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How to design an unboxing experience fit for omnichannel

illustration of two people standing on either side of a cardboard shipping box

We’ve all heard about the importance of a memorable unboxing experience in ecommerce. Legacy brands at the luxury end of the market have long invested in these elaborate post-purchase rituals to foster loyalty – and increasingly direct-to-consumer brands and solo entrepreneurs.

We all think that we know the playbook; the customer orders online, waits in anticipation for a few days, and a gift-like package appears on their doorstep like a Christmas present waiting to be unwrapped. 

As both a form of influencer marketing and a sophisticated customer retention strategy, unboxing experiences certainly strike a chord with consumers. Type ‘Chanel unboxing’ into YouTube and see just how many hits these videos get.

But this is by no means the only form that an unboxing experience can take. As the acceleration of omnichannel retailing takes hold, brands are faced with the need to adapt their unboxing experiences to meet consumer expectations for memorable brand experiences across channels.

In this guide, we’re going to explain how to create an omnichannel unboxing experience and why brand storytelling is so important at the checkout – including for in-store pick-ups.

Unboxing: No longer just for luxury brands

When we think about unboxing experiences, it’s a select group of brands that come to mind; Glossier, Tiffany’s, Gucci –  brands that have become the byword for cult followings. Unboxing videos have typically catered to this desire for boutique retail experiences, allowing consumers to live vicariously through the recipient of high-priced items from handbags to perfume. 

But there’s a new sub-genre of unboxing experience that’s recently emerged; consumers who are subverting the idea of luxury to obtain brand experiences that would be considered outside of their price range.

screenshot of a tiktok post of a chanel product with the hashtag #thecheapestthing

Why? Because no matter how small the sale might be, this gives them access to the brand’s immersive unboxing experience – branded boxes, free samples, premium packing materials – so that when the customer opens the box on camera, they get some serious bragging rights.

The latest viral TikTok challenge #thecheapestthing sees people purchasing the lowest-price item for sale from luxury brands, such as a keyring or a pin badge. 

#thecheapestthing is another example of the savvy, price-conscious Gen Z consumer gaining greater influence in the worlds of pop culture and fashion. It also signals the emergence of a new market segment; consumers who crave ‘high-end’ brand experiences, but at an accessible price point.

As consumers seek out memorable unboxing experiences in greater numbers, small businesses and high street brands who take up the challenge will give themselves a major advantage in an increasingly competitive retail landscape.

Unboxing experiences in the age of omnichannel

It’s not hard to understand why consumers have come to love well-thought-out unboxing experiences. It infuses the brand experience with more purposeful storytelling, which gives products a much higher perception of value. 

Furthermore, an attractive unboxing helps to bridge the ‘experience gap’ in ecommerce between buying and enjoying the product. This is incredibly appealing in the age of social media, where brand interactions are commonly shared with a mass audience. 

But as omnichannel retailing accelerates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unboxing experiences could be left behind if brands cannot adapt them to work effectively across channels.

Because while ecommerce sales grew by 44% year on year in 2020, this doesn’t capture the full picture of evolving consumer shopping habits. 

Alternative shopping methods like BOPIS and curbside pick-up have soared in popularity as customers opt to stay away from crowded stores and cut home delivery costs. Recent moves by the likes of Target and Walmart to expand their micro-fulfillment capabilities at store locations show that omnichannel hybridization is here to stay. 

Furthermore, announcements for new concept stores by the likes of Fabletics, Sephora, and Aerie show that brands are betting big on brick and mortar as COVID-19 restrictions ease, investing in greater connectivity between selling channels via augmented reality and interactive screen technologies.

This activity isn’t limited just to offline brands; D2Cs including Proof underwear and Big Fig have also ventured into exclusive partnerships with major retailers, bringing their products in-store for the first time.

With D2Cs heading offline and brick and mortar mounting a serious comeback, consumers have never had more flexibility in their cross-channel shopping journeys. So, what does this mean for the unboxing experience as we know it?

If omnichannel has a mission statement, it’s that it’s not acceptable to silo the customer experience. For unboxings, this presents an obvious problem.

If your ecommerce customers get a great unboxing experience, while offline customers walk away from a plastic bag and a receipt, you have a serious lack of equity that’s going to damage your brand. 

It’s very difficult to foster loyalty if customers know that the quality of their post-purchase experience depends on the channel they shop in. It gives the message that some customers matter more than others. 

In 2021, you need an omnichannel unboxing experience that offers a unified customer experience across channels. It means that your branding, packaging, and personalization efforts all need to be consistent, no matter where your customer is buying from.

What is an omnichannel unboxing experience?

So, what makes an omnichannel unboxing experience different from a regular unboxing?

An omnichannel unboxing is a design that takes into account the practical and aesthetic demands of each selling channel, while still telling a cohesive brand story that is engaging and enjoyable for the customer. 

An omnichannel unboxing doesn’t necessarily have to be identical across channels. But it does require you to consider the complexities of your selling environments, customer behavior, and how to integrate your unboxing effectively into the order fulfillment process.  

Sound complicated? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

5 steps to designing an omnichannel unboxing experience

1. Think about the operational demands of each channel

If you’re going to design an omnichannel unboxing experience, you need to understand the needs of your selling channels. 

Why? Because while your unboxing experience needs to be visually appealing, you also need to be able to execute it effectively in different settings. Otherwise, you could be adding unnecessary friction to the customer experience as well as saddling yourself with extra costs.

Here are some key questions to think about:

  • How large are my online order volumes online in comparison to offline sales?
  •  Does channel activity dictate that a certain design feature needs to take priority?
  • How will my unboxing cater to different-sized orders/sales?

Unboxing experiences for home delivery

No matter how stellar your unboxing experience is, it can’t make up for a damaged product. That’s why it’s important to invest in sturdy exterior and interior packaging to ensure that goods are protected in transit. 

Branded cardboard boxes, for instance, provide a strong protective layer as well as sparking brand recognition. Crinkled paper is a nice eco-friendly alternative to traditional packing filler, and also helps create a more premium package.

a birchbox package
Birchbox uses brand colors and prominent branding to create excitement as it arrives on their customer’s doorstep.

A good omnichannel logistics partner will be able to integrate elements such as branded packaging and subassembly directly into the fulfillment process, but this may come at an extra cost. That’s why it’s important to work closely with your provider from the very beginning so you can implement your unboxing experience successfully.  

Remember: Logistics providers have seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t. They’re a valuable source of knowledge and industry connections you should definitely take advantage of when creating your unboxing. For example, many 3PLs maintain relationships with custom packaging suppliers and can help your business to negotiate more favorable rates.

Unboxing experiences for in-store 

The idea of an in-store unboxing might sound strange, but the post-purchase experience in-store is just as important as in ecommerce. 

If you want offline customers to make repeat purchases, the end-to-end experience needs to surprise and delight them. Otherwise, offering a more enticing ecommerce unboxing could simply end up cannibalizing your brick and mortar sales.

Unlike home delivery, you have the advantage of not having to think about how to protect goods in transit. But you do need to consider how to execute an omnichannel unboxing experience when staff attention should be focused on customers, rather than fulfillment.

For example, if your customer is shopping in-store, it’s impractical to have a lengthy wait at the checkout while your store associates assemble the unboxing in front of them. This can create lengthy queues, which adds friction to the shopping experience.

Instead, think about how you could set up a station at the POS that makes assembly quick and seamless. 

Believe it or not, a satisfying unboxing experience doesn’t have to include a box. Packaging elements such as branded boxes are quite costly per unit, and difficult to store effectively. Branded paper bags and tissue paper, on the other hand, can be stored in bulk within a drawer within easy reach and are quick to arrange. 

You can also prepare inserts such as handwritten notes or free samples in labeled containers, so that staff can simply drop them in the bag alongside the purchase.

screenshot of an instagram post showing the store pickup for a local shop
Lifestyle brand Sightsee uses an attractive paper bag and branded tissue paper combo for their BOPIS orders.

Unboxing experiences for BOPIS and curbside pick-up

The number of BOPIS orders surged by over 500% in May 2020 alone, so you definitely shouldn’t be neglecting this customer segment. As click and collect goes from a relative novelty to a permanent offering, consumers are going to expect not only a seamless pick-up experience, but one that is presented in an attractive way. 

If you’re using a store-based fulfillment model, you need to make sure that you have space away from the busyness of the shop floor to assemble orders. Materials such as crinkled paper and cardboard boxes take up a lot of space, and you don’t want this to spill over into customer-facing areas. 

For this to work effectively, it’s essential that your store has an OMS (Order Management System) which can communicate new BOPIS orders to your staff in real-time, especially if you have a same-day window for fulfillment.

2. Double up with versatile packaging elements

It’s no secret that branded packaging can be a substantial extra cost to your business, especially when you’re creating an omnichannel unboxing experience that needs to work across channels. 

The secret? Investing in packaging elements that offer multiple applications – both for your unboxing experience and for your marketing efforts.

As we showed above, custom tissue paper can work very effectively for both in-store and BOPIS purchases, adding a sense of drama and flair to what can be quite a mundane experience. However, it’s also a great addition to your ecommerce orders. Brightly colored tissue exploding out of the box is sure to delight your customer upon delivery!

Best of all, stretching your custom packaging further means you can take advantage of MOQs at packaging suppliers; the larger the order you can place, the less it will cost you per unit.

packaging for Dollar Shave Club products
Using custom inserts for their kits gives Dollar Shave Club a great omnichannel unboxing experience, as well as a compelling shelf display.

This consideration also transfers to how items are boxed during the sub-assembly process. If your items are already packaged to look attractive on the store shelf, this makes assembling your unboxing all the easier. Designs such as tray and sleeve boxes, or custom inserts that position your products in an attractive layout, will save staff in the warehouse or storefront a lot of extra time.

3. Create cross-channel engagement opportunities

As such a major touchpoint in the shopping experience, packaging is the perfect medium for steering your customers towards more brand interactions. It’s tactile, engaging, and helps provide reassurance that your brand is reliable and trustworthy.

There’s another good reason why packaging has such an outsized effect on our purchasing choices; it’s one of the first places we look when searching for product information. 

Yet despite this, 78% of consumers say that packaging doesn’t provide them with enough product or brand information, leading many to abandon their purchase.

With consumers more comfortable than ever switching between selling channels for product research and comparisons, an unboxing experience can help to facilitate more seamless omnichannel activity.

products from Squiffy Print wrapped with tissue paper with logos
Printing social media handles onto your packaging is a brilliant way to maintain contact with a customer after a purchase, as shown here by Squiffy Print.

You could also consider taking advantage of QR codes hitting the mainstream. A QR code can direct your customer anywhere from a webpage with product/styling information to a newsletter sign-up – and requires nothing more than a smartphone camera. 

Taking advantage of smart packaging in your omnichannel unboxing allows customers to be much more connected to your other selling channels, creating a seamless, unified customer experience.

Given the high return rates in retail, it’s critical that your omnichannel unboxing experience is designed in a way that makes it easy to reassemble and keep packaging waste to a minimum. 

This is especially important if your brand allows customers to return their orders via multiple methods. If an online customer brings items back to a physical store to return them, it’s your store associates that are saddled with the responsibility of managing leftover packaging.

reusable packaging with ‘i’m not trash’ and ‘if found in the trash, please return to recycling immediately’.
Consider taking a leaf out of Package Free Shop’s book, who print pro-recycling and reuse messages onto their packaging to promote sustainable consumer habits.

It’s important to try and create a closed loop that prevents you from sending tonnes of packaging to the landfill on a yearly basis. Sustainability has become a serious concern for consumers, and wasteful practices are hardly going to win you any admirers. 

For example, if boxes and interior packaging are still in good shape, you can arrange for this to be sent back to your warehouse or kept on-site for your store-based fulfillment needs. 

This also creates opportunities for some out-of-the-box marketing ideas (no pun intended). Associates can use returned packaging to assemble an unboxing display for use within your store – a great way to attract curious foot traffic!

5. Train all your participating retailers in the unboxing process

When you’re a D2C brand that has retail partnerships with brick-and-mortar stores, it’s a lot more challenging to ensure that customers are receiving a cohesive experience – especially if you don’t have brand representatives on the ground.

Store environments create fresh opportunities for consumers to encounter your brand for the first time – and first impressions are vital. If you’re going to expand your customer base and increase brand awareness, you need customers to walk away having had a memorable and satisfying brand experience.

Picture this: Your customer walks into a participating retailer and buys your product, and the store assistant makes the effort to use branded packaging to create a premium package for them to take home. This catches the eye of other shoppers and encourages them to check out your offerings – and so a brand buzz grows.

But if your products are going into generic department store packaging, this opportunity has been lost.

If you’re partnering with a new retailer or introducing an omnichannel unboxing experience for the first time, see if you can come to an agreement that allows you to implement your packaging and free samples into the checkout process. You could also consider running sessions with your partners to train customer-facing staff in how to assemble your unboxing correctly at checkout. 

The importance of an omnichannel unboxing experience

Creating an omnichannel unboxing experience that works across channels is no small undertaking from either a design or a logistics standpoint. But it’s become vital as consumers increasingly expect to encounter seamless shopping journeys and brand experiences. 

In an omnichannel retail landscape, it’s no longer possible to get away with offering customers inconsistent post-purchase experiences. Brands need to widen their gaze outside of traditional ecommerce unboxing to ensure that all customers are receiving the same immersive brand experience. Every selling channel should be a gateway to greater loyalty and engagement that reinforces your value proposition – and a curated omnichannel unboxing experience will help you to do just that.

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