eCommerce Packaging—Shipping Items in Style

Updated · Apr 30, 2022

When you're selling a product online, it's important to make sure it gets to the buyer in good condition, and so packaging is vital to the process of ecommerce.

But there is more!

Packaging also presents an opportunity to personalize the experience for shoppers and to therefore increase the strength of your brand.

Join us as we discuss various types of ecommerce packaging available and provide a few helpful tricks and tips for making the most of the opportunities they present.

What Is Product Packaging?

Product packaging is the material that surrounds a product.

In this case, however, we aren’t talking about retail packing, which is the box, packet, or container the item is put into on the assembly line. 

Instead, we’re talking about shipping materials—cardboard boxes, puffy envelopes, packing peanuts, tape, ever-poppable bubble wrap, etc.

The things you will use to get your items to your buyers.

The Purpose of Packaging 

Online store packaging has two main purposes.

One is the classic and main function, while the other is something that has become particularly important for ecommerce.

Keeping Items Safe

The most important function of packaging is to keep the product safe while it’s delivered to the buyer.

Depending on the item, the packaging will differ accordingly.

For example, if you’re selling something like a hammer or wrench, it’ll need to be put in a strong cardboard box, with a bit of basic infill to stop it from moving around and potentially breaching the packaging. 

On the other hand, if you’re selling wine glasses, they’ll need to be packed in a much sturdier ecommerce transit box, combined with a specific infill like bubble wrap.

They’ll need a “fragile” sticker, so those handling the package know to keep it safe, and not stack things on top of it. 

Branding

While there are a lot of benefits to ecommerce (which is booming), such as making buying easier and possible across long distances, one of the downsides is that it’s often less personal.

When ordering online, people miss out on the opportunity to go into a store and talk to a real human.

This lessens the ability of a business to make an impact with an in-store atmosphere.

Smart commerce packaging can make up for this. By customizing your packaging, you can make it more personal, leaving a better impression on your buyers.

With the right packaging design, you can even turn your packaging into a marketing tool, using it to promote new products or special offers.

Of course, all this comes at a cost. But, when done right, the extra expense is well worth it. 

Include things like brochures or a thank you note. Perhaps a coupon for the buyer’s next purchase or even a small gift. Boutiques can get particularly creative, making the unboxing process fun.

Note that “unboxing” videos are a popular genre of video online. Some companies make aesthetic packages with the hope of encouraging unboxing videos. 

If your package is interesting to open, it could be featured in such videos, giving you free advertising. 

Types of Product Packaging 

When it comes to ecommerce packaging, there are four main types:

  • Boxes
  • Bags/envelopes
  • Padded mailers
  • Custom packaging

Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so it's important to choose the right type for your product.

A note on recycling: Consumers are increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their buying habits. If you can prioritize eco-friendly and recycled materials, this will be a big plus with many buyers. 

Boxes

The classic shipping material—boxes offer a great deal of protection for items and come in a variety of shapes and sizes suitable for just about anything.

They are usually cardboard and can come in a range of thicknesses.

If an item is big and heavy, you could even opt for wooden ecommerce boxes like crates. Just note that that will add weight and cost to shipping.

One of the reasons cardboard is a user's favorite material is because it’s lightweight and sturdy.

The only downside to boxes is that they won’t stand up to water, which could be an unexpected problem depending on how they’re shipped.

Bags and Envelopes

Bags and envelopes are less expensive to ship, but they offer less protection because they’re flexible and smaller.

This limits what can be put into an envelope or bag but greatly reduces the costs of shipping smaller items.

A plus is that many bags and envelopes are waterproof and can be carried around once received, providing a free advertisement avenue, should you add your brand logo on top.

Padded Mailers 

Padded mailers are product packaging that provides a good balance of protection and cost.

They’re essentially “super envelopes”, as they work like envelopes but are lined with bubble wrap. 

They’re excellent for shipping smaller items such as books, disc-based media like videogames, stationery, and smaller cosmetic items. 

Custom Packaging

Lastly, we have custom packaging.

Everything we’ve discussed above is “stock”, in that you can readily find them to buy in bulk.

Custom packaging is the packaging you have made specific to your needs. It could take the form of a stock type, just with your branding, or be totally unique.

Ecommerce custom packaging offers the strongest opportunity for branding and really making an impression, but it will be far more expensive than the other types.

You can offset the cost, and increase your profit margin, by buying in bulk.

Types of Infill

As we’ve hinted at above, you’ll need to use “infill” like bubble wrap inside your packaging.

Infill helps keep items from moving around too much and provides extra protection. 

It also makes the packaging look more professional. An item snuggled in some infill looks far better than one rolling around in an otherwise empty box.

Many different types of infill material can be used in different types of packaging, depending on your needs.

Kraft Paper

Paper is a great option because it is lightweight and relatively strong.

When used as infill, it’s normally very lightly scrunched up and placed around the items.

It’s cheap and eco-friendly, but it can get crushed if the package is handled too rudely.

Air Pillows

As infill goes, air pillows are relatively new.

They’re plastic pouches about the size of a fist, filled with the air. They offer great protection in that they absorb shocks well if a package gets thrown around.  

The only downsides are that they can burst if something sharp pierces the outer ecommerce transit box and that they’re not biodegradable. 

Foam—Peanuts and Wraps

Another popular type of infill is plastic foam.

Foam is very light and cushiony, making it ideal for protecting fragile items.

It comes in the form of a wrap, or “peanuts”, which are little pieces that the items can be nestled into.

Foam peanuts can be a bit of a mess to work with, though, which may deter some.

Bubble Wrap

Another option is bubble wrap.

You’re probably familiar with it, but bubble wrap is sheets of plastic paper with air bubbles in it. 

Bubble wrap is excellent for protecting items from impacts and scratches and as something to fidget with. 

It may be one of the best ecommerce packagings, but as the air pillows, unfortunately, it isn’t biodegradable.

Shredded Cardboard

This is the most eco-friendly option and is something of a midway between kraft paper and packing peanuts.

It’s just pieces of finely shredded cardboard that can help keep items from moving around and absorb damage in the cause of drops and jostles.

Best of all, you can make it yourself by just shredding cardboard.

The only downside is the mess.

Then again, a bonus is that it has a rustic aesthetic, which is in right now.

Tape

Tape is used to secure cardboard shipping boxes for ecommerce because the other types of packaging are generally self-sealing, with built-in adhesive strips.

Tape is either plastic or paper.

There’s also “tamper” tape. It’s a paper tape with strings on it. It tears when removed, making it impossible for someone to open a package and then craftily reseal it. 

Naturally, it’s slightly more expensive, but it will protect you from claims of missing or tampered items.

You can also have the custom tape made with your branding, which serves the dual purpose of securing the package and branding.

Speaking of branding…

Stickers—Branding, Safety, and Bonus Advertizing

Finally, we have stickers.

Stickers are a great way to customize stock ecommerce ready packaging materials and make them your own.

They're cheap, easy to use, and can be very effective in terms of branding. 

Rather than paying for a custom box, you can just use a sticker to affix your company logo. Best of all, they can be applied to any type of packaging.

You can also include a few unused ones in the box.

Many businesses do this because customers appreciate it, and if they put the stickers on their laptop or a school book, for example, it’s free advertising.

Wrap Up

There you have the lowdown on ecommerce packaging for shipping. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and suits every need.

Remember, you can even combine types as you see fit. 

Put a box in a plastic bag, and now the item is in something sturdy and waterproof. You can experiment to find the best ecommerce packaging for your needs.

Want to get started in ecommerce but feeling a little intimidated by all it entails? Bypass particulars like packaging by trying out dropshipping, so you can experiment with selling before getting into the finer points.

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Garan VR
Garan VR

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.