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GUEST COMMENT Welcome to the new age of retail – when the unboxing experience goes viral

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Whilst often an overlooked element of the brand experience, the power of packaging has never been more prevalent in today’s experiential retail era. Rather than just selling products, retailers must focus on creating memorable and engaging experiences for their customers to keep up with the latest generation of shopper, and this is where packaging can play a key role, writes Ben Scherpenbergs, director of business management at PFS, now part of GXO.

Ben Scherpenbergs, director of business management at PFS

Fuelled by the sheer scale and popularity of social media platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, the unboxing phenomenon – which sees influencers share their experience of opening up a product for the very first time – is driving a huge impact in this area.

According to statistics from YouTube, between January and November 2023, there were more than 25 billion views of videos with “unboxing” in the title. Videos of this kind give consumers a glimpse into what they can expect from their chosen brand before they complete a purchase. As a marketing tool, such trends can be extremely influential – especially given the suggestion that 85% of Gen Z claim that social media impacts their purchasing decisions.

Making the first interaction count
Whilst often overlooked, the unboxing experience is the very first tangible interaction a customer has with a brand after placing an online order. Ensuring this experience is optimised to its full potential, therefore, is extremely important and should play a critical part within a brand’s customer loyalty strategy. Rather than purely a means of protecting and transporting a product, the right packaging can serve a much higher purpose for a brand, which, when executed successfully can create a memorable experience for the customer. One that keeps them coming back time and time again.

The power of influence, however, goes both ways. Whilst news of a positive unboxing experience and first interaction with the brand can influence others to make a purchase, news of a bad experience can travel just as fast, putting off potential customers.

So, what makes a positive unboxing experience over a negative one? And how can online brands capitalise on this growing trend to reach new audiences?

Thinking outside the box
Creating a unique unboxing experience doesn’t necessarily have to be costly or time-consuming. By embracing a few creative ideas, brands can create a sense of luxury and extravagance, without breaking the bank. Branded packaging materials including tissue paper, ribbon, and tape, for instance, can work aesthetically, whilst also reinforcing the brand’s image. Meanwhile, personalisation of the product and its packaging including custom engraving and embossing can add an additional layer of tailoring craved by customers, making them feel valued by the brand.

Brands also have the opportunity to embrace additional ideas including the use of branded QR codes and packing slips which link back to the website for further product recommendations, or promotional codes. Not only does this create a sense of engagement for the customer when opening the product, but it can also direct the customer directly to make a second purchase.

Knowing your customer
When choosing the right packaging solutions and value-add considerations, brands must consider their target audience carefully. Whilst some customers will be impressed by additional layers of packaging and detail, others may be put off – seeing this as unnecessary and wasteful, so it is important that preferences are considered, rather than following a one-size-fits-all approach to packaging.

For example, for customers that are more aware and concerned about their environmental impact, right-size packaging can be a more sustainable option. Recyclable materials should also be considered, including details about the product’s carbon footprint and the steps that have gone into reducing it. On the flip side, if appealing to a customer purchasing a high-end, luxury product or jewellery item, a tailored, hand-packaged approach can often be the more appropriate option.

Delivering at scale
Choosing the right packaging options to deliver the perfect unboxing experience, however, is only the first piece of the puzzle. With social media’s influence increasing day by day and unboxing videos continuing to grow in popularity, brands must prepare themselves to scale this packaging up and down to meet demand.

As preparations for this year’s peak festive season get underway, factoring packaging into these plans is essential and this is where partnering with a third-party logistics provider (3PL) can be extremely beneficial. Leveraging the expertise and capacity of a 3PL can enable brands to offer the same great-quality, optimised packaging experience with every single order. Doing so can build brand loyalty, and set retailers apart from the competition – especially if that unboxing video goes viral.

Ben Scherpenbergs, director of business management at PFS, now part of GXO.

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