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Your step-by-step guide to the best unboxing experience

illustration of a person taking a guitar out of its box

[Updated post from December 22, 2020]

Glossier fans list many reasons why they’re passionate about the brand: Its commitment to clean beauty, accessible price point, and uncluttered product range. But there’s another reason that trumps all others. 

In the intensely competitive market, Glossier stands out because it treats its customers as influencers in their own right.

This strategy is clear in how Glossier approaches online orders. Every package is a reflection of the brand’s values, from the minimalist pink mailer box to the mantra printed on the inside of the lid to remind customers when they open the box: Skin first, makeup second. The reusable pouch and freebie sticker set are value-added extras that send a clear message – Glossier wants to build a genuine relationship with its devotees.

Exceptional unboxing experiences like Glossier’s have become sought after by consumers who’ve grown tired of mundane, predictable ecommerce experiences. It’s a timeless ritual that connects us to happy memories of being a child on Christmas morning, eagerly anticipating our next gift.

inside of a glossier gift box. there are beauty products and stickers. inside the top of the box has the text ‘skin first. makeup second. smile always.’

For Glossier, these efforts have clearly paid off. The brand has nearly 3M loyal followers on Instagram, where these unboxing experiences are shared in the form of user-generated content. It’s a carefully curated feedback loop that drives customer loyalty and engagement – and it all starts at the point of fulfillment.

Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the world of unboxing. This post will break down those key questions about this most enticing of customer experiences, such as:

  • What is unboxing?
  • Why should merchants care about their unboxing experience?
  • What do I need to consider when creating my own unboxing experience?
  • What are some of the best unboxing examples should be paying attention to?

Unboxing: Meaning and definition

As we outlined above, unboxing experiences are the step-by-step ritual of opening and unpacking a new purchase. When the process is particularly memorable, the experience may also be captured in photos or videos for the recipient to share with others.

Unboxing experiences are different from regular ecommerce deliveries. It’s an immersive, experiential branding exercise that’s designed to surprise and delight customers during the post-purchase stage. Through the use of bespoke elements like branded packaging, engaging inserts, and free samples, merchants can make customers feel more emotionally invested in their brand and more likely to buy from them in the future.

Once the domain of luxury brands selling high-ticket items, unboxing experiences have fast become the table stakes for positive customer experiences in the age of ecommerce. 

Today’s consumers expect brands to pull out all the stops to make the end-to-end shopping journey enjoyable – and this includes the delivery experience. Where we were once satisfied by online orders being accurate and on time, we now crave that ‘wow factor’ to make our interactions with a brand exciting and enjoyable.

Unboxing statistics

Unboxing experiences were first popularized through ‘unboxing videos’; in-depth, immersive videos posted to YouTube where people capture their first impressions of interacting with a product after delivery. 

Over time, unboxing videos have become a useful tool for influencers to show off gifted or sponsored products – and the appeal of these videos is huge. ‘Unboxing’ is searched 90,000 times every month on YouTube alone, while 90% of consumers say they’ve discovered new brands or products via YouTube videos.

Search results for ‘unboxing’ have held fairly steady over the past five years according to Google Trends, indicating that unboxing experiences are far more than an online fad.

With the rise of increasingly digital shopping experiences, from subscription boxes to social commerce, the influence of unboxing isn’t restricted just to the post-purchase experience; images and videos of attractively-packaged products have gained widespread popularity on social media as a yardstick for measuring how desirable a brand is to purchase from. 

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the boom in online sales, brands have needed to look for new ways to secure customer loyalty – especially when willingness to experiment with new brands is at an all-time high. According to Keypoint’s 2020 study “Vertical Industry Views from a Socially Distanced Perch”, 77% of brands that produce packaged products are focused on enhancing their unboxing experiences.

Despite this, consumers report being underwhelmed by brands’ efforts over the past year. Macfarlane’s 2020 unboxing survey found that 32% of the packages consumers received had no branding, while 17% felt that the unboxing experience didn’t reflect the brand’s values.

In sum, unboxing experiences are more relevant than ever in the eyes of consumers – but brands need to seriously lift their game if they’re going to create an unboxing that will surprise and delight.

Why unboxing experiences matter

Control your brand narrative from beginning to end

Merchants exert a lot of control over the brand story during the shopping journey. From the initial moment of brand discovery to collecting their confirmation email, customers receive consistent, familiar communications that help to build an emotional connection with a brand.

But by the time an online order has been picked, packed, and is on its way to the customer, a retailer’s identity is usually been hidden beneath layers of generic packaging. It’s like starting an engaging story – but not giving it an ending.

Industry commentators refer to this trend as the ‘Amazonization’ of ecommerce – and it’s not hard to see why. Unbranded packaging is cost-effective but makes it difficult to distinguish brands from one another during the post-purchase experience, making it almost impossible to foster brand awareness.

Unboxing experiences enable retailers to put their brand front and center during the all-important moment of delivery, giving them a powerful point of difference. In fact, 52% of online shoppers that receive their order in custom packaging say they’re more likely to place future orders!

Enhance the customer experience

In the aftermath of the pandemic, ecommerce is a more crowded market than ever before. When consumers can purchase the same product from dozens of vendors, you need to give them a compelling reason to choose your brand above others.

This is where value-added experiences are the biggest competitive differentiator for brands. According to HubSpot, 93% of customers are more likely to make repeat purchases from a brand that offers an excellent customer experience.

Unboxings are tactile, immersive post-purchase experiences that leverage the anticipation of delivery to finish off the customer journey on an ultimate high. In short, it primes your customers for future purchases so they can receive this experience again.

Every customer is an influencer

In our social media-driven world, consumer interactions with brands are quite literally made to be shared. When 93% of consumers say that online reviews influence their purchasing decisions, it should be your mission to leave every one of your customers with a favorable impression – no matter how big or small their online following.

Your customers will be filled with anticipation about seeing their purchase for the first time – and you don’t want to miss out on a valuable opportunity to build further engagement. With 40% of consumers saying they would share a purchase on social media if it came in interesting packaging, unboxing experiences present a powerful strategy to extend your brand’s reach into new communities. 

Getting started: 4 Things to consider when creating your own unboxing experience

Designing an unboxing experience from scratch can be an intimidating undertaking – even for established brands. This is because unboxings are far more than just pretty packaging. If an unboxing doesn’t:

  • Create a customer-centric experience
  • Reflect your brand identity and values
  • Maintain healthy profit margins on each order

Then it’s unlikely the experience is going to benefit your brand. This is why we’ve created the ultimate checklist to help you create the perfect unboxing experience that drives customer loyalty and repeat purchases.

1. What packaging materials will best reflect my brand?

Without unique packaging materials such as custom-branded packaging, it’s challenging to create an unboxing that’s tied to your brand narrative. Every element of your unboxing experience should represent your values and personality, providing a cohesive touchpoint in the customer journey that aligns with your brand’s mission.

Types of product packaging to use in your unboxing experience

Exterior packaging

Your exterior packaging is the first thing customers will see when they receive their order, making it the best place to include elements that are customized with your brand’s logo and colors. This increases customer anticipation and ensures that you have their full attention for the unboxing experience.

Branded shipping boxes 

How exciting is it when we see a bright, eye-catching box on our doorstep? This initial impression plays a huge role in starting off the unboxing experience on the right foot. Boxes work well for larger items and products which need more protection during the shipping process. 

Branded mailer bags/envelopes

If you’re a business that sells small, lightweight products, using boxes may not be appropriate for you. Instead, you can invest in branded mailer bags or envelopes to package items. Best of all, this helps to keep your shipping costs down.  

Branded stickers/packing tape

Custom-branded boxes can be a very expensive investment, especially for smaller businesses with narrow profit margins. A more affordable alternative is to use custom-branded stickers or packing tape to decorate your boxes and mailers, which provides a great focal point for key branding elements. 

Interior packaging

When your customer opens their box or mailer, you want them to be blown away by what they find inside. This is where your interior packaging choices are really important. You want to ensure that your items are secure in the container for transit – and that they look super enticing!

Tissue paper

Branded or colored tissue paper is a super versatile packaging solution for your unboxing experience; you can use it to line the inside of boxes, to gift-wrap products, or to maintain space between products. It also provides a nice big canvas for more complex slogans or designs.

Packing filler

Using some form of packing filler doesn’t just protect your products from moving around too much in transit; it also ensures that your product presentation is impeccable for when your customer opens the box. Crinkle cut paper, for example, helps to add a more premium feel to a purchase.

Branded inserts

Including inserts within your package helps you to extend your brand’s storytelling and add context to the unboxing experience. For example, if you’ve included some freebies with the purchase, add a note that explains why it’s important for your brand to treat your customers. 

2. What selling channels is my unboxing experience going to feature in?

Although born in ecommerce, unboxing experiences are no longer the domain of online-only brands and home delivery. 

If you’re a retailer with an offline presence, whether that be a pop-up store or a permanent brick and mortar location, you need to think carefully about how you can bring the essence of unboxing to this channel. 

Why? Because it’s hard to justify treating your in-store customers differently from online shoppers in an omnichannel retail landscape. It makes little sense to reward only your online customers with freebies and coupons – unless you want to cannibalize your in-store sales.

With services such as BOPIS and curbside pick-up soaring in popularity due to the pandemic, the so-called ‘experience gap’ between online and offline has never been more blurred. 

But if you play your cards right, you can implement an unboxing experience that works across channels.

A victoria’s secret bag with tissue paper

Victoria’s Secret may not spring to mind as a brand with a great unboxing experience, but their pink, tissue paper-filled shopping bags are instantly recognizable in shopping malls across the U.S. This eye-catching display doesn’t only increase customer satisfaction; it also drives brand familiarity for other shoppers in the vicinity, helping to fuel in-store sales.

In sum, you don’t always need a box to create an amazing unboxing experience. Packaging elements such as branded tissue paper and stickers can easily be repurposed for both online and offline purchases. Likewise, inserts, coupons, and free samples can be organized at checkout for store associates to drop into the shopping bag with purchased items. 

3. How can I personalize my unboxing experience?

Everyone loves a gift-like delivery. But to really wow your customers, you need to make the experience personal. No one wants to feel as though their unboxing experience has rolled off a giant assembly line; it’s the small details that elevate an unboxing from being merely pleasing to forming a genuine connection with a brand. 

Think of your unboxing experience as an ice cream sundae. The beautifully wrapped package makes up the main part of the dessert, but personalization is the cherry on top. Without it, we know that something important is missing – even if we aren’t a fan of cherries. In sum, it’s the gesture itself that shows the care and attention put in by the creator.

So, what does a personalized unboxing experience look like in practice?

Say thank you

petit nomade packaging with a handwritten thank you card

A handwritten note is the perfect, heartfelt way to show how much you appreciate your customer’s support. It’s a small touch that reflects the extra time your brand is taking to make customers feel special. Furthermore, it reinforces the humans at work behind the package and products that your customers receive, strengthening the emotional side of the customer relationship.

Add a free sample or gift

a collection of sephora sample beauty products

Product sampling is a well-known ecommerce strategy that’s been mastered by the likes of Sephora to drive repeat purchases. But successful sampling should always take into account what would be a good complement for your customer’s order. For example, if you’re a confectionary brand, you could include a sample of another flavor you think your customer might like.

4. How can I make my unboxing experience shareable?

The value of an unboxing experience isn’t merely delighting your customer, but enticing them to share this experience with others. With almost a quarter of millennials and Gen Zers saying that lots of social media ‘likes’ or positive comments would make them more likely to buy a product, social proof has become an extremely valuable currency in ecommerce. 

Where an unboxing in the pre-internet age would be seen by one person, it can now be shared with millions to increase your brand’s exposure to potential customers – but only if you design it in a way that makes sharing a natural impulse.

To make your unboxing experience shareable, you need a strong call to action that encourages customer participation in your brand’s story. For example, including an insert that offers consumers a discount or entry into an exclusive giveaway in exchange for sharing their unboxing experience is a great strategy to boost social sharing. 

Best unboxing experience examples

1. Honey Pie London

a honey pie london box with products and a card that says ‘youre the best’

2. Bois The label

bois the label order packaging with products, a dog treat, and a card that says ‘thank you for your pawchase!’

3. By Indeko

by indeko product packaging with interior box art and card inserts

3 Extra tips to make your unboxing experience stand out

1. Use your unboxing experience to create cross-channel engagement opportunities

It’s not unusual for consumers to never hear from a brand again after they’ve made a purchase. But unless you make an effort to keep them in the loop, they’re unlikely to buy from you again.

a thank you card packaged with a customer order

Because they’re immersive experiences, unboxings are a huge opportunity to set up a new purchasing cycle by connecting your customers with other channels that provide inspiration and community engagement. Printing your social media hashtags or QR codes on your packaging, for example, is a fantastic way to promote more interaction with your content. 

2. Don’t let Cost Per Order (CPO) get out of control

It’s very easy to get carried away when planning your unboxing experience. But the cost of branded packaging, freebies, and the labor it takes to assemble orders very quickly adds up – and could result in you making a loss on some orders.

This is why it’s really important to monitor your Cost Per Order (CPO) to make sure that these additional order fulfillment costs are manageable for your business. If you don’t want to compromise on the unboxing experience you want to deliver, consider adding a minimum order threshold for your customers to qualify for all the trimmings.

3. Have a plan to scale your unboxing experience alongside rising order volumes

It’s easy to manage your unboxing experience when you’re only dealing with small order volumes. Every order can be painstakingly assembled, giving you full oversight and creative control over the packing process.

But as order volumes increase, elaborate unboxing experiences will add significantly to the time it takes to fulfill each order. This can create backlogs in order processing and fulfillment, resulting in dissatisfied customers and damage to your brand’s reputation. This is why unboxing experiences typically don’t pair well with self-fulfillment for rapidly growing brands.

This puts many brands in a tough position; watering down the unboxing experience may be seen as a betrayal by long-time customers. But bringing in an ecommerce fulfillment partner and relinquishing direct control can also be a hard sell.

Choosing a 3PL that has a proven track record in value-added services like subassembly and kitting is the best way for merchants to scale their unboxing experience without sacrificing quality. Best of all, you can take advantage of their economy of scale to lower fulfillment and shipping costs, resulting in a more cost-effective operation.

Wrapping up (pun intended)

Enticing unboxing experiences have fast become the table stakes of effective customer engagement in both ecommerce and brick and mortar. When executed well, your unboxing can be a powerful strategy for social media marketing, customer retention, and community-building – all wrapped up in one beautiful package.

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