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Analysis: Custom ecommerce packaging vs Stock boxes

Jay Daggar: Last Updated 18th February 2022
Posted In: Brand Positioning | Guides & Advice xx 31631

Bespoke Packaging for Online Shops

How to decide whether you should be using ecommerce boxes tailored to your business

Whether you are a start-up or established online business, the likelihood is you will have a wide range of options for investing any potential budget.

This could be to increase your advertising. It might be to broaden your product range. Improve order picking processes through the use of custom picking bins. It might even be to increase your staff levels.

One area that can be overlooked is moving from stock to bespoke corrugated packaging.

Many businesses fail to see the importance of ecommerce packaging, allowing their competitors to win the hearts of their potential customers.

Saying that, custom ecommerce packaging will not always be the best option for every business.

Quick Reference / Contents

01: Differences

What is the difference between stock and bespoke ecom boxes?

To the vast majority of ecommerce retailers, bespoke packaging simply means their existing boxes with some print and logos added. And whilst printing ecommerce packaging  is actually very important, it shouldn’t be the only consideration.

In fact, the size and style of the boxes is also becoming equally important.

This is because couriers have moved to what is known as volumetric or “dimensional weight” pricing because excessive packaging had been placing strain on the number of packages that could be delivered safely and efficiently.

As a result, 2 main types of ecommerce packaging now exist.

Firstly there is what is known as stock, “off the shelf” boxes which are not customised to a specific size / style (and may not feature print).

Stock ecommerce packaging
Stock ecommerce packaging is effectively pre-produced boxes, held in stock at a packaging merchant, available only in specific sizes

Secondly, at the other end of the scale, there are cartons with intricate print, specifically sized for certain products and that boast special features and finishes.

The rest of this guide summarises the pros and cons of each type, allowing you to decide on the best option for your business.

02: Custom Ecommerce Packs

Reasons to use bespoke ecommerce packaging

Although it would be possible to create an entire article specifically about bespoke ecommerce boxes and packaging, there are 5 main areas where they offer advantages over standard cartons.

These are:

  • Aesthetics / branding potential
  • Cost of shipping
  • Environmental / usability
  • Protection
  • Packing times

So is custom ecommerce packaging right for my business?

Put simply, if you are focused on offering the best customer experience – not matter what – then custom packaging is the route for you to take.

Using bespoke ecommerce packaging allows you complete control over the appearance of the packaging, and in turn the experience that your customers have when opening their delivery. In a world where unboxing videos get thousands of views of YouTube, this can be massively important to earning word of mouth recommendations and helping define your brand identity.

Custom printed ecommerce packaging
Custom ecommerce packaging can be tailored to specific sizes, designs and also include a wide variety of print options

There are numerous other more practical benefits too.

Firstly, if you use custom sized boxes that are tailored to specific products then it will also reduce your overall shipping costs. This is due to not paying (through dimensional weight) to ship fresh air or void fill when sending an oversized box.

This in turn also minimises your environmental impact, as custom sized ecommerce packaging will use less material and will minimise void fill (usually foam or pellets that are difficult to recycle).

This in fact is an added benefit for the end user, who will have to dispose of any excess packaging.
Tailored sizes will usually offer improved transit protection as well, through eliminating movement within the parcel which can cause items to become damaged. This in turn reduces returns, improves your brand perception and can ultimately lead to improved customer loyalty and repeat sales.

Damaged ecommerce packaging
Custom sized ecommerce boxes generally offer better protection for their contents in transit than stock boxes

Finally, and if this is a particular issue for your specific fulfilment setup, custom packaging can be engineered to help reduce your packing times. The resultant saving in labour costs can be redeployed elsewhere in your business.

All of this can, when used strategically, make a huge difference to the success of your business.

Are there any downsides to custom packaging?

So if custom packaging offers all of these advantages, then why isn’t everyone using it?

The usual answer is the cost.

Bespoke packaging will cost more, initially through any design, tooling and setup charges, with printing also adding another process which will increase prices.

This means that, depending on the value of the items you sell, your order frequencies, your competition and position in the market, it may not be feasible to use bespoke packaging.

The counter point to this is the offset in costs through reduced shipping charges, eliminating (or at least reducing) secondary packaging such as void fill, and the potential benefit for repeat business.

Realistically, this will be different for every business and will need careful analysis (a packaging audit may help in a situation like this).

Custom ecommerce packaging
Custom ecommerce packaging does cost more than if you were to use stock boxes - but the benefits easily outweigh the costs

The other major barrier to using bespoke packaging is that of flexibility.

Again depending on the type and mix of products that you sell, the packages that you send may vary wildly in size. It may therefore be too difficult to define the specific sizes you need, in which a range of standard sized cartons may as well be used.

Finally, if you do decide on using custom packaging – but due to the orders you are fulfilling end up with a large and bloated inventory of packaging – this can incur hidden costs as well.

You most likely will need more storage space, you will have harder time trying to manage stock levels and replenishment, and you may miss out on economies of scale by ordering smaller volumes of a larger range of boxes.

03: Stock Ecommerce Boxes

Stock boxes – main advantages

Which leads nicely onto using standard cartons and off the shelf boxes instead.

The reasons for the using them are in essence the reasons why custom packaging would not be suitable, namely:

  • Cost
  • Size of inventory / management
  • Availability and lead times
  • Flexibility

How to see if stock ecommerce packaging is best for you

The main scenario of when best to use stock packaging is when funds are limited.

It may be becauses you are starting out, or because you have expanded your product range, or have taken on more staff. It may be because of the value of products you ship, or because that is what all of your competition are doing (you should really find this out by ordering from them!).

However, a word of caution for start-ups. It is absolutely crucial at this stage that your branding and company name becomes well known, so even if you just print your logo on the box it can make a surprisingly big difference.

Stock boxes ecommerce
Stock boxes are a low cost options, which can be ideal if you have low order volumes or are a startup

As with everything, it is also wise to assess how much extra custom sized packaging would cost, vs how much you could save on shipping costs.

If you are using standard boxes / cartons then the likelihood is that these will be available on short lead times form you supplier (with no need for printing etc.), which in turn allows you to keep less stock on site. This enables more storage of products etc.

Saying that, this exact scenario can be replicated using custom packaging and a “just in Time” (JIT) delivery service, where your packaging supplier holds the stock for you.

Finally, and perhaps crucially, stock boxes allow you the flexibility to fulfil similar sized orders with the same box.

When stock ecommerce packaging may not be suitable

Whether you are a start-up, established ecommerce business or a large multi-channel retailer, if you are selling items of reasonable to high value – or if it something your customer will be excited to receive – stock boxes can ruin the experience.

nicely printed, well designed ecommerce box that arrives undamaged will help to foster brand loyalty and aid repeat business. First impressions really do count.

Bespoke ecommerce packaging
Using bespoke ecommerce packaging will always reflect better on your brand than plain, stock boxes

Similarly, making sure the items arrive undamaged is also critical, and cutting costs by using standard cartons can often lead to incurring higher costs through returns and replacements. It can be a false economy.

And going back to first impressions, what could be a worse first impression than your items arriving damaged? Studies have shown that consumers will tell an average of 16 people about a bad experience – nearly twice the number they will tell about a good one. Word of mouth can be critical.

As mentioned previously using larger than required boxes can actually raise cost through increased shipping charges and the need for excessive void fill, as well as opening you up to ridicule on social media (and national press if your unlucky!).

Finally, with consumers also becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, sending huge amounts of foam and polystyrene in a standard carton – that they then have to dispose – is an easy way to upset and annoy.

In Summary

So is custom ecommerce packaging right for your business?

The benefits of using custom packaging far outweigh the benefits of using standard cartons, and can even end up being cheaper if taking a holistic view.

However, standard cartons will have a place depending on cash flows, market position and the age of your business.

It is always important to keep analysing your situation, customer expectations and brand potential however, as custom ecommerce packaging can make a significant impact on your success.

Further Reading...

About the Author

Jay Daggar, GWP Packaging Sales Manager

Jay Daggar

Sales Manager | GWP Packaging

Jay joined GWP Packaging in mid-2008 before becoming Sales Manager in 2011, meaning he has worked for GWP for over 10 years. [Read full bio…]

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