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Unboxing the future: How the unboxing experience is evolving

An open box with a globe inside and a man on top of the globe looking out through a telescope

In 2021, the importance of the unboxing experience in ecommerce is old news. We’ve all heard about the power of custom packaging and the importance of making a favorable impression upon delivery. But we hear very little about where the growth of omnichannel and evolving consumer expectations is taking the future of unboxing. 

That’s why Whiplash is here to give you the rundown of the trends and technologies that are currently shaping the unboxing experience as we know it – and why your business needs to stay on the pulse of these developments.

Why it’s time to take your unboxing experience to the next level

You’ll find hundreds of articles on the web on how to create a memorable unboxing experience (we’ve even written our own). But most guides will cover the same points; the importance of using branded packaging, adding free samples to packages, and achieving great product presentation.

All of these elements are critically important to a successful unboxing experience. But consumer expectations are changing fast. To secure lasting loyalty and customer engagement, it’s no longer enough to put your items in a pretty box and send them on their way.

But isn’t printed tissue paper and a branded cardboard box what an unboxing experience is all about?

Not entirely.

If we take a look at some recent stats about consumer behavior, it’s clear the ingredients that make up a positive brand experience are shifting:

Aesthetically pleasing packaging will certainly boost customer satisfaction upon delivery. But it doesn’t provide a vehicle to extend the customer experience into new channels. Once the packaging has been thrown away, there’s no prompt or call to action to kick-start a fresh sales cycle.

With consumers embracing new technologies as a part of the shopping journey more quickly than ever before, expectations are growing for cross-channel experiences that surprise and delight customers. 

As competition between merchants grows more fierce, you can’t leave repeat purchasing behavior to chance. To take your unboxing experience to the next level, you need to make it a jumping-off point for further engagement.

How can digitally-native brands do this? By investing in unique, digitally connected unboxing experiences that provide customers with value-added offerings across channels.

3 Key trends driving the future of unboxing experiences

The use of AR to connect with other selling channels and digital experiences

Augmented Reality has been around for some time, but it’s only recently that retailers have started experimenting with AR as part of their unboxing experience. This isn’t surprising, given the huge popularity of AR technology with consumers. 61% of consumers say they prefer to shop with retailers who offer AR experiences. But despite this, just 5% of AR use is projected to be within retail settings by 2022. 

The vast majority of AR in retail is currently being used to assist buying decisions via try-on filters or the placement of items in the home. This means that unboxing experiences represent a massive untapped opportunity for brands to implement AR in a new way.

For extended reality initiatives to work, they need to connect the online and offline worlds in a way that’s both useful and interesting for the customer. During an unboxing, the customer is becoming the recipient of a new product they haven’t interacted with before. This gives you plenty of scope to design an AR experience that feeds off this excitement.

Example: Puma

A Puma shoe that uses Augmented Reality

Puma set a new standard for the inclusion of AR in 2019 with its LQD Cell Origin AR sneakers, a footwear style that experiments with applications of AR in the post-purchase experience. The shoe design and box both look and function like a QR code that gives the owner access to a variety of AR experiences. This includes an app with a mobile game, exclusive filters, and a visual deconstruction of the sneaker so customers can see how it was designed.

The unboxing experience is the one moment in the entire shopping journey when you are guaranteed to have your customer’s full attention. By taking this moment to offer them additional brand experiences, you can enhance this engagement and strengthen relationships with first-time customers.

Designing products around the unboxing experience

Where unboxings were once made up of components external to the items purchased i.e. custom-branded packaging, we’re now starting to see brands designing products that have the unboxing experience built into them. 

Given the growing popularity of unboxing content online, brands are now choosing to design products according to the principles of unboxing. Given that the cost of unboxing materials can quickly add up, being able to produce this at scale as part of the manufacturing process is a lot more cost-effective – not to mention better for the environment.

Toys have long been one of the most popular categories for unboxing videos, with two of the top five unboxing channels on YouTube focused specifically on toys. So, it’s not surprising that toy manufacturers have been among the first to identify the power of ready-made unboxing experiences. The two examples below have used unboxings as a theme to explore the anticipation and excitement of receiving a gift, enabling them to put a new spin on a highly competitive product category:

Examples: Present Pets and Party Surprise

Present Pets have designed a technologically advanced unboxing experience where the soft toy literally unboxes itself when the person removes the outer box and pulls out the gift tag. It’s an exciting experience for kids that builds anticipation for their new toy (not to mention producing some great advertising).

Party Surprise by WowWee has taken this a step further by making the big reveal itself the main purpose of the product. Each Party Surprise is a stack of ‘presents’ that a person needs to unwrap in a sequence to receive ‘the invite’ that enables them to open the biggest box of all. It’s an engaging and addictive experience that encourages consumers to ‘collect them all’ and share on social media using the hashtags written on the included stickers.

A bigger focus on collectibles

Including freebies as part of the unboxing experience is a well-established practice, but some brands take this to the next level by using promotional items that have their own unique value. 

The appeal of collectibles isn’t so much the item itself, but because the item is difficult to obtain and may only exist in small quantities. Exclusivity creates social currency, meaning consumers get a serious buzz from knowing they have an item that other people want. 

Example: Glossier

Cosmetics brand Glossier is already well-known for its minimalist (and very pink) unboxing experience. It’s also gained attention for the branded stickers it includes with each order, which have quickly become a powerful status symbol on social media. 

Glossier cottoned into this and began marketing their stickers more explicitly as a commodity in their own right. Localized stickers are given away with purchases at pop-up stores, while limited-time seasonal stickers (like those shown below) have become a technique to drive buyer urgency to place online orders:

An assortment of glossier stickers posted on instagram with followers' reactions
Glossier's summer 2021 sticker posted on instagram

While they might be ‘just stickers’, owning a Glossier sticker gives consumers membership into an exclusive club because the only way to get one is by purchasing a Glossier product. In sum, collectibles are a cost-effective and sophisticated strategy to make an unboxing experience – and the purchase itself – far more than the sum of its parts.

What’s next for the unboxing experience?

The digital landscape is evolving rapidly, so we can expect technology to be integrated more into the traditionally analog unboxing experience – and for unboxings to occur much earlier in the sales cycle.

Where unboxings were once exclusively used in the post-purchase experience, we’re starting to see brands experiment with virtual unboxings as a marketing strategy to whet consumers’ appetites and educate them about a product in an engaging way. 

Adidas engaged in a clever piece of influencer marketing in 2018 where celebrities were sent an empty shoebox containing a QR code, which took them to a page where they could explore every inch of their upcoming ‘Deerupt’ sneakers, along with a link to place an order on the Adidas website. The purpose of the campaign was to democratize the unboxing experience by making it available to all fans of the brand – not just those who could afford their products.

The Adidas campaign marks an interesting development because it highlights the weakness of traditional unboxing experience in only being available to already converted customers. Given the popularity of unboxing videos online, we can expect to see more retailers experimenting with branded unboxing content. 

The next frontier? Taking the entire unboxing experience – along with the product itself – entirely online.
The rise of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) has changed the definition of what is considered ‘real’. As demand skyrockets for unique artworks, GIFs, and other digital collectibles, there’s been a marked increase in NFT offerings that mimic the surprise and anticipation of unboxings.

Blind Boxes Image of an NFT that says unbox curated NFT collectibles

Blind Boxes is an NFT platform that helps collectors to discover rare collectibles and enables creators to crowdfund their work. Collectors won’t know exactly what item they’ll receive until after purchasing via the platform’s currency, which adds to the thrill of ‘unboxing’ their NFT. The goal of Blind Boxes is to make NFTs more accessible to mainstream audiences, while giving creators the ability to build a following and receive credit for their work.

As consumption grows increasingly virtual, we can expect unboxings to follow suit and become more embedded within wider digital experiences. Unboxings will be a critical tool for brands that want to enhance customer loyalty and engagement across channels by using the moment of delivery as the catalyst for further brand interactions. 

In sum, unboxing experiences are no longer about your customer receiving a box on their doorstep; it’s about what that box tells them to do next.

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