Inside the custom package: Creating a professional unboxing experience

This is a guest post from Will Schneider, the founder of InsightQuote, a matchmaking service for B2B services.

The moment of delivery is a key point in the customer journey—but one that is too often underwhelming. Why? Many brands don’t give the moment of delivery the attention it deserves, even though data advises otherwise. For example, businesses can see a 30 percent boost in a customer’s interest in their brand by using premium packaging—and up to 75 percent of younger customers will share a picture of packaging that catches their eye.

In other words: A high-quality unboxing experience is a great way to make a lasting impression on your customers.

In this article, we’ll dig into all aspects of custom packaging including the elements that make up an unboxing experience, how to select those elements, their costs, and their potential benefits.

What is a custom, professional unboxing experience?

In case you’re not familiar with the term, “unboxing” is the act of unpacking a product box or package. An unboxing experience is the memorable interaction customers have when they open the box containing a new product for the first time.

What differentiates a custom, professional unboxing from a standard delivery is the attention and care (and, yes, cost) a business invests into making it a memorable experience. That experience includes everything from a branded shipping box to an attractive insert to the way items are wrapped and arranged.

You’ve probably experienced a really memorable unboxing at some point. You’d almost be upset if you bought a new laptop or phone and someone opened the package before you. You want the feeling of removing the plastic wrap, seeing your product for the first time, and navigating through the insert to find all of the accessories. Unboxings are highly engaging in that way—it’s like the brand is putting on a performance. It’s about the ritual as much as the product.

Unboxing an Apple Watch.
Via: Time.

Four elements of a professional unboxing experience

If you’re creating an unboxing experience from nothing, it can be hard to figure out how to start. But by breaking down the packaging process into separate entities, it becomes less overwhelming to visualize.

1. Branded packaging

The moment your product lands on the customer’s doorstep, you need it to be clear right away who it’s from. Though plain boxes and USPS priority mail envelopes are more affordable, you miss out on an opportunity to enhance brand recognition and increase the excitement a customer feels when they see the item they ordered from you has arrived.


2. Quality boxing material

There are both aesthetic and practical reasons for using quality materials for your shipping box and inserts. A sturdy box, high-quality inserts, and even the right box filler improve the unboxing experience, give you an opportunity to tell your brand’s story, and do a better job protecting what you’re shipping.

3. The “flow” of the presentation

The arrangement of your products within the package can determine how aesthetically pleasing the customer’s unboxing experience will be. Are there compartments in your insert under which they’ll find their product? Does your packaging take them on a journey from one item to another? Does your package feel curated rather than just “stuff thrown in a box”? A good “flow” can intrigue the customer, make a strong impression—and potentially even lead them to take pictures or videos to share.

4. Give away free stuff

Everyone loves free stuff, especially from businesses we admire. So if you include something like a free sample of another product, a few stickers, or some other random gift with an order, it will create the all-vital perception of value being added. When you look at the gratification you receive from your customers, the cost will feel well worth it. 

How a throw-in can directly lead to future sales.

How to design the perfect custom packaging for your brand

Each of the unboxing elements we’ve just seen comes with many different options, so you’re going to have to make some decisions. It’s important to pick elements that best represent your brand’s identity and that you can execute logistically.

There are two broad approaches to a custom unboxing experience: minimalist or indulgent. As you’re formulating your strategy and reading through these design ideas, keep your overall approach in mind.

1.  Pick a unique filler material

To fill up space and make the box look fuller, you can use crinkled paper. This also helps to protect fragile products during transit. If you want to give your box interior a more luxurious feel, use custom tissue paper for the lining. It’ll add more visual interest and branding to the package’s interior.

2. Include custom branding on your packages

Custom packages are what a lot of brands first envision when they consider their unboxing experience. But printing on the exterior of boxes can be a prohibitively expensive option (due to sheer volume of ink it requires). Other options can help you achieve a similar effect in a more cost-effective way, like using brand stickers to decorate the interior and exterior of the box or creating packaging tape with your logo.

You can see an example below from wedding dress company Lace & Liberty that shows how a single sticker can turn a plain brown box into custom packaging. (This would fall under the “minimalist” experience we discussed, which works well for this brand.)

3. Ensure the presentation of your product is correct

You don’t want your products to look like they were hurriedly shoved into the box, rather, you want them to look like they were thoughtfully arranged. Die-cut cardboard inserts work great for giving your package a structured, clean look. Alternatively, you could use cellophane or a layer of tissue paper to keep the product together. This also helps in creating a gift-like feel for your package.

4. Personalize

The “cherry on top” with a professional unboxing experience is a personal note in the box. Though it’s not always scalable, including a handwritten appreciation note can tell customers how much you care about them.

A personalized note in a package.

It may be a time-intensive task for you, but it’ll make your customers feel seen and appreciated—if you got a handwritten, personalized note with an order, don’t you think you’d remember that?

Brand authenticity is increasingly important to modern customers, and investing the time to write thank-you notes to customers is an excellent way to convey that sentiment.

What are the costs of custom packaging?

If I had to venture a guess as to why a business isn’t using custom packaging, it would be: “Yikes, all this sounds expensive.” And that’s fair—cost will most likely be a major factor in determining what your unboxing experience will look like.

Of course, the cost can pay off with results including brand perception, customer loyalty, and free social media publicity. However, those are all long-term plays—and in the short term, you’ll have to eat the extra costs of custom packaging, keeping the faith they’ll pay off down the road.

The cost of custom packaging differs depending on your supplier and the packaging materials in question, but there are some general ranges you can keep in mind as you determine what kind of budget you might want to commit. Here are some of the elements and their approximate costs.

Custom tissue paper

This packaging element typically has a lower minimum order quantity than packages, usually starting at 250 units. And it’s cheaper per unit, anywhere from 40 cents to $3.

However, larger orders are more cost-effective (for custom tissue paper and pretty much every packaging item), so how you intend to use your tissue paper should determine the most efficient order size for your brand (i.e., whether you’re wrapping products or just lining your box).

Custom tubes and boxes

Custom tubes and boxes are the most expensive elements of any unboxing experience, as they usually have a minimum order quantity of 500 or higher.

The cost per unit can vary wildly—we’ve seen anywhere from $4 to $25 per box. This is dependent on how complex your custom design would be, as suppliers charge based on the number of colors you intend to use. A great way to save costs here is to use boxes pre-printed in your company’s color scheme.

It’s also vital that you consider the potential fulfilment costs as well. Most couriers charge based on dimensional weight—that’s where there are minimum shipping costs based on the size of the box, regardless of what’s actually in it. If you send a giant box with a single piece of paper in it, you’re still going to have to pay quite a bit because, well, it’s a giant box. So make sure your boxes are the appropriate sizes for the products you’re putting inside of them.


Your packaging inserts are dependent on the kind of cardboard or paper you intend to use. A thicker card with a glossy feel is going to be more costly than a matte finish. You can also go with recycled or sustainable materials—those are sometimes more expensive but make a statement about your brand’s values that could resonate heavily with a number of your customers.

How do the unboxing experience costs pay off?

It’s easy to ignore unboxing and tag it as an online fad that doesn’t apply to real-world experiences. But the rapid growth of the eCommerce industry has shifted consumer expectations.

Unboxing videos have seemingly become a trend that’s here to stay. (Have you seen the YouTube numbers on those videos!?)

A stat on unboxing videos.
Via: Google.

It’s now a bona fide post-purchase marketing tactic to emphasize a great unboxing experience and product presentation,—both in terms of retaining current customers and getting them to post about (and, therefore, make a de facto endorsement for) your products online.

Here are five reasons why a custom professional unboxing experience pays off.

1. It boosts customer loyalty

Customer loyalty in 2020 is an increasingly elusive commodity. Research shows more than half of customers say they have to make four, five, or more purchases before considering themselves loyal to a business.

That’s a pretty high threshold to reach. So how can you boost the chances of instilling that loyalty? A memorable unboxing experience coupled with a smart automated email marketing strategy is an effective way to make sure your customers have positive thoughts about your brand and want to come back again and again.

2. It gives a positive first impression

One of the disadvantages of eCommerce versus brick-and-mortar is customers have fewer tactile interactions with your brand. They can’t walk into your store and become immersed in your brand’s “vibe.” They can’t touch the product and see how it feels in their hand before they purchase it. That means some purchases online feel impersonal and clinical, even as brands go to great lengths to combat those sentiments.

It’s crucial to take advantage of the physical touchpoints you have. And the moment of delivery is the first physical interaction, meaning it’s a great opportunity to affect how customers feel about their purchase and your brand as you engage their sense of touch for the first time.

3. It multiplies the product’s perceived value

Unless you’re selling something exceedingly rare or niche, odds are you have competitors. One way to make sure customers return to your store rather than checking out a competitor is making your products feel like the most premium offerings at your price in your space. A memorable unboxing experience is an excellent way to achieve that.

Tiffany & Co., for example, used their packaging to elevate their brand’s perceived value (and, as a result, the prices they could charge) in the very crowded jewelry space.

The Tiffany box.

The brand’s robin egg blue jewelry box (a color they’ve trademarked) is perhaps as iconic at this point as the jewelry inside. The company even has a page on its website dedicated to its custom packaging.

That’s the power of a great unboxing experience. When done perfectly, the unboxing experience becomes an intertwined value add to the product itself.

4. It tells your brand’s story

Brand storytelling is crucial to the success of any business and another way to separate yourself from your competition. The unboxing moment might be the only time you’re guaranteed to have your customer’s undivided attention and total focus—so use those few moments to make a statement.

By throwing some smart branding into the mix via your packaging design, you’re laying the foundation for the customer to develop a deeper connection with your brand.

5. It accelerates your content marketing efforts

When you post unboxing pictures and videos on your social media accounts, you can give prospects a unique type of engagement beyond product imagery. It allows your followers to picture themselves receiving those packages—and the quality of your packaging is a signal about the quality of your products.

Interesting packaging can almost serve as another product in and of itself; if you have a limited product line, rather than repeating pictures of the same products over and over, you can mix things up by adding shots of your packaging into your feed.

Key takeaways

Your unboxing experience can make or mar a customer’s perception about your brand. This is why it’s vital to invest your time and resources into this highly valuable opportunity.

A custom, professional unboxing experience usually encompasses four elements: branded packaging, quality materials, a presentation “flow,” and free add-ins.

To design the perfect custom packaging for your brand, you’ll need to make decisions on things like your filler material, how you’ll design your shipping boxes, how the products will be presented inside the box, and how you can personalize what you send to leave a lasting impression.

Custom packaging has a lot of long-term value—but does add an immediate expense for your business. You’ll need to budget for things like custom tissue paper, printed boxes, stickers or packing tape, and inserts.

Again, though, those costs can really pay off. When you focus on creating a quality unboxing experience, it can boost customer loyalty, give a positive first impression, improve the perceived value of your products, help you stand out from your competitors, tell your brand’s story, and boost your content marketing efforts.

Whether those benefits are worth the short-term costs are a decision every business needs to make—however, when you think long-term, creating a custom unboxing presentation now should pay off significantly for you in the future.

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