How many box openings does it take to create a box that is a consummate joy to open?

While this sounds like a daunting brain teaser, Apple answers it concretely through usability testing.

Only a select few of Apple’s packaging designers have the mundane privilege of opening hundreds of prototype boxes in a secretive packaging room at their headquarters. 

This probably doesn’t surprise you, if you bought an Apple product in the past decade.

Opening the box to your first iPad or MacBook Air might have been an indelible, memorable experience, one in which you couldn’t contain your excitement and surprise as you unraveled the packaging, piece-by-piece. 

If your experience was similar to mine, opening the Apple package was probably so delightful that you may have ironically struggled with the idea of parting ways with the box!

Emulating Apple’s packaging design principles, Bonobos, an online brand of tailored men’s pants and shirts, applies a like-minded, beautiful packaging experience to men’s fashion. 

Each order comes in a branded box with the product regally wrapped in tissue paper and a sealed sticker as well as an easy-to-use return label.

The unboxing experience is so impressive that customers are posting their unboxing videos across the internet. Unboxing an iPad feels just as good as getting a new pair of pants.

In the lifestyle and cosmetics category, Birchbox, a company that offers monthly subscription boxes of cosmetic samples, delivers a personalized selection of cosmetic samples with a beautifully done letter in a branded box made out of Birch trees.

Glimmering with excitement, many beauty trendsetters are obsessed with receiving their latest Birchbox—they even recurringly post a YouTube video in a series, unraveling their latest Birchbox with their fans.

Image credit: 3stinkyboys&me

If a box can be made emotive insofar it evokes the perfect emotional response upon opening, marketers and retailers can also take the packaging experience to another level by re-marketing to customers inside of a box. 

Like building exciting in-store experiences, ecommerce stores can create engaging in-package experiences that bring the customer back onto their website or mobile app.

A retailer, for example, can include a QR code, website URL, and mobile text number on a personalized thank you letter or card, giving them a special offer once they connect. 

In addition, when customers connect, not only can you capture their interest for digital re-marketing, but also, you can encourage them to share an offer or notable event via their address book or social networks.

While these offline-to-online marketing methods are effective, they still require some manual effort from customers.

Alternatively, lighter and cheaper sensors may lead the way in in-package marketing in the future. With a disposable sensor as a small sticker or apparel tag inside the package, the sensor can automatically and dynamically re-market an offer to customers onto their nearby smartphone or tablet while they open a box. 

Promoting sensor technology for retailers, Siteworx, whose iBeacon technology powers proximity based promotions, provides a glimpse of what sensor technology can do for both online and offline retailers when it matures. 

In addition, there are many interesting ways to curate and personalize a brand’s offerings to each customer inside a box. 

Based on customer profile data and/or the customer’s online behavior, you can include a gift or sample that is likely to upsell and cross-sell a customer into a different category or product line.

For example, Birchbox curates and personalizes samples based on skin care profiles that customers fill in. Each delivered sample highlights a unique web page URL, through which a customer can learn more about the product and purchase a full-sized version.

This offline-to-online purchasing model has been immensely successful for Birchbox, with more than half of its customers having purchased a full-sized product on the company’s website.

Tying the in-package experience to digital marketing, today’s tools give marketers a complete content and campaign management suite and tools to store and manage their current and potential customer profiles and market to them across various channels.

After your customer opens a package and connects with you and your offer online, these tools will enable you to re-market to them throughout mobile and the web. 

For any ecommerce company, the shipped package represents one of the most direct touch points to the customer, but it’s often under-utilized when re-marketing to customers. 


Published 21 March, 2014 by Darin Archer

Darin Archer is Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Experience Manager and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

I've bought several Apple products recently, but I prefer Amazon's approach to packaging: standard fold-flat boxes with scrunched-up brown paper to fill any gaps. Almost everything is reusable. They even have a neat "tear strip" for easy opening.

over 4 years ago


Omar Sayyed

I love this article. We spend a great deal of time thinking of how our packages should be shipped. We spend even more time on developing our packaging and making sure our customers get a fantastic experience when they order from our sites.

We even spend time on explaining how our customers can upcycle the packaging they receive so that it reduces waste. Great article.

over 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

I didn't know the word "upcycle", so I checked and...

Upcycling is when "an item is no longer being used for its intended purpose, but is repurposed – given a new purpose – and along with this new purpose (and this is the important part) it is also given an increase in value (usually both aesthetically and monetarily.) It is worth more in its new form."

From some research on the Web, it seems the calculation of "increase in value" often excludes two important factors: (1) the value of the work put in by the upcycler, and (2) having to do this work will deter some people from upcycling. Once you include these, it's not clear that upcycling is better than, or even as good as, making things reuseable.

So, which is better for costs, sales and the environment - making good quality packaging that people can upcycle if they choose, or simple packaging that people can recycle/reuse if they choose. I would be very interested if anyone has hard data on this subject?

over 4 years ago


Darin Archer

I think the packaging itself is quite important. In fact, every time I buy something online that is small and I get a huge box, I feel quite guilty given the waste. My key thought though is not so much the box, but what goes in it. I think the big opportunity is to do some more marketing or customer loyalty focused things to make the experience feel better than just seeing the product. It's a unique opportunity for a brand to be in the customers home and something as small as a hand written thank you note (zappos use to do this type of thing) to a little trial gift for another product, can go along way to keeping the customer jazzed up about doing business with you.

over 4 years ago

Darin Archer

Darin Archer, Product Marketing at Adobe Systems, Inc.

Here's another little example. I bought a replacement battery for my emergency radio (I live in California, home of earthquakes, etc). The company that sold me the radio is HQRP (High Quality Reasonable Price). They're an online merchant selling A/C adapters and batteries for nearly every gadget you can think of. Now, I don't think I spent much on this batter, nor really would even remember where I bought it from. However, when it got delivered today, there was a little coaster with their name and a cool picture of a hawk. Simple. But, caught my eye and may even stay on my desk to go under my coffee mug. The point? Little wonders make an impression and may just help drive the next sale.

over 4 years ago

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