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How to design product packaging for ecommerce (with top design examples)

illustration of boxes with different patterns

Product packaging design might have started as a purely practical endeavor to protect items in transit, but it’s quickly evolved into a powerful branding and marketing strategy.

Today, online shoppers don’t just expect to receive their goods in a timely manner; they also want to be delighted by the overall delivery experience. This is where stellar product packaging can make all the difference to your ability to attract and retain customers.

In this guide, we’re going to cover how you can create a winning product packaging design for your ecommerce store, including all the top tips and examples you need to tell a compelling story about your brand.

Why does product packaging matter?

Keeping your products safe. Your customers receiving damaged or defective products is hardly going to endear them to your brand. It’s more than likely they’ll choose to shop elsewhere next time. A strong product packaging design is your most effective tool for keeping goods safe in transit to prevent this worst-case scenario.

Differentiating your brand from competitors. Both online and offline retail has become incredibly saturated with brands selling similar or the same products. In this landscape, a memorable brand identity is key to attracting your target customers’ attention. Without an eye-catching packaging design, you’re unlikely to stick in consumers’ minds.

Creating a memorable customer experience. In the age of social media, product packaging is part and parcel of your marketing strategy (no pun intended). It’s a valuable touchpoint in the shopping journey that helps drive repeat purchasing behavior by offering your customers a novel and enjoyable post-purchase experience. 

How do you select a good product packaging design?

When your product packaging design requires a refresh, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Ultimately, designing effective product packaging comes down to answering three key questions:

  • What product(s) do you require packaging for?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Where/how is your packaging being used?

These areas all involve careful consideration to ensure that your design is appropriate for your needs. So, let’s take a closer look at each question in-depth:

What product(s) do you require packaging for?

Your product catalog should always be your starting point for a new packaging design. They’ll be some key logistical considerations that dictate the type of packaging you’ll need, such as:

  • How big/small are your products?
  • How light/heavy are they?
  • Are any products classed as fragile items?
  • Are there any regulations you’ll need to abide by for shipping/handling?

For example, small, lightweight products such as jewelry are better suited to slimmer packaging types like mailer envelopes, rather than cardboard boxes. This will lower the DIM weight of your packages for cheaper shipping costs. It also prevents you from needing to use high quantities of packing filler to stop items from moving around in transit.

Who is your target audience?

The market segment you’re targeting will have a big influence on your product packaging design. After all, not all box designs are alike. There’s a big difference between going the Amazon route with generic cardboard versus a custom printed box. The most appropriate design will be dictated by the preferences of your ideal customer.

If you’re a high-end retailer, your customer is likely to expect high-quality packaging with more deluxe elements, such as tissue paper or ribbon. But if you’re an eco-friendly brand that puts sustainability at the heart of your brand strategy, these embellishments may be considered unnecessary and wasteful. 

In sum, your package design should reflect your customer’s values and what they look for in the brands they support. This helps provide confirmation and reassurance that they made the right purchasing decision.

Where/how is your packaging being used?

If you’re an ecommerce merchant, your packaging considerations will be very different than a brick-and-mortar retailer. Product packaging design for the store shelf is about aesthetics and how to entice consumers to interact with products. But packaging for online orders requires a bigger focus on durability and fulfillment costs.

A large, colorful box will look impressive sitting on your customer’s doorstep. But your business will have to swallow some hefty carrier fees due to the amount of space the parcel takes up in a courier van. Multiply this by hundreds of orders, and your choice of product packaging could start cutting into your product margins. That’s why you need to consider every stage of the fulfillment process when choosing the best packaging design for your business.

Types of product packaging

Once you’ve decided on the necessary design and performance requirements, it’s time to choose your product packaging. There are a variety of packaging solutions available, and their suitability will depend on your product specifications and brand aesthetic.

Product packaging can be divided into two main types; outer packaging and inner packaging. Outer packaging is what protects your product during the transit process. Inner packaging surrounds your product within the outer packaging to ensure it doesn’t move around. Inner packaging can also have an aesthetic purpose i.e. creating an exciting product reveal.

Outer packaging solutions

Shipping boxes

A shipping box is what we would recognize as a regular cardboard box, commonly used for moving house or more commonplace ecommerce deliveries. Shipping boxes are sturdy, relatively cheap, and a great form of return-ready packaging. They also come in a variety of sizes to cater to variations within your product catalog.

Mailer boxes

Mailer boxes are much more presentation-focused than shipping boxes, as they have tabs at the front to create a nice clean opening for the customer. This makes them popular with subscription box brands, as well as gift box services and luxury food products. They can also be custom printed in a variety of colors to suit your branding.

Rigid boxes

Rigid boxes feature a two-piece design of a box and lid, which fit together for an extremely flush fit. Apple is famous for using this style of box for its iPhones and Macbooks, which has helped give the brand its polished and high-tech feel. 

Rigid boxes are usually made out of chipboard, which is extremely strong and resistant to chipping or denting. This makes them a favorable design for more fragile products, such as electronics or fragrances. 

Poly mailers

​Poly mailers are extremely light and weatherproof, which makes them a good option for apparel and other soft items that don’t require much protection. Most poly mailers are made from plastic, but there are a growing number of eco-friendly compostable options available to help reduce packaging waste. 

Padded mailers

​Padded mailers are usually made out of paper or plastic with a lining of bubble wrap to protect fragile products. They’re well-suited for smaller ecommerce orders that don’t warrant using a box, which helps to lower fulfillment costs. However, they’re very difficult to recycle or reuse. 

Inner packaging solutions

Tissue paper

Tissue paper is a valuable addition to product packages because it’s incredibly versatile. It can be used to line the inside of boxes, gift wrap products, or to add a bit more drama and flair to your product packaging, best of all, colored tissue paper is very cheap and easy to purchase in bulk.

Packing peanuts/air pillows

Using some form of packing filler is vital to ensure that products are protected against events like a parcel being dropped. Packing peanuts and air pillows are two low-cost and effective options. However, these materials aren’t easy to recycle, and you could end up frustrating your customers by saddling them with packaging they can’t easily dispose of.

Crinkled paper

Although a pricier option, crinkled paper is great for businesses who want a packing filler that gives off a more premium feel. Because it’s a lot denser than traditional packing peanuts, it also helps to make your box look fuller for better product presentation. 

Inserts

It’s important to make sure that items aren’t rattling around when your package is in transit, as this could spoil your product presentation or result in damage. Corrugated cardboard or polystyrene inserts will help to keep products to place for the final reveal when your customer opens their box. This also makes for compelling in-store product displays. 

Accessories

Smaller packaging accessories such as stickers and tape are very useful for sealing boxes or paper together for a tidier look. While you can use plain stickers, this is a great opportunity to showcase your brand by using custom sticker or tape designs.

Should you consider a custom product packaging design?

In ecommerce, the moment of delivery represents the first tangible contact a customer has with your brand. And we all know, first impressions count. An anti-climactic and forgettable delivery experience is hardly going to secure your customer’s loyalty.

But by curating a memorable unboxing experience, you can ensure a positive post-purchase encounter that puts your customers on a path to purchasing from you again soon.

According to Dotcom Distribution, 68% of online shoppers report that branded or premium packaging makes a brand appear more upscale, while 61% say that branded aesthetics get them more excited about receiving/opening a package.

In sum, a custom product packaging design allows you to shape your customers’ perception of value. When they receive an eagerly anticipated product dressed up in gift-like packaging, it’s a powerful statement of how your brand goes the extra mile for customers. 

For our full guide on creating a memorable unboxing experience for your brand, see here. 

What are the key design elements of custom packaging?

Custom product packaging can either be a simple or a complex piece of design work, depending on your budget and how elaborate you want your packaging to be. To create an enjoyable and seamless experience for your customer, your design ideas need to consider three key elements:

  • Brand identity
  • Functionality
  • Experience

Brand identity

Branding is one of the biggest considerations of the packaging design process. This is what helps your customer foster brand familiarity during the post-purchase experience, so you need to make sure that your packaging is cohesive from end to end. This includes the following brand elements:

  • Logo design 
  • Color
  • Typography
  • Brand voice

For example, your logo and brand colors should take a prominent place on your packaging to ensure that customers recognize their delivery when it arrives. This helps to build anticipation and excitement for the unboxing, which creates a more engaging experience for your customers. Packaging accessories such as custom stickers or packing tape are excellent places to put your logo, as they provide a strong focal point in your design.

It’s also important that you think about how your product packaging design compares with your competitors. Your design should be distinctive enough that it’s not likely to be confused with any other brands, not least to avoid copyright issues. Whatever design you choose, you want to be the only retailer that comes to mind.

Functionality

Ultimately, your custom product packaging must accomplish a certain purpose – or even several purposes. As fun as it is picking out your pantones or tissue paper, you need to resist the temptation to stray from your core functionality requirements.

Depending on the selling channels your product packaging is being used in, it will need to accomplish some or all the following:

  • Protect items in transit
  • Maintain product integrity
  • Provide product information/instructions
  • Entice customers to interact with a product
  • Brand positioning

Experience

A custom packaging design can be a powerful tool for experiential marketing. So, you should put yourself in the position of your customer interacting with a product or receiving their online order. Every aspect of your product packaging design should aim to increase engagement and the perceived value of the purchase – from the outer box design to the final product reveal. 

These questions will help you to reflect on the kind of unboxing experience you want your customers to have:

  • How do you want your packaging to look, feel and sound as customers interact with it?
  • What sort of mood/feeling do you want your packaging to inspire?
  • What does your product presentation tell customers about your product/brand?
  • How can free samples, business cards, or handwritten notes provide additional touchpoints?
  • Does my product packaging provide customers with helpful customer support information?

Is it possible to dropship with custom packaging?

It’s entirely possible to implement custom packaging into your dropshipping strategy. This is a great approach for brands who want to give their customers a cohesive brand experience from end-to-end, as your customer may not be aware that their order is being fulfilled and shipped by a third party. Plain packaging is overwhelmingly used within dropshipping to save on cost, meaning a custom packaging design can give your dropshipping business a major competitive edge. 

Should I look at hiring a packaging designer?

Designing your own packaging sounds like an intimidating undertaking, especially for small businesses that may not have an in-house designer. So, should you consider hiring a graphic designer or packaging designer to manage the process for you?

The answer depends on how elaborate you want your packaging design to be. If you want something with a significant graphic design element, a designer may be helpful. But if you’re interested in a relatively simple design involving your existing logo, it may not be necessary to bring in an outside design service. If someone on your team has basic experience in Adobe Illustrator, it’s easy enough to create a DIY design. However, it’s important to seek your printer’s advice on the dieline template being used and any file format requirements.

Some custom packaging suppliers, including noissue and ARKA, also feature simplified online tools that allow you to design and submit your chosen packaging at the time of ordering. This is a great way to save on costly design consultations or mock-ups, which can make custom packaging unaffordable for many retailers.

Case study: Best product packaging designs

Dollar Shave Club: Simplicity does it best

dollar shave club box with shaving supplies

Dollar Shave Club is famous for disrupting the personal grooming space, but also for its paired-back, refreshingly simple product packaging design. Their embrace of plain cardboard and clean typeface is a great representation of their attitude towards shaving; finding new ways to minimize hassle. It’s a great lesson in how minimal packaging designs can stand out in a sea of bright colors and embellishments.

LootCrate: Driving omnichannel engagement

lootcrate box with star wars-themed items

Unboxing experiences are ready-made social media content to help brands increase online engagement. Pop culture subscription box LootCrate has cleverly integrated omnichannel sharing into their box design by giving their customers ‘tips for the perfect unboxing’ – which include sharing a photo or video of their unboxing experience with the rest of the community. This sophisticated UGC strategy is a great way for the brand to encourage word-of-mouth marketing, which is considered far more trustworthy than traditional marketing.

Charlotte Tilbury: Shaping value perceptions

charlotte tilbury box with cosmetics inside

When customers are paying with premium products, they expect to have a premium brand experience. British cosmetics brand Charlotte Tilbury stepped up to the plate with their limited edition ‘mystery box’, which contains a selection of best-selling products at a 50% discount. To help justify the high upfront cost, Charlotte Tilbury has created a deluxe brand experience using branded boxes and matching tissue paper. This helps to boost the value perception of their offering and entice customers with the promise of a luxury experience.

The Marshmallowist: Powerful social media marketing

a mother’s day instagram post from the marshmallowist

There’s nothing like a beautifully wrapped box to get your customer’s attention when the holidays are coming up. Gourmet marshmallow manufacturer The Marshmallowist has created a concise value proposition in this Instagram post by showing off the experience their mothers will receive when opening their box of marshmallows on Mother’s Day. It’s evocative and visually appealing – a great gift for a special day.

So, is your business ready for its next design project? Designing product packaging may feel like a major undertaking but following the steps above will set you on the path to creating a winning design that tells a compelling brand story, boosts conversions, and drives customer loyalty. 

Now is the time to take stock of your current product packaging and start thinking about how you can refresh it with a bigger focus on your ideal customer and key selling channels. Remember: Even a small investment in custom product packaging can make a huge difference to the power of your brand.

Get in touch to see what we can do for you.

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