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Experiential Packaging Design Best Practices for Branding Outer Shipping Boxes



Experiential Packaging Design Best Practices for Branding Outer Shipping Boxes
Experiential package design is used to brand outer shipping and transportation box to enhance the customer experience and tell a brand story.

TRANSPORTATION PACKAGING, the outer layer of packaging designed to protect and ship products, used to be an invisible part of the customer experience. In the past, customers would rarely see shipping boxes that products were transported in before the merchandise was displayed in a retail space, but the rise in ecommerce now puts consumers in direct contact with transportation packaging every day. While transportation packaging has traditionally been owned by the logistics department and viewed solely as a functional tool to get products safely from point A to point B, marketers and brand managers are beginning to realize the value of branded shipping boxes. 

While transportation boxes are the first layer of experiential packaging, the rules are different than they are for branded inner boxes. Unlike inner boxes that are minimally handled and focus mostly on visual appeal, outer shipping boxes have to provide product protection and stand up to the logistics chain, which includes exposure to machine handling, temperature changes, moisture, dirt and hand delivery. Design decisions can either further your brand story or potentially take away from your desired message. 

Below are three experiential design best practices that retailers and e-commerce companies can use to enhance the customer experience through branded transportation packaging. 

1) Plan around required elements.

Unlike inner boxes, shipping boxes must comply with mailing and label requirements of various mail carriers, as well as include some not-so-pretty elements, such as address labels, handling instructions, barcodes, stickers and tape. Designing around these necessary, but unsightly features can be a challenge. One strategy is to incorporate these controlled elements into the design. For instance, consider replacing packaging tape with colored or custom printed tape that enhances the design. To avoid unsightly labels being placed over important graphic elements, print instructions on the box, such as “place address label here.” 

2) Plan for uncontrollable elements.

Experiential packaging design must take into consideration the elements that are not always easily controlled. Have you ever received an Amazon frown on your doorstep instead of the iconic Amazon smile? When a package carrier places an Amazon box upside down, consumers are greeted with an Amazon “frown” instead of the intended Amazon smile. Oops. This is just one example of an uncontrolled element that can negatively impact customer experience or perception. Another example is a large “handle with care” sticker placed over your company’s logo or key message. While you cannot control every conceivable situation, the more you know about the logistic chain and customer behavior, the more you can plan for uncontrolled elements and add instructions when possible, such as “This side up.” 

3) Make it durable.

When you design an inner box, it looks the same upon arrival as it did when it was first packaged, but that is not always the case for shipper boxes. Shipper boxes experience a lot of wear and tear throughout the shipping and handling process. A box may be exposed to temperature extremes, moisture, dust, and damage from handling. If you ship a luxury product in a white shipper box that arrives covered in smudges and dirt, how does that impact your brand image? Consider testing box designs by sending prototypes through the mail and evaluating what they look like on the other end prior to finalizing a design. Fortunately, there are multiple materials and design strategies that can preserve the look and feel of a box throughout the logistics process. For instance, the quality of the board grade used impacts the durability of a box. Coatings are another tool that can be used to create finishes that provide anti-scratch and scuff-resistant finishes. However, there may be instances when wear and tear can enhance the look and feel of a design as in the case of a box designed to look like a suitcase that has traveled the world. 


Experiential design continues to envelop even more of the customer experience, and frankly, it is about time. Retailers have the opportunity to reevaluate and leverage one of the most tangible interactions customers have with their brand to enhance customer experience and improve brand perception. 

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