How To Create an Award-Winning Ecommerce Packaging Experience


Ho, Ho, Ho!  ‘Tis the season to be jolly as SmartHub Benchmarking compiles lists of naughty and nice retailers in preparation for the 2016 Excellence in Customer Experience Awards at Multichannel Merchant’s Operations Summit, to be held April 12-14 in Cincinnati.

Right now, senior analysts are toiling away to tabulate this year’s scores so that finalists can be announced in six categories spanning the entire ecommerce shopping cycle.

The awards are based upon a unique set of criteria that measures retailers’ performance throughout the year, and this article is the first in a four part series which will take a look at how we recognize outstanding performance in each category. While each award will only have a single winner, the best practices described in this series should apply to any retailer looking to create a best-in-class experience for their customers.

Up first…

Best Packaging

This category goes far beyond whether or not an order reaches the customer’s door in good condition. When a SmartHub order arrives at our processing center, highly trained processors scrutinize each package, assessing things like shipping label, package choice, product condition, and branding (just to name a few).

So…what kinds of touch points actually go into determining which retailers have the “Best Packaging?”

Package Type

While it is rare for an order to score badly in this area, in every SmartHub ordering session we see at least a few retailers lose points for a package choice deemed “inappropriate.” So what does THAT mean?

In short: It almost always refers to improper use of a poly bag.

Sturdy corrugated boxes are by far the most common choice for ecommerce shipments. The main exception to this trend is the vast array of apparel brands shipping soft goods in poly bags. While this is a perfectly understandable choice, the temptation arises to ship shoe boxes and other boxed items in poly bags as well. This should almost always be resisted. While there are examples of retailers designing sturdy shoe boxes ready to withstand the wear and tear of shipment, most shoe boxes were never meant to be handled this way. This practice leads to dented and crumpled boxes which clearly communicate a retailer’s lack of care.

Proper Cubing

While retailers have placed a new focus on right-sized packaging as a result of carriers transitioning to dimensional weight pricing, SmartHub Benchmarking has been measuring performance in this area for over three years. Improperly cubed shipping containers can lead to unnecessary breakages and even a negative wasteful perception on the part of the customer when small items are shipped in enormous boxes full of craft paper.

When considering each package, the amount and type of dunnage is scored separately from the actual size/shape of the container. Even when retailers choose the correct sized packaging, they may still neglect to include dunnage, include too little, or pack delicate items with craft paper when bubble wrap would have been more appropriate.

Our experience shows that when an order lacks any dunnage, the odds of the package arriving in poor condition increases greatly.

Package Condition

All of metrics that we have mentioned so far play a part in this next qualification on our list, which looks both at the exterior and interior state of the package. With this in mind, it’s worth pointing out that there are additional factors which make it necessary to score these touch points separately.

Even when a box’s size, type, and dunnage are appropriate, an improper corrugated burst strength or questionable exterior color choice can still lead to an unappealing delivery experience for the consumer.

A standard box with a burst strength of 200 lbs. is recommended for ecommerce shipping; anything lower than that adds unnecessary risk when balanced with the cost savings. They run a higher risk of being torn, creased, and even crushed, even under normal handling practices.

Use of an all-white poly bag can also be problematic as these tend to become grimy and stained in transit. An easy fix to this is for retailers to create a bold repeating pattern or design which covers all visible bag material.

This leads us into another important touch point we consider when scoring…


Ecommerce has become more than just getting a box to a doorstep, it is now about a much more holistic approach to the online shopping experience. While it is commendable for an order to arrive in good condition, if that package is a simple brown box, the retailer has missed a valuable opportunity to reinforce their bond with the consumer.

When scoring for the Multichannel Merchant awards, our analysts give additional points to retailers that seize this chance to reinforce their brand.

A one color logo is a great first step, and utilizing multi-color branding is even better, but the highest scorers in this segment don’t skimp on the design either outside or inside the package.

In Conclusion

These were just a few of the many touch points that are considered for the “Best Packaging” award.

The finalists in this ecommerce packaging category consistently ace every one of these criteria on their way to landing a nomination, but it’s important to remember that every brand can benefit from these best practices, making wiser decisions around packaging.

Look for our next post in January as we take a deeper dive into our next category: the “Best Shipping & Delivery Experience” Award.

Liz Harrington is a Digital Marketing Specialist and Research Analyst with Innotrac

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