Online Merchants Thinking Inside the Box

Discussion
Nov 18, 2011
George Anderson

Several weeks ago, one of the resident teenagers here received a large corrugated box from an Amazon.com affiliate. Anxious to open it, he ripped open the box and found, ta-da, a shirt inside a plastic bag. "That’s it? There’s nothing else," he asked.

When asked what else he was expecting, he responded with a list that included a packing slip, literature on other products, special offers, and perhaps a sample of some kind. "How about some bubble wrap to pop?" he asked.

He pointed to previous deliveries to the house that he thought showed a greater degree of professionalism. After all, hadn’t he just shelled out whatever amount of money it was on this button-down shirt?

The experience, which seemed comical at the time, was viewed in a different light this week with the reading of a Wall Street Journal article that pointed to the amount of attention retailers pay to properly packing boxes sent to consumers. As the opening paragraph of the story reads, "Unlike in stores, shoppers on the Web need to be wowed twice, first when they are browsing around the site and again when the purchase lands on their doorstep."

As the Journal piece pointed out, getting products to the consumer without damage is priority number one, so simply dumping something in a box or envelope generally doesn’t cut it.

Retailers put packaging through all kinds of tests to make sure they can stand up to delivery drivers. HSN, for example, has a machine that test drops packages from a variety of angles.

How packages look when they’re opened is critical.

"Our packaging needs to be consistent with what they’re seeing on TV," Rob Solomon, HSN’s executive vice president of operations, told the Journal. "The presentation really becomes that exclamation point on the product inside."

Carolyn Keer, director of packaging at Anthropologie, told the Journal, "When you get something in the mail, it should feel like a present, whether you bought it yourself or not."

Discussion Question: How important is in-the-box presentation to the online shopping experience?

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18 Comments on "Online Merchants Thinking Inside the Box"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

To find just a shirt inside a bland corrugate box with nothing more is a turn-off to consumers, especially if the shirt cost more than a dollar. Online merchants should invest a little more either to dress up the box, as a department store does, or to stuff the box with some flair. People are people, customers and customers, and consumers are consumers.

Phil Rubin
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

In-the-box presentation is significant for online shopping as it is the punctuation mark and certainly the most tangible part of the experience. Yesterday I received my Kindle Fire and their presentation was exquisite: it accentuated the product, was environmentally responsible and essentially, Apple-esque.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 5 months ago

The packaging should reinforce the brand message. If the brand is all about the lowest price, fancy packaging can actually work against the brand. If, however, the brand is about style or luxury or high-tech, the packaging should be consistent with those attributes.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 5 months ago

I’d much rather retailers take a minimalist approach to packaging for the sake of the environment. In five weeks, I’ll be able to walk around my neighborhood and see all the cardboard, bubble wrap, plastic packaging, and “popcorn” that is destined for the landfill as a permanent monument to consumerism of the 2000s.

I recently received a package from an upscale department store that had more “popcorn” surrounding the small item than in three super jumbo popcorns at the movie theater. On the other hand, I, like Phil, just received my Kindle Fire from Amazon and agree it was well packaged, looked great, and had none of the extraneous stuff destined for the trash. Bravo!

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in this article. Effective packaging goes beyond the protective and dare I add, attractive exterior. If retailers consider the receiving and opening of a package part of the customer experience they’ll be on the right track.

Matt Hahn
Guest
Matt Hahn
9 years 5 months ago

Apple probably exemplifies the un-boxing experience better than anyone. When you open an Apple product, there is no question on where to open it. When you do, you are presented with your product in a clean and organized manner. Everything has its own specific place; the item, its accessories and accompanying paperwork. The box doesn’t include anything extra that is wasteful or doesn’t have a specific purpose. This thoughtfulness gives the un-boxer a wow experience that lives up to the hype of the product. It enhances not only the purchasing experience, but the Apple brand. If the company puts that much thought into the packages, the product itself must be amazing. This started early in the company’s history with the first Mac shipments and continues to be a benchmark in the industry.

For online retailers that don’t get another physical touchpoint with the consumer, that un-boxing experience can add to the overall brand experience.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

The presentation is not very important in the online world, since products are generally purchased on price and benefits…not how they look or feel in the shipping box. If more suppliers would realize this, and instead focus on reducing their pricing, making their packaging more green (and less expensive) and then passing the savings on to their customer, they would certainly benefit more.

Kimberly Nasief-Westergren
Guest
Kimberly Nasief-Westergren
9 years 5 months ago

The brand messaging needs to be consistent and present, from purchase to delivery. Remind of me where I purchased the product, tell me what’s coming up, show me more treats that can magnify my purchase.

Connie Kski
Guest
Connie Kski
9 years 5 months ago

When I shop at a brick and mortar store, I have the experience of shopping in a huge walk-in closet packed with a cornucopia of fabrics, colors, and styles. I enjoy the experience and the selection, choosing my personal favorite that is then wrapped and delivered to me in a store logo bag with tissue. My choice carries with it the experience, long after I have hung it in my own closet.

In contrast, the online purchase that arrives in a cardboard box all by its lonesome is devoid of that experience. An in-the-box presentation that includes a bit of tissue and a seal, paperwork, special offers and a surprise is an opportunity to build brand loyalty and awareness.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Bill Emerson nailed it.

Mark Heckman
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

As the cashier and bagger interaction with a bricks and mortar retailer is arguably the most important service impression that customer takes away from the visit, the “box” likely serves as the same level of impression the online shopper takes away from an e-commerce transaction.

While we spend time a money (some retailers more than others) training the front-end personnel on customer decorum, spending some thought on what the box looks like and what is the lasting impression the “box” communicates, should be of equal importance.

As an example, a personal note inside the box, whether it can be hand written by the packer or a digitally customized thank you note, could be a very wise investment in a long-term customer relationship!

Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
9 years 5 months ago

It is enormously important. Presentation and packaging always matters — that’s why private label didn’t take off until it got out of the black and white packaging. People build emotional connections with brands that go beyond the rational price/value equation, but if you want them to build those connections you have to give them something to bond with beyond the item which, let’s be honest, is almost always a commodity.

I think it matters most for a “clicks only” retailer. Without a physical store to browse and engage in people need another access point to the brand. Receiving well packaged, thoughtful “gifts” (love the quote from Ms. Keer) makes the purchase an emotional exchange, not just a transaction.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Receiving a package, even if it is something you ordered, is similar to a gift received on your birthday or other significant date. The package should complement the “gift” inside.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I think the key here is whether it was shipped by an Amazon.com affiliate. That could mean some person selling out of their basement, which is what makes retail more challenging than ever. It’s also why stores need to keep reminding and showing their customers the experience difference.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

“literature on other products, special offers, and perhaps a sample of some kind”

That boy has a future in marketingu!! But back on topic: necessary docs and adequate cushioning, yes; enticements, optional; “popcorn”, please,
no.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
An issue for Amazon is being unable to control the delivery and appearance of your affiliates. The larger issue is that the consumer believes that no matter what the source, its coming from Amazon. That’s a problem. Retailers and consultants are being misled if they believe that the consumer doesn’t care about packaging and are buying from an internet retailer simply on the basis of price. That would be a huge mistake. When I purchase from retailers like LL Bean, Zappos, Lands End, and many others, I look forward to the box on the doorstep. I harken back to the great musical “The Music Man”. A scene from that movie says it all. “Oh, Oh, Oh, the Wells Fargo wagon is a comin’ down the street, oh please, oh please, oh let it be for me”. I believe that type of excitement still exists today even though it may be Fed Ex, or UPS, or the USPS, making the delivery. There is anticipation of its delivery upon making the order and there is excitement with… Read more »
Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 5 months ago
For e-retailers, the package’s arrival and opening is indeed a second wow moment. It’s also another opportunity to build brand preference, but one that is too often left unopened. Earlier this year, I ordered a dozen or so paperbacks from a book retailer (not Amazon, but a well-known brand). They arrived in an obviously used box that had been cut down to size and wrapped with gobs of tape. Inside, the books were thrown willy-nilly amongst an immense amount of Styrofoam pellets, plenty of which got stuck inside the pages. When I called the retailer, I received an apology and a 15% discount for my next order. But the “wow moment” was forever gone, and it left a lingering concern about potential future orders. Compare that to the two mugs I also ordered earlier this year from another e-tailer, which arrived neatly and securely packed amongst bubble wrap. And not only were the mugs in their own separate cardboard boxes, but each was placed inside a reusable velvet, drawstring pouch. E-retailers need to think of… Read more »
Alyson Anderson
Guest
Alyson Anderson
9 years 5 months ago

As it has been said, the packaging reinforces the brand. Many small retailers forget this point when shipping items. A great example of one who does not is a small retailer called T-Shirt Deli based in Chicago. When they mail you your items they are wrapped in deli paper complete with deli stickers on the paper and box exterior. The entire “package” is placed in a white paper bag complete with napkins and chips before being sealed in its shipping box. Hokey? Yes. Well branded? Yes.

Others who do this well are the Quidsi group of online retailers: Diapers.com, Wag.com, Soap.com. The exterior of their boxes are well branded (you can actually choose which company you want on the box when you order purchases from multiple sites within the family).

Retailers need to think of their brand at every touchpoint and that includes the mail!

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