eCommerce Packaging / The Future is Here

Packaging Director

October 16th, 2020

10 Minutes

Is your company maximizing the value of eCommerce packaging today?

The world is experiencing an online revolution. Consumers that previously enjoyed walking up and down the mallways of the earth have now been ushered into online stores. Consumers who were accustomed to walking the retail floor, mingling with staff, and being engulfed in the consumer journey, now move through the internet with the speed of a click.

Brands without a history of eCommerce packaging are more likely to find cracks in their packaging strategies and fail to delight the consumer.

Regardless, the opportunities for you to craft engaging and sustainable eCommerce packaging that delivers memorable user experiences, are endless.

What is eCommerce Packaging?

eCommerce packaging isn’t just a box or a bag. It’s a vehicle that carries your product through the rigors of transit to deliver it to the hands of awaiting consumers. The choice may be a low-cost standard RSC (Regular Slotted Carton) or the ultra-popular corrugated RELF (Roll End Lock Front), a poly mailer, or tube. Many times eCommerce packaging is ill-fitting and requires an extra helping of dunnage to reduce the product or interior packaging slamming about as it moves across the conveyor belts of UPS, Amazon, FedEx, or anyone else shipping your product.

eCommerce packaging may also consist of packaging that delivers a complete experience from the moment it arrives. Color, texture, or structural packaging can leave an impression on the consumer. Large bold colors are known to communicate your brand increase consumer satisfaction and elevate the design. Texture can be applied to create a tactile engagement or texture that can be removed completely eliminating the visible fluting of a corrugate shipping box that may feel more luxe. Structural packaging design can also create additional opportunities to connect with consumers, how it opens, breaks down, or repurposed as a cat house.

samsung e-commerce packaging interactive design innovation mailer design
Ecommerce Packaging converts into cat house from Samsung

How consumers are invited into the box is just as important as how well the product fits. Tear-strips with clear messaging that actually tear 100% of the way across can be a great entry point into the box. Tear-strips designed correctly also provide an easy way for consumers to repackage the product for easy returns. When you deliver a complete unboxing experience, you decrease return rates and increase the opportunity for social media impressions.

Simply put, eCommerce packaging communicates your brand promise when your associates and retail space can’t do it in person.

What is eCommerce Packaging?

We all know great packaging when we see it. So, what does it take to actually deliver amazing eCommerce packaging?

Right-sized eCommerce packaging

Wait what, there’s a right and wrong size of packaging? Did you think you only had to pick the sizes provided by stock packaging manufacturers?

Yes, there is a right and a wrong size. Ecommerce packaging requires sizing your shipper or mailer to accommodate the product packaging inside with little to zero wiggle room. This can be done with the use of inserts or dunnage to reduce movement within the corrugated shipper. Remember, product packaging is meant to create compression zones and protect the product from impacts. Ecommerce packaging is there to ship the product packaging and increase the protection of the product inside.

Right-sized eCommerce packaging also requires considering the costs of shipping and scaling your box accordingly to maintain your margins on the product your shipping. Shipping mailers that are too big and require additional postage is a surefire way to eat into anyone’s profits.

If you’re unsure how to size your packaging for maximum efficiencies contact a professional that offers size audits and structural packaging design. Ask them to show you examples of projects they have delivered to their consumers along with the benefits of the results over a 12-month period since.

Appropriate material selection

Ecommerce packaging comes in many materials, such as corrugated board, poly mailers, or shippers that are just large envelopes made out of a non-recyclable plastic film. In order to survive transit, eCommerce packaging requires strength and flexibility. Working with a partner that is able to test your packaging and even able to have it certified by an ISTA lab is highly recommended.

In polite society, it’s less than desirable to deliver eCommerce orders in materials that are not sustainable.

James cropper cup cycling recycled premium papers sustainable luxury packaging material
Cupcycling from James Cropper recycles paper cups into premium papers

To be sustainable, you need to consider how the packaging will breakdown at its end of life and be repurposed. Will the packaging get recycled into new materials beginning the circle once again or will it be downcycled and used in concrete mixes? Understanding what sustainability is and what it means to your brand and consumer is where you begin before designing any packaging. Researching your own information and asking the right questions is critical to a successful eCommerce program.

  1. Ask about the PCW content in the corrugated board used on your packaging.
  2. Are they using water-based inks?
  3. Can you customize the experience with additional sustainable substrates?
  4. Are they FSC certified?
  5. Are anti-microbial papers right for this application?

Packaging is expensive, but the returns are free

The majority of online orders are delivered complete with free returns. Free returns mean that for any reason should the client be unsatisfied with the item they can return it. For Free.

It’s your responsibility to protect the product on its way to the client and then all the way back to your distribution center. In order to make the long haul, packaging has to be designed for returns.

  1. Make it easy for the consumer to reuse the original packaging that the shipment came in.
  2. Make the box or envelope resealable.
  3. Always provide return instructions inside the box

Simple disposal of packaging

All packaging is headed to the bin, regardless of how long someone keeps it for sentimental reasons or otherwise. It all lands in the bin.

how to recycle packaging sustainable environmental design efforts
All packaging ends up in the bin sooner or later. Photo by Bas Emmen

Clearly communicating on your packaging how to dispose of it will increase recycling rates for your brand. You can communicate how to recycle your packaging in many ways, QR codes that explain where the material is accepted, or if the material is actually recyclable are seeing the increased application. Implementing a program like How2Recycle (U.S. & Canada only) provides third-party validation on what is recyclable and how to recycle it using their icons that replace the Mobius loop.

However, you decide to say it, make it clear.

Using materials that require the consumer to transport the packaging to a retail store for it to get recycled decreases the chance of it being recycled. Use those materials as a last resort.

If your packaging requires that it be separated before it is put in the bin, state how to separate the packaging. When you’re designing packaging like this make sure it is designed for easy separation.


There’s no single solution for every business.

When considering ecommerce packaging, brands must balance cost vs consumer experience. Avoid too complex an experience unless it’s for a limited launch like a seeding campaign or influencer packaging. If it’s too complex, recyclability rates go down.

Simplicity is key since consumers are less interested in the packaging and want the payoff of their product being the hero of this journey.

With so many options and decisions to take, you have to decide what works best within your current fulfillment, distribution, and supply chain to deliver the single most important product to your consumers.

A friction-free branded experience.

Exquisite Endeavors Await