by using absorbent materials, moisture guards and even internal plastic bagging.
  • Use rugged, durable boxes that can sustain bends and drops during the shipping process.
  • Properly seal all packages with packing tape.
  • Offer customers shipping insurance for an added fee (or include it in the shipping cost to reduce the impact of returns on your bottom line).

Shipping & Returns

A commonly overlooked aspect of your branding, packaging and shipping method as well as your online product returns policy is how these elements can influence and affect your conversions. Take a look at this infographic to better understand the mindset of the online shopper and how it impacts your conversion funnel.

Know the Shipping Rates

Need more help setting your ecommerce shipping rates? Just use this helpful infographic on how to set ecommerce shipping rates, courtesy of Shopatron. Use the advice offered here to learn how to better manage your shipping budget, so that you can win over more customers and improve your conversion funnel the smart way by offering affordable, expedited shipping.

Use Quality Packaging

According to Stella Service, most retailers are not taking advantage of the free advertising that their packages can convey when in transit For example, Amazon packages grab people with the signature smile whereas Zappos’ trademark icon lets everyone know that someone just ordered a new pair of shoes.

Quality packaging is priceless. Take the packaging wow effect example shown in the Detroit Watch Company image below. It demonstrates using a very sturdy cardboard package with a unique unboxing effect. That being, the quaint and attractive watch box that’s inside of the package. Using appropriately sized package can reduce shipping cost, help prevent damage and secure the nameplate of your brand, while simultaneously helping to reduce online product returns and improve brand awareness.


The Cost of Damaged Packages

But how much do damaged packages really cost you? Well it’s a simple matter of math to find out. Say that your average shipping cost is $10. And let’s say that, as the aforementioned statistics imply, one in ten packages are arriving damaged. Now you are paying return shipping on each package, and you are spending the labor to send out new goods while taking a loss on the package.

If your average shipped item is valued at $60, and you have to eat the base cost on that, which is likely $30 or more (let’s just presume $30 for the sake of an even number), the math reads: $30 + $10 + labor (estimated at $10)… or $50 per package that arrives damaged. The good news is that in many cases this can be avoided all by adhering to the simple steps and tips that have been offered to you in this guide.

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