Packaging Best Practices
Each type of packaging has a unique set of challenges. While there’s a lot to think about for each, here’s what we’ve found are the easiest to forget — but also the easiest to focus on to make any packaging pursuit a success.
Protect First - The primary purpose of your packaging is to protect your items. We can’t stress this enough. Even if you have the most beautiful packaging in the world, it won’t matter if your products arrive damaged or broken.
Box sizes - If you have multiple products, it can be tempting to buy a ‘one-size fits all’ box to take advantage of bulk discounts. But be careful — your shipping costs are often calculated by the size of the box instead of the weight of the actual product. It’s usually best to use box sizes that are as small as possible to fit your products comfortably. That being said, it’s also not necessary to pay for a custom box that fits your product perfectly. You can take up any extra room with filling. Sound contradictory? The truth is it’s all about balancing these demands.
Inventory - Running out of boxes can delay customer shipments and cause you to pay for expedited shipping on your boxes — which raises costs. Try to keep track of your box stock the same way you keep track of your product stock and make sure you’re always able to ship an item at the lowest cost possible. There’s nothing worse than not being able to ship out an order because you don’t have a corrugated box!
Make high impact decisions - Think carefully about how your product will be received and opened. When adding branding to your packaging, it’s best to add simple and clear branding at certain high-touch, or high impact, areas. If you’re adding branding to the box your product ships in (the outer box), remember that your product is going across the country or even around the world — so any outer packaging will likely be have some blemishes. Save any important messaging, calls to action, or discounts for inside the box — and keep the outside simple and low cost.
Finally - consider all parts of the customer experience. Are there warning labels you’re required by law to include? Put it on the back of a sticker with your company logo! Particularly proud of your boxes? Add a hashtag and offer discounts to customers who post about your product on social media. Use branded packaging to improve the customer experience, not because you think it’s a necessary expense.
Time & cost - Be conscious of the amount of resources you spend on branded packaging. There are a variety of costs and delays that are not always clear from the beginning. If you’re just starting out, it’s OK to send out your product with minimal branding if it means you’re investing in improving your product offering or in other valuable areas.
When calculating your margins or figuring out how much to charge, make sure to include packaging in your overall costs and round up. Think of package design like renovating a home — expect that the process will always take longer and end up more expensive than you originally thought it would be.
Compare Quotes - No matter what kind of vendor you’re using, always get quotes from two more. If you get quotes from multiple vendors, you’re more likely to make the best decision early and won’t have to go through the time consuming process of switching to a different vendor. Plus, you’ll learn who you like working with the most — sometimes it’s worth it to pay more for a vendor that ships on time or has your supplies in stock than the one that’s the cheapest.
Start local - getting boutique packaging done internationally can save you a ton of money — but can also significantly delay the launch of your product. By using local vendors to start, you’ll pay more — but you’ll save time and effort working with someone you can meet in person or on the phone without any language barriers. You’ll also save on shipping costs and complexity. If your business is growing rapidly and you do need to cut costs, use the packaging you worked on with a local vendor as a prototype for an international manufacturer — this will save you months of back and forth and numerous iterations.
Lastly, before you use an international manufacturer, talk to your local packaging service and ask if they’re able to bring down pricing to keep them competitive. Once you factor in the cost of international shipping, local packaging companies can sometimes manufacture at competitive rates.
Give yourself time - High end, high design packaging takes time. You will likely have to go through multiple drafts with vendors before you get what you want. Make sure that there’s enough time to do this process right! This is a big investment in both time and resources, so you only want to do it once. Get feedback — show your design off to your friends, compare it to what you order online or what you see in stores. If your goal is to get your product into specific retail stores, make sure you fully understand the requirements and include those requirements in the first draft of your packaging design. There’s nothing worse than going back to the drawing board after you’ve already launched a design — so the more time you take early on, the better chance you have of getting it right the first time.
Be creative - Boutique packaging can get pricey quickly, but it doesn’t have to! By finding creative ways to package your items, you can both provide a boutique experience while also making your product stand out. Consider what makes the most sense for the shape, audience, and theme of your product. Websites like wish.com, Alibaba, or if you want to get adventurous, Taobao are your friends! For example, SnapChat spectacles shipped in what were essentially tennis ball containers (~$0.50 on Alibaba) with a custom sticker. These types of solutions can help set your product apart and save you money up front and as you expand.
Glossary of Terms
Here are a few key things to know if you start working directly with vendors on custom packaging.