designing an eco-friendly unboxing experience

How to Design an Eco-friendly Unboxing Experience

Lela Barker

Unboxing experiences are all the rage these days- and they’re one of my favorite things to help makers and product designers develop through Brick House Branding. The “unboxing” experience is the process of a customer opening and unpacking a delivery from your company. And it’s a rich opportunity to cultivate brand loyalty. However, is it possible to be mindful when creating an eco-friendly unboxing experience?

Google recently revealed that 55% of consumers rely on videos to help them make purchasing decisions.



Unboxing is a direct, intimate touchpoint between a product and a customer. In fact, it’s the last touchpoint of the transaction, and it leaves a big impression. Showing attention to this level of detail communicates that you care about the customer after the sale. Even better? Enriched unboxing experiences actually decrease the rate of product returns, and studies prove that attractive packaging serves as a stimulant for the reward-seeking areas of the brain that are responsible for impulse purchasing.


DEVELOPING AN ECO-FRIENDLY UNBOXING EXPERIENCE

Interest in product unboxing has exploded in the last few years. A search on YouTube this morning unearthed *hundreds of thousands* of results for the term “unboxing.” Gone are the days of throwing your widget in a box with a Plain Jane packing slip and sending the shipment on its merry way.

But does a souped-up unboxing necessarily spell doom for the planet? How can brands with a sustainable bent develop an eco-friendly unboxing that balances their need to build brand loyalty with their target customer’s desire to minimize waste? Is it possible to offer a cool unboxing without offending conscious consumers and dissolving profits?

Indeed it is! Read on, sweet friend, for I have thoughts…


ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF AN ECO-FRIENDLY UNBOXING

Savvy brands create thoughtful, branded presentations that:

  • Reiterate and reinforce the core of the brand.
  • Thank the customer for their support.
  • Increase the perceived value of the product.
  • Extend an invitation to continue the connection.
  • Boost the chance of a repeat order.
  • Encourage social sharing of the products.

But that needn’t translate into a recipe for a heap of waste destined for the landfill? Use this opportunity to make strategic choices about thoughtful touches, then partner with eco-friendly packaging suppliers to create an earth-friendly unboxing that will have Mother Nature beaming with pride.


STEP 1: BEGIN BUILDING EXCITEMENT WITH A BRANDED EXTERIOR.

Get their juices flowing with something on the exterior of the shipment that hints at what’s inside while building brand awareness. There are a number of options available for all budget types.

You need a box or mailer and packaging tape anyway, right? These elements don’t add unnecessary clutter and there are plenty of affordable, sustainable options at the ready.

eco-friendly and sustainable package options


STEP 2: CHOOSE SUSTAINABLE VOID FILL.

Think of void fill as the “stuff” that cushions the product within the shipment. Modern consumers view static-infused packaging peanuts and old-school bubblewrap as the scourge of their existence, and there are better options available. Aim for something eco-friendly whose production is gentle on the planet. Ideally, it’s easy on the eyes and can be repurposed, too.

  • CORRUGATED BUBBLE: This is a viable alternative to bubble wrap. Ideal for delicate items such as ceramics and glass candle or apothecary vessels, it’s created from 100% recycled cardboard made entirely from post-consumer and post-industrial waste. Pair the wrap with biodegradable cornstarch peanuts, if need be, for gentle cushioning of fragile items.
  • PACKAGING PAPER: These large paper rolls can be made from either kraft or newsprint in various thicknesses. They’re ideal for wrapping bottles or apparel.
  • GREENWRAP: This is another stellar alternative to bubble wrap. I used it for many years as the preferred shipping material at my beauty brand, and customers often reached out to compliment us on the unusual choice. You can also search for it under the brand name “Geami.”
  • CUSTOM TISSUE: Custom-branded tissue adds a special touch to jewelry, apparel, and cosmetic shipments. Noissue uses soy-based inks and FSC certified paper, plus they plant a tree for every order they receive. Their online tissue designer is deliciously easy to use, too! Try sealing the tissue with eco-friendly stickers from Noissue.
  • PAPER + WOOD SHREDS: Nashville Wraps offers several eco-friendly void fill options. Check out their paper shreds in a dizzying number of colors. Wood excelsior is natural and 100% biodegradable, made from non-toxic Aspen wood fibers.

You need to cushion those products anyway, yes? So why not opt for on-brand (or fully branded) cushioning components that reinforce and celebrate your sustainable ethos? The choices are endless and, as sustainability becomes a prominent facet of our daily conversation, new options will continue to enter the market.


STEP 3: BE THOUGHTFUL ABOUT INCLUSIONS.

You don’t have to throw everything-and-the-kitchen sink into the parcel to enrich the unboxing. Quite the contrary. This is one of those arenas where less is often more, especially for eco-minded consumers. These are my “must-have” elements:

  • A HANDWRITTEN THANK YOU NOTE: It needn’t be a novel. A quick line or two written by a real, live person adds a necessary human touch, and that goodwill goes a loooong way.
  • AN ARTIST BIO OR MESSAGE ABOUT THE BRAND’S CORE VALUES: I help my Brick House Branding students craft a manifesto to be tucked into each outbound shipment. Sharing your values and your passion is of paramount importance. Pro tip: You can print this bio/manifesto on an oversized postcard, reserving the back for the handwritten note.
  • AN INVITATION TO CONTINUE THE CONNECTION: Reach out a friendly hand to your consumer by sharing your social media handles and inviting them to stay connected. Invite them to leave a product review on your site. Share your email and invite them to write to you. This doesn’t require a tremendous amount of space. and can be added to the same insert as the handwritten note and bio. If you’re keeping score, this is one (1- singular) insert in the package that kills three birds with one stone.
  • SOMETHING FUN: If you’re up for tucking an eco-minded bonus into that box, then try these ideas on for size…

Personal care brands: Create a doorhanger that customers can hang on their bathroom to create a spa-like oasis. Including a new product sample is always a wise choice.

Specialty food or beverage companies: Try a custom-printed paperboard coaster emblazoned with your logo and a recipe or serving suggestion.

Stationery companies: I love a pencil emblazoned with something witty. These eco-friendly custom pencils are made in the USA from FSC certified wood.

Jewelers: Use a custom rubber stamp to create an earth-friendly branded travel bag for your pieces.

Candle brands: Slip a tealight of a complementary fragrance into your packages and consider pairing them with custom matches.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Whatever you choose, remember that functionality is key. Give your customers something they’ll use rather than toss! One more morsel to chew on: Members of the Think Tank (my mastermind for makers and product designers) have been batting around the idea of allowing customers to opt-out of an enriched unboxing during checkout. That could be as simple as a checkbox which puts the buyer in the driver’s seat of the choice. In this case, you could slim things back even further, opting out of “step 3” (thoughtful inclusions) altogether.


WHAT DOES YOUR UNBOXING LOOK LIKE?

I’d love to know! Drop a comment below if you’ve made an eco-conscious choice with your unboxing, or if you have a preferred vendor or packaging resource to share. Let’s formulate a valuable resource together to help build our brands without sacrificing the planet. Share your eco-friendly unboxing experience with us in the comments. I hope you feel empowered and inspired to re-examine your own process and make positive changes!


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About the Author

Lela Barker

Lela Barker hails from the deep-and-dirty south (ATL, represent!), where she spends her days helping makers and product designers navigate the pitfalls of product pricing, brand development, and wholesale strategy. She launched her apothecary brand in 2003 and bootstrapped the hell out of that little business to cultivate a portfolio of 1500+ stockists worldwide, generating $12million in revenue and establishing successful distributorships in the Middle East, EU, Scandinavia, and South Korea. Lela is the keeper of a well-worn passport and the maker of the finest lemon meringue pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.

6 responses on “How to Design an Eco-friendly Unboxing Experience

  1. Katie Upchurch

    Love these recommendations. It gets under my skin when I see brands using so many inclusions in their unboxing experience. Everything but their business card ends up in the recycling bin.
    In my candle company, I reuse the biodegradable and water soluble packing peanuts that I receive in my supply shipments for cushioning the candles in their shipping boxes. I also use a post recycled green bubble wrap from Bubble Fast and a recycled tissue from Nashville Wraps. I choose the recycled material from VistaPrint for my business card and candle cafe info that I add to the box. A sticker that I’ve printed myself is added to the wrapped candle that says “Hello & Thank you”. (I used to hand write notes, but as orders increases, I found that was no longer sustainable!)
    And lastly, I use eco friendly tape from Bubble Fast and the USPS recycled boxes (that are free) for shipments.
    A great tip I will take from here is to add the option for customers to opt out of the unboxing at checkout. I bet my regular customers will appreciate this! Thank you 🙂

  2. Pam Rodgers

    Love this post! At STELLA CHROMA, we used a portion of our increased revenue (Thanks, Brick House Branding!) to create recyclable boxes for our nail polish. It gives a much classier presentation, and allowed us to ditch bubble wrap while still protecting our tiny glass bottles. We wrap those boxes in tissue paper and cushion boxes with recycled crinkle paper. Boxes are taped up with Sticker Mule branded Earth-Friendly tape. I feel good that we have an excellent unboxing that is eco-friendly!

  3. Sabrina Clementine

    This is an amazing resource! My brand doesn’t have a heavy eco-friendly bent but I still want to do my own part as a business owner. Its so great to see options beyond kraft paper products that can keep me on-brand!
    I like the tip regarding the opt-out for unboxing extras. I have lost count of the times I have wished that other brands offered that choice.

  4. Fiona & Kirsten

    From the beginning of our business we were determined to have an eco friendly shipment leave our warehouse. We started with recycled boxes for shipping, recycled inner padding and/or fill, recycled tissue for wrapping products and Eco Enclose has these cute little cards that are free. We use those that say that ll the inside stuff is recycled etc. We have just been writing a thank you on the packing slip, and including two samples with each order. As we have been going through the rebranding process, however, I really am attracted to the idea of making this look more reflective of our image as a company. I really love it when I get things with a thank you card, and I would like to upgrade from just writing on the packing slip! I will be looking at ordering a cute card with our brand message and writing the thank you on that. I am also looking to be inspired to add something cute to the box…not quite sure yet. Not into the door handle thing, although that is cute. Trying to think of something that looks Californian…anyway, this has definitely brought me to want to rise to the next level. If any of you buy from Organic Bunny, or just want to check them out, they have a gorgeous pink box with cute pictures and writing on the outside, and then a beautiful display and sample in the box. It is all pink and white, because that is their brand. I would love to look a little more like that, but in our style and colors, but I don’t know where I can get outer boxes that are eco friendly…will keep looking! Great blog.

  5. Hilary

    I just saw a movie called “The Pollinators”. OMG it was about bees and I was blown away by many aspects of farming and bee keepers and the demise of bees and how even more important they are to our planet. Out of curiosity I went to look at the information about the compostable mailers. They are plant based. Corn plant based. And while on the surface that sounds like a noble approach to helping our planet. It’s the continued planting of corn (taking over more land) because corn doesn’t need to be pollinated in the way other fruits and vegetables do by pollinators including honey bes. So I have to say we trade one belief we are doing good over a harm of something else. Just saying 🐝

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