Lots has been written about how e-commerce is taking over traditional retail and that all commerce is moving online. But the truth is, as an e-commerce retailer, you’re inherently at a disadvantage against all the stores at your local mall. They have something you’ll never have – a tactile, real-world product experience. Walk into Nordstroms and you can touch, feel, and try on the merchandise. You speak with a friendly sales person. All of this comes together to create a cohesive, high-fidelity shopping experience. You don’t have any of these advantages online.
There are plenty of ways to improve your customer experience as an online retailer, but nothing touches your customer quite as strongly as the experience they have when they first open their shipping box and find the products they ordered inside. Is there a better feeling in the world? You research a purchase, order it online, and wait days (or weeks) for it to arrive. You track the package online. You wait by the door for the UPS guy.
Most online stores neglect the first (and usually only) physical interaction they have with the customer – their shipping and unboxing experience.
That doesn’t just mean shipping speed, I’m talking about the unboxing experience. The unboxing is the first experience they have with your product after they’ve paid you for it. Before they even hold it in their hands, they’re experiencing your brand – what kind of box does it come in? When they open the box, what do they see first? What does the packing slip look like? You can really delight a customer with a great unboxing experience, and it adds so much value to their entire interaction with your brand. Yet it’s overlooked by so many e-commerce stores.
Amazon Gets It
Jeff Bezos (founder/CEO of Amazon.com) created the most successful e-commerce retailer of all time, and he intimately understands the value of the tactile customer experience. He says:
“The physical world is the best medium ever invented and betting against it has always proved wrong.”
That’s why you see Amazon investing millions into their Amazon Prime program to give customers a delightful and fast shipping experience. That’s why everything you get from Amazon comes in a custom printed box with custom printed Amazon packing tape. Amazon has even forced some companies (like Logitech) to redesign their entire packaging to be easily unboxed (Amazon calls it “Hassle Free Packaging”). This has been so successful that a Prime customer spends about 10x as much as a normal customer – and the primary marker of the Prime experience is an excellent shipping experience.
So many e-commerce store owners out there obsess over A/B testing their websites, they optimize their email campaigns, but they totally ignore the way the customer experiences their product once they actually get it. Follow up drip email campaigns are great, but a package is tactile.
So how do you do the unboxing experience well? Let’s look at a few examples of people who are doing it right.
Bonobos is an online brand of tailored mens pants and shirts that are really stellar. They’re a pioneer in e-commerce all around, but specifically, they also have a great shipping experience. Fast and free shipping, a branded box, product wrapped in tissue paper sealed with a sticker, and an included return label, just in case you want to return anything.
In fact, the Bonobos unboxing experience is so good that people are literally posting Bonobos unboxing videos on their blogs. Unboxing videos for pants. Not a new iPhone – pants!
Dollar Shave Club
Everyone knows Dollar Shave Club for their viral videos, but what you wouldn’t know unless you were their customer is that they extend their irreverent brand all the way down to their packing materials. I’ll include a photo here, but click through to read an (unsolicited) blog post written by one of their customers – “The Dollar Shave Club’s Unboxing Experience is F***ing Great”.
A Personal Example
As a final example, I want to show you the way we handle unboxing at one of my companies.
We sell high quality, highly organic skin care products to a discerning customer base. Our customers do their research and then willingly pay more for a high quality product. They’re treating themselves, and we want to remind them of that. So every box we ship comes wrapped inside with gold tissue paper, and is sealed with a branded sticker and a sprig of lavender. When you open the box, it looks like there’s a present inside – a present to you. People LOVE it, and it gets mentioned in our online reviews all the time.
Bonus example: Whipping Post
Whipping Post makes beautifully designed leather goods. They’re high end products that are a bit pricier than most, but they make up for it with an awesome unboxing experience. You can click here to see the full gallery, or I’ve included a sneak peek below:
For the skimming crowd, here are a few easy ways you can create an awesome unboxing experience at your own store:
- Make custom shipping boxes. They’re typically almost the same price as generic brown, and add a ton to the experience. My friend Taylor Llewellyn is the founder of Tucker Blair (needlepoint belts) and Kona Kase (goody box for runners). Both times he’s done an excellent job of making beautiful, branded custom boxes.
- If you do your own fulfillment, write a handwritten note on your packing slip. This takes 10 seconds to do and people LOVE it, especially if you address the customer by name and the packer signs their own name. It can be as simple as “Annie – I hope you enjoy our stuff! – Bill” or a seasonal message like “Happy Easter Annie! – Bill”. It creates a great personal feel.
- Rewrite the copy on your packing slip – take something boring and include some on-brand copy. Dollar Shave Club does a great job of this (see the link above).
- Include a freebie – a free sample or a small/cheap tchotchke. If you’re in food or personal care, samples can also be a great way to give a customer something for free while also introducing them to a logical add-on purchase for next time.
I want to close with an awesome quote from Andy Dunn, the CEO of Bonobos. Andy says:
“At the end of the day, you’re not building an e-commerce company, you’re building a brand that has e-commerce as its core distribution channel.”
I love that because it means you have to think about your brand overall – you’re not running a website, you’re running a brand that has a website. And the unboxing experience is as much a part of your brand as the website.
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