Shipping-based businesses spend a lot of time thinking about how to make shipping more efficient and cost-effective. They have to, in order to protect their business bottom line.

But the end-line consumer doesn’t see any of that. They don’t feel the impact of a supply chain modification — or at least they don’t know that they do. They probably wouldn’t even notice if you began using a new third-party shipping carrier.

Consumers pay attention to just a few aspects of the shipping experience: how much shipping costs, whether packages arrive on time, and the aesthetic experience of opening the parcel.

Brands face three key challenges in designing packaging. First, they need to be environmentally responsible by using reusable packaging materials or less packaging in general. Second, their packaging design should have a distinct look, with custom graphics or branding that set their parcels apart. And third, brands need to optimize returns in a difficult small-parcel shipping environment.

Designing packaging to please consumers may seem like an afterthought. But with a few small changes, you can delight your customers — and even save money on the way.

What are unboxing experiences?

“Unboxing” — the experience of, literally, opening a package and taking out the items inside — is so popular that many brands pay influencers to record videos of their experiences on YouTube and Instagram. Tens of millions of people see them. And consequently, consumers have come to expect that every time they open a package, they should have a distinct experience.

As more and more of the global retail economy moves online, unboxing is the new shelf presence. Consumers’ first interactions with products aren’t in big-box store aisles, but in their own homes. As such, it’s essential that brands think about product presentation when consumers open their packages.

First, think about logistics and mechanics. If you decide to incorporate aesthetic elements, make sure they don’t interfere with functionality. Make sure your packaging materials and products are right-sized, eliminating empty space that might allow products to move during transit, for example.

That said, it’s important to invest some time and resources in aesthetics. You don’t have to commission custom packaging that looks like Apple’s. Customers greatly appreciate small personal touches, like handwritten or personalized notes and gift wrapping. There are plenty of small design choices that invoke luxury products too, like imprinting brand materials on cardboard boxes.

What is the circular economy?

The concept of the “circular economy” recognizes that trash and environmental degradation are bad not only for the planet, but for public health and the economy.

As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines it: “Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system.”

The circular economy has three core tenets: Design out waste and pollution, reuse products and materials, and regenerate natural systems.

So why should this vision matter to shippers?

First, it matters to consumers. About 60 percent of Americans recognize that human action is contributing to climate change, according to a poll released in July 2018. And 73 percent of Americans believe there is solid evidence for climate change, even if they’re unsure about its causes.

Reading about pollution and climate change makes many people feel like there’s nothing they can do. If brands can adopt green initiatives that reduce waste — and engage customers in doing so — they can help their customers resist that sense of helplessness.

As you think about your next line of packaging, consider how you might design out waste. What materials can you eliminate? Packing peanuts, remember, were once commonplace and have become almost absent over environmental concerns about Styrofoam.

Also, how might you reuse products and materials? Could you create a reusable box that customers could return, either by mail or to a brick-and-mortar store, so that it could be used again? And could you add information about how to do that to the packaging itself or some other easy-to-find place, so consumers understand what to do?

Waste, pollution and climate change are going to force a number of companies to come up with creative solutions in the coming years. Be one of them — both for the public good and to show your customers you care.

Many shippers operate under the assumption that once a package has been delivered on time, the sale is successful and the customer is satisfied. We need to think beyond that. Brand interaction with that customer continues until they dispose of the packaging. Even if they love the product itself, a frustrating unboxing experience or unwieldy, non-recyclable packaging could turn customers off.

As a modern brand, social media (and to a lesser extent, your online store) is your first opportunity to make an impression on customers. Packaging is your final opportunity. If you want to turn first-time customers into repeat customers and then into loyal ones, pay as much attention to that final experience as you do to the first one.

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