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5 inexpensive ways to make your packages stand out

Posted by Sticker Mule on

You just got a new order.

A nice one. All that work – the marketing, the website, the product, the sourcing, the transaction processes – paid off. Everything worked!

Now that order has to get packaged up and sent to the customer. It’s got to survive the journey and arrive at your customer’s door intact. When they open it, everything has to be perfect.

The moment of unboxing is so critical to the customer experience that people film this stuff. There’s a whole genre of unboxing videos now. Even Mark Zuckerberg has done one.

Zuckerberg Unboxing Oculus

Mark Zuckerberg used an unboxing video to show off the Oculus Rift. Note how many views this video got.

If someone makes an unboxing video of one of your packages, your product will be the star, of course. But the packaging you ship it in is the stage.

Don’t underestimate how powerful this is. The packaging you use is part of the customer experience. But it’s even more than that – packaging has become part of the product. It may only catch your customer’s attention for a moment, but it will frame how they see (and talk about) your product forever.

Packaging may not have such a short shelf life, either. Ever saved a nice box to use it again? Good boxes get around. Good shopping bags do, too.

The research on why packaging matters

There’s some new research out that really shows how powerful – and profitable – good packaging can be.

Here’s the first data point. This is how much packaging affects brand perception:

Packaging Affects Brand Perception

Notice how luxury brands are more affected by packaging. It’ll come up again.

And here are the specific ways packaging affects brand perception:

Specific Ways Packaging Affects Brand Perception

The increases in “makes the brand seem more upscale” and “gets me more excited about receiving the package” are what’s changed most in the last year. This may suggest a shift in how customers perceive the importance of packaging. That importance does seem to be growing – YouTube reports that viewership of unboxing videos is up 57% since last year.

Know what else packaging affects? Word of mouth – one of the most effective marketing tactics ever. As this study says, “gift-like packaging also encourages word-of-mouth marketing. Half of shoppers (50 percent) say the use of branded or gift-like packaging for online orders makes them more likely to recommend the product to friends, compared to 40 percent in 2015.”

This is especially interesting. If packaging can affect word of mouth so much, the moment when customers open your packaging might be the best time to ask them to refer your company to a friend. A package insert that someone could give to a friend for a discount on their first order might work.

But before you bust out the printer, keep in mind that the influence of packaging depends on the product that is being shipped. Not too surprisingly, the packaging for household goods had less of an effect than for luxury goods.

Premium Packaging Matters

There’s one last benefit of better packaging: It has a direct affect on your bottom line. Better packaging makes people more likely to order again.

Better Packaging Helps Reorders

So it looks like it’s worthwhile to invest in better packaging. Fair enough – but how? And how to do it without breaking your budget?

Have no fear. Any one of these five tactics can help:

1. Inserts

Inserts are a proven tactic for increasing order size, word of mouth, loyalty and more. They don’t have to cost very much, either.

You could retrofit the design of a business card to become an insert if you wanted. Print a couple hundred of them as a template, then handwrite a custom code or codes as needed. Business cards can be printed for as little as 2 cents each.

Don’t forget postcards, either. They’re big enough to write a note on.

The handwritten note tactic is becoming quite the trend. Many online retailers say they’ve had success with this.

Add Inserts to Your Packaging

Personally, I love the idea, but it seems like a lot of work. I still remember being up until 2am to get a big order out, and the idea of having to hand-write a thank you note/ insert card for each order makes me feel tired even now.

Then again… maybe the note doesn’t have to be very long. This company made an impression just by writing the customer’s name inside the box. All that takes is a Sharpie.

One easy way to make an impression with your packaging

A few other ideas for “inserts”:

  • Candy: Kinda the retail equivalent of the chocolate mint on a hotel pillow.
  • Review request: Because more reviews means more orders.
  • Product samples: These aren’t free, but they can increase sales by a lot.

Learn more about how to create package inserts that work.

2. Printed boxes or mailers

I know – you think you don’t have budget for a custom box.

But you can cheat... and “print” your own boxes with a custom stamp. A custom stamp with art and text that’s 5 inches long x 5 inches wide costs around $70-$100. That’s not free, but would let you have boxes like this:

Hand stamped boxes

The Etsy shop Heirloom Home and Studio ships with standard cardboard boxes pressed with a custom stamp.

If a custom stamp won’t work, consider using standard stamps used in a creative way. There are also roller stamps that can be made to look like your package is wrapped with ribbons. Roller stamps can be made with food designs, clothing designs, plant designs… you name it.

Of course, while stamping is nearly free, it does take time. Ideally, you’d have a spare gang of little kids hanging around who just want to decorate boxes all day.

Trunk Club Boxes An example of the printed boxes Trunk Club uses for its orders. This is also a clever example of another way to make your packages stand out – use a design that makes the box look like something more than just a box and ties into a theme.

Poly mailers are an easy way to save on shipping and can be done in small batches with custom designs. These work best for apparel, t-shirts and other non-breakable items.

Full Color Poly Mailers

I actually used a bubble mailer for a mailing a few years ago. It held a cover letter, a short report, and a clear plastic puzzle. The puzzle had a little metal bead inside that you had to roll around just so to open the puzzle. Inside the puzzle was a little card… and behind the card was the call to action.

That mailing got a 20% response rate.

Good packaging works for lots of things. ;)

3. Color

Color is one of the best, simplest branding tricks ever. For example – that printed box we just talked about? If your company has a signature color, you could skip the printed box. Just get a box in as close a color to your brand color as possible.

The color should continue inside the box, too, of course. Your color of tissue wrap. Your color of ribbon. Your color of insert card. Product label. Order form.

You can also use color in strategic spots, like this:

Bright colors inside of box

I think you get the idea. :)

4. Unusual materials

It’s tempting to go with fancy ribbons and luxe papers. But simple, lower cost materials often work just as well. It’s the creativity they’re used with that makes them work.

So don’t get too limited in your materials. Think beyond the packaging shop. I once used cut up raffia in a gift box product. It was a gift box of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, so the raffia was meant to look like straw from the manger. People loved it. And the raffia was definitely not standard packaging materials.

Here’s a few other examples of distinctive packaging materials that can be had for cheap:

  • Aluminum foil (not for exterior packages)
  • Wallpaper
  • Butcher paper
  • Old, discontinued hiking maps
  • Twine
  • Wool or yarn

Pinterest is a treasure trove of ideas like this. Here’s a cool silver bubble mailer:

Bubble Mailers

Note that Behance logo. Behance is a hub of designers, including packaging designers. You might find your next package designer there. Or you could just shop for inspiration.

5. Strategic use of stickers

Ok – not to toot our own horn, but we think stickers can make almost any package better. Here’s an example of a fairly plain, staid cardboard box that’s instantly hip thanks to its sticker:

Use stickers to add custom packaging and seal your box

Here’s another cool packaging sticker. Very similar to the first, but notice the orange tape. That’s not custom tape, but it further secures the box and adds to the appeal.

Use color tape to enhance your store packaging

Custom tape is pretty cool, too. And it's easy to design.


Try to ship your packages out quickly

Sometimes it's tough to stand out just on appearance, but one easy way to stand out from everyone else is by providing super fast shipping service. Customers have a hard time forgetting your business if they get their order delivered in 2 days. Before you call us crazy, 2-day shipping is actually quite possible these days. You can use fulfillment service like ShipBob where you send them all your products and they'll take care of everything else when an order comes in, including 2 day continental US shipping.

But new tools even make it possible to do yourself too! You can use a self-service shipping service like Shipstation or Ship by Sticker Mule to speed up your own shipping process and get most packages to your customer's doorstep in 2 or 3 days.

Word to the wise

While all these packaging ideas are fun, consider their durability as much as their looks. It’s not okay for your packages to arrive at your customers' doors trashed.

So before you fall in love with a box, or any kind of packaging, test it. Buy about ten of the boxes. Mail a complete order to ten people you know. Get detailed reports – photos, ideally – of what the packages look like when they arrive.

Pay careful attention to your results. These are only ten packages, remember. If you’ve been shipping for awhile, you know it’s that outlier package – the one that got caught in some machinery – that puts your entire packaging to the test.

Damaged Box Package *About 5-10% of ecommerce packages get damaged during shipping (depending on which study you cite).


Packaging is way more than just a fulfillment function. It’s become a core part of the customer experience. It influences word of mouth and improves loyalty. It can even become part of your marketing, like Chewy.com has done with its ongoing #ChewyBoxLove campaign.

Facebook Packaging

But while it’s really powerful, great packaging doesn’t have to be expensive. You just need to… um … think outside the box.

Want to make your packages stand out? Test some options out with our samples. Click the button below to start sprucing up your packaging for as little as $9!

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