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Product Packaging in 2021: The Complete Guide for Creating The Best Design For Your Brand

What’s even better than a Christmas gift? 

The feeling of anticipation and excitement that you get when you see the beautifully packaged gift that’s addressed just for you. 

With the eCommerce market showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, you might wonder how you can attract more customers and stand out from the crowd. 

The answer? By providing an unboxing experience that puts Christmas morning to shame. 

We’ll talk you through the ins and outs of product packaging, the things to consider when planning your first designs, and show you some businesses that nailed their packaging design.

Ready to bring your retail packaging game to the next level? 

Product packaging design: what to consider before you start

If you think that product packaging equals a custom box and some tissue paper and bubble wrap, think again. 

A thought-through packaging design can help to build a strong brand and a loyal customer base. 

But before you start designing, there are a few things you should be aware of. 

Have your product’s design aligned with your brand identity

This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. 

If you want to create product packaging that contributes to a truly jaw-droppingly awesome unboxing experience, your shipping boxes need to reflect your brand overall.

By using the same design elements, colors, and typography in your packaging design and other branding you’ll appeal to your customer on a much deeper level than by using plain mailer boxes. 

Custom product packaging helps you also to differentiate from your competitors: if you’re the only one paying close attention to packaging supplies, you’re devising a user experience like no other. 

However, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel: when it comes to eCommerce packaging, you can start small, if you don’t have a big budget to spend on product packaging. 

Get thank you cards made in your brand’s style and get your logo printed on quality sticker paper, and you’re already halfway there. 

Understand the user experience

On top of understanding the product you’re selling and aligning it to fit your brand’s identity, you need to also know who’s buying. 

Does your audience mainly find you via search engines? Or maybe most new customers get referred to your eCommerce store through their friends or social media influencers? 

In order to create product packaging that’s going to fit your brand, you need to not just know who your customer is, but also where they shop and find out about your brand. 

If most of your customer base places their orders via your Instagram store, then you might want to make your packaging design aesthetically pleasing – and all the more Instagram-worthy and shareable. 

Similarly, if your customers are a more tight-knitted community and are built around a newsletter, you might want to include some insider jokes or other notions of exclusivity in your packaging design. 

By understanding what your customers like and dislike, and anticipating their shopping behavior and needs, you can easily create product packaging that suits your brand and talks to the customer on a personal level. 

The environmental impact

The modern buyer is increasingly more conscious of the impact their online shopping has on the environment. 

But that doesn’t need to stop you from designing beautiful packaging designs – on the contrary, by focusing on using sustainable and recycled materials you’ll wow over many eco-conscious consumers. 

Being eco-friendly helps you strengthen your brand and compete against the bigger players on the market. And by addressing your brand values down to the product packaging, you’ll look authentic and trustworthy to your customers, too. 

The copy, visuals, and shape

You also need to pay attention to the text that’s on the packaging, what kinds of visuals you want to include, and what shape the product’s packaging should be. 

Ideally, the perfect packaging addresses your customer’s pain point and offers solutions to it, all while being unique and standing out from the competition. 

Depending on your field and the types of products you’re selling, you might also need to comply with certain laws and regulations when it comes to the type of description or other written information that needs to be included in your packaging. 

You should also be logical when it comes to the shape of your packaging: you might end up angering your customers if the actual package of your product is a misleading shape of the product itself. 

I mean, who hasn’t got annoyed when buying a bag of candy, only to realize half of the bag is filled with air? Don’t be that guy. 

Budget and costs

Good packaging design takes also budgeting constraints into consideration. 

Be a realist when it comes to how much money you can actually afford to spend on your product packaging supplies. Even if your packaging designer draws up the most beautiful-looking custom printed box for your product, it’s no use if you can’t afford to pay for it. 

You should always include the cost of custom packaging in your product pricing, or at least in the shipping costs. If you don’t, you might end up operating your business at a loss – and nobody wants that, right? 

A small or tight budget doesn’t have to mean you can’t have unique packaging, but it might require you to think outside the box or create more toned-down versions of your dream retail packaging. 

Pretty parcel boxes stacked on each other

5 steps to creating the best packaging design for your brand

Whether you’re designing eco-friendly packaging for food products or a more bespoke unboxing experience, the process of making the packaging design is the same regardless. 

1. Choose the correct container type for your product

If you’ve ever ordered anything online, you know that the purchased product doesn’t just sit in a void inside a mailbox. 

Most often, you can divide the package into 3 distinct layers: 

  • Outer packaging. This usually consists of the shipping container that needs to be sturdy enough to protect the purchase from the elements (and sometimes a rough mail handler), and have enough space for shipping labels. 
  • Inner packaging. Most eCommerce brands use protective inner packaging to make sure the products don’t move around excessively inside the box during shipping. You’ve probably found tissue paper, bubble wrap, and other inner packaging materials in an eCommerce store order yourself. 
  • Product packaging. Lastly, the product itself usually comes with some kind of product packaging. It could be as simple as a white paper background and a plastic envelope, or an actual box sealed with plastic wrap. Unless you make your products yourself, your manufacturer or reseller usually takes care of the product packaging.  

Needless to say that for anyone operating in the eCommerce industry, knowing the right packaging for your product is crucial. 

The list of different kinds of containers and packaging is endless, but the most common ones include:

  • Bottles
  • Cans
  • Boxes 
  • Tubes
  • Envelopes 
  • Soft mailer bags 

By understanding which kind of container fits your budget, branding, and products you ensure the overall safety of the order while on its way to the buyer. 

For example, a consumer isn’t going to appreciate you sending glassware to them in soft mailer bags – they would expect to receive their order in a well-padded cardboard package. 

Similarly, if you sell jewelry, don’t ship a loose ring in a big box that’s filled with packaging noodles, or you’ll be literally creating a needle in a haystack situation. 

2. Design your product packaging 

Next, it’s time to get your creative hat on and get sketching. 

Your product packaging should combine functionality and the right kind of aesthetics that suit your brand and industry. 

You should consider things like the color palette, available design elements and fonts, and the materials of the packaging.  

Think about the positioning of your mailing labels and other necessary information that should fit on boxes – you might be required by law to feature the name of your logos, store name, and a returning address somewhere, in case the parcel gets lost. 

The material you go with doesn’t need to withstand submersion in water, but ideally, the contents of the order should be safe from rain. 

You might want to work with a designer if you’re making a set of complex custom packages. They will help to visualize your ideas and can advise you on the overall look and feel of your mailer boxes. Most often they also have the right design tools to create print-ready designs that can be sent directly to your printing partner. 

3. Get as much feedback as possible

Like with most things in business, once your packaging design is ready, you shouldn’t send it away to the printers and be done with it.

Instead, you should create a couple of different designs, and start gathering feedback early on in the design process. 

Understanding what works and what doesn’t is important, because it’s easy to get blind-sighted when it comes to your own work. An outsider opinion, or better still, the opinion of your target market can help you realize what ideas are worth pursuing, and which are insensitive, bland, or simply impractical and bad.  

Since you want to choose the product packaging that will ultimately sell your product the best, creating surveys and polls to address your existing or ideal customers is a great way to identify the flowers out of the weeds. 

Don’t shy away from conducting interviews and focus groups with people who represent your target audience, or a segment of people who would be most likely to buy your product.

Ask input from your team, or from friends and family, if you work alone. Or be brave and approach the unassuming consumer on the street during the weekend and ask for 5 minutes of their time. 

4. Print the designed packaging

Once you’re confident in the design of your retail packaging, it’s time to get it printed.

In order to be sure that the finished product looks exactly as you envision it, it’s worth working with a printing company. Look for one that has experience in retail packaging, has good reviews and user testimonials available. 

A professional printing company should always let you see a sample of your product boxes and other packaging material. You should also feel like you can ask questions and recommendations for different materials and finishes.

Seeing your eCommerce mailing container design in the flesh as a sample helps you validate and review your designs. This way, you can tweak things before you’re sending actual orders out to customers, ensuring that everything is perfect for the end-user.

You should also make sure the printing company provides you with all the information your designer might need. This could include the packaging dye line in vector format, color codes used in the designs, and other printer and file-specific details, depending on the printer and the printed product itself. 

5. Get ready to launch the product packaging into the market

Once you’ve tweaked your design and are satisfied with the samples, it’s time to start using your custom packaging for order shipping. 

Like with any product launch, there’s no reason to not launch your new shipping packages to the world. You’ll be able to create buzz around your brand and can time the shipping box reveal to go hand in hand with a mid-season sale, or another marketing campaign in order to prompt consumers to make a purchase. 

After you’ve started using your new shipping packages, don’t forget to ask for feedback. Especially if you’re an eCommerce business, it’s important to know whether the materials you’ve chosen for your mailing container work well with all elements and other aspects of the transit journey. 

For example, if a consumer gets in touch and complains that the shipping box had got caught in the rain and as a result, the purchased product was damaged, you might be better off opting for a more water-resistant coating in the future, than refunding future orders due to weather. 

Get inspired: Creative packaging solutions and custom boxes 

You know what to do, but lack the inspiration to think of something truly unique for your packaging? 

Take a look at these 5 brands and see how they’ve made pampered their customers with some truly unique and creative packaging designs. 

TokyoTreat

TokyoTreat instagram post screengrab

This online snack business operates an eCommerce store based on a subscription-only model: rather than allowing the customers to buy individual snacks, they subscribe for a monthly snack box. 

What’s interesting about TokyoTreat’s subscription boxes is that the actual box has very little inner packaging, and a limited color palette (orange, yellow, and white). 

But despite this, the business has raving reviews and high user engagement on social media sites like Instagram, thanks to the changing products and very Instagrammable unboxing experience (just look at the persuasive copy inside the box).

Things to try: Persuasive copy, simple design that fits its purpose

Lush

Lush order instagram post screengrab

Sometimes you don’t have to get all the bells and whistles in order to make your product packages aspirational and stylish. 

Sometimes, simple and minimalistic does the job, as this cosmetics company demonstrates. Lush brings its company values up close in its packaging: all materials are 100% recyclable or reusable, and even the packing peanuts used in online orders are plant-based. 

Over half of the brand’s products are sold ‘naked’, meaning that they don’t have any product packaging, helping the company to reduce their environmental impact further. And whatever plastic containers are used, they are all also made 100% of recycled plastics. 

Things to try: Let your product packaging reflect your values in a real way 

Pact Coffee 

Pact Coffee instagram post screengrab

Pact Coffee markets itself as the UK’s best coffee delivery and subscription service. 

Delivering freshly-ground coffee directly through the mailbox, the brand gained a reputation for its unboxing experience, as well as for its eco-friendly and responsible business practices. 

The business keeps the package in which the ground coffee is stored simple, but spices things up with the individual stickers that specify the kind of coffee that’s inside. 

This is a great strategy for keeping costs down, while still being able to deliver customized customer service. 

Things to try: Save by creating mailing containers that are ‘one-size-fits-all’

Graze

Graze order instagram post screengrab

Like TokyoTreat, this snack subscription box brand is all about making its packaging do the talking. 

The main business idea of Graze revolves around letterbox-sized snack subscriptions as an alternative, healthier way to snack. Since the main box has to withstand transit but also appeal to the buyer, the main packaging comes in different bright colors. 

The inner packaging of the snacks themselves neatly fits the design of the outer box, while simultaneously providing the user essential information about the products themselves. 

Things to try: Create custom mailing boxes to complement your business idea

Displate

Displate parcel Reddit post screen grab

Selling posters can be fun, but the shipping part of the business can prove to be tricky. After all, how to not use tubes to send your posters to your customers without them bending out of shape? 

Displate’s unique business idea is based on printing poster designs on metal plates that can be hung on walls. 

And unlike traditional posters, metal is harder to ship in any form of a cylindrical container. The brand fixed the issue by opting for thin cardboard mailer envelopes with the brand imagery printed on top.  

By using the exterior of the mailing package for brand-specific visual elements and copy, the brand’s user experience starts the moment a courier hands the lucky recipient the package. 

Things to try: Customize the outer package for an unforgettable first impression

Mailer boxes in the middle of being packed

The importance of custom printed boxes and other packaging

Regardless of whether you’re looking at retail packaging or eCommerce packaging, the way your products look when all wrapped up can have a huge impact on your brand and marketing strategy as a whole. 

Customized and brand-specific packaging can help you maximize your sales figures. It adds final touches to your brand experience and can encourage repeat purchases. And let’s face it – it’s much easier to sell more to returning customers than to acquire new ones. 

We all want to make a good first impression, right? Brand-specific packaging helps your brand stand out from the competition. If everyone else is mailing orders in plain boxes, or worse, unbranded bubble wrap bags, you’re already walking miles ahead of the rest. 

A product’s packaging isn’t just a one-time thing, either. A thought-out brand that stretches all the way to the packaging boxes and tissue paper can work wonders in increasing customer loyalty toward your brand. 

Especially if you’re an online store, or offer order shipping to your clients, the correct kind of product packaging protects and promotes your product and business while in transit. The box will pass through many hands on its way to the consumer, so why not make sure you’re not missing out on the free advertising? 

Bring your brand to life with the right product packaging design

Like many eCommerce brands, there’s no shame in wanting to extend the brand experience beyond the digital sphere. 

Custom packaging helps you build brand awareness, seal the overall user experience, and protect the products while in transit. 

Ditch generic bubble wrap and create eco-friendly and sustainable packaging that reflects your brand values and is bound to please the customers, too. 

Start designing your own custom packaging today and create the ultimate unboxing experience.

Written by

Author avatar

Matleena

Matleena is a seasoned eCommerce writer, with a particular interest in emerging digital marketing trends, dropshipping, and growth hacking. She’s addicted to coming up with new eCommerce business ideas and making them a reality; she deserves her nickname of ‘print on demand business mogul.' In her free time, she enjoys cups of good coffee, tends to her balcony garden, and studies Japanese.

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