Have you mastered the box step? Not the pattern dancers practice when learning to waltz, the catalog box dance. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the box dance is what your customers do — or at least, what you hope they do — every time your package arrives at their doorstep and they are getting ready to open the box.

It’s that moment just before they open the package and they’re filled with anticipation. It’s also a critical moment of truth: Did the order arrive on time? Will the brand deliver on its promise? Will the product be the right color? Will it fit? Will it taste good? Is it exactly what the customer expected?

The box dance is a crucial moment in the cycle of the customer experience. It’s a chance for you to interact and create a memorable moment, to right a past wrong, or simply make them say “wow.” And it’s not just about what’s in the box.

Let’s assume that the product was fulfilled exactly as expected and the customer is pleased. The dance is over, right? Not quite.

Remember, this is a critical customer touch point. Customers will respond by how they feel at the time — and this reaction will affect future experiences with your brand.

Does it make a difference if the person receiving the box is not your customer but a gift recipient? Yes — it’s even more important!

The gift recipient’s box dance is a little more animated with anticipation. What does it say about your brand if the recipient had such a great experience with your package that she called the gift-giver praising him for his savvy choice?

But few multichannel companies understand the opportunity and, sadly, many are sitting out the box dance. Remember that every order delivery provides an opportunity to connect with customers and create a positive experience.

So how well does your brand dance at this critical touch point? Are your products thrown into a generic box with little regard to the experience? Have you critiqued one of your shipments lately? Use the following checklist to see how you’re doing.

  1. Think of your box as a billboard

    Beginning with the outside of the box, are your name, tagline, and contact information all clearly evident? Do customers know who the box is coming from, or is your presence a generic brown carton? If the product has been drop-shipped, is someone else’s logo on the outside?

    Have you done anything to differentiate your brand or deliver on your brand promise, even if it’s a sticker that has been inexpensively added? Never underestimate the value of your box just sitting around — treat it as a billboard!

  2. Set the stage

    The box is opened; what do customers see first? Are you screaming at them with sale fliers they didn’t ask for? What a sure-fire way to step on their toes in the middle of the dance! Or are they greeted with something intriguing — either the product or, even better, a pleasant intro to the product?

    Savvy merchants will often include a “story prelude” to the product, building anticipation with an explanation or story about why the product they ordered is so special. Brilliant!

    Have you investigated appropriate packing materials? While cost is important, you may be creating an anticlimatic experience with your packaging. It’s worth the effort to research materials that are brand enhancing, not annoying.

    And it’s important that all of the contents in your box be staged and planned. What should the recipient see first, second; what should be the last thing he or she sees? Where should instructions go? Where should the catalog be placed?

    Plan this event carefully with operations in mind, making sure your warehouse staff understands the importance of “presentation.”

  3. Prove your brand promise

    What have you promised your customer? Are you doing anything in the box shipment to deliver or prove your promise? If your brand promise offers inspiration, what have you done to inspire?

    An inspirational note or small, inexpensive related gift might be in order. What a wonderful opportunity to prove your brand promise — and a perfect time to connect with customers.

    And you don’t have to be a flashy gift catalog to do this. Business-to-business mailer BankSupplies sells money-handling products, such as coin wrappers and tray counters, to companies such as banks and casinos that handle large amounts of cash and coin. Pretty generic, right? Not for this merchant.

    Money handling is a precise and particular element of some people’s work, and it is fraught with problems. BankSupplies understands the day-to-day stress of their clients and offers the perfect tagline to address their needs: Count on us.

    A nice packaging touch: Each box is sealed with the company’s own brand-enhanced tape that prominently features the BankSupplies logo and tagline.

    And when customers open their boxes, they always find a small gift — a pen or a notepad with that same brand-enhancing message. Every pick ticket is signed by the person who packed the order.

    For some products, such as coin counters, the product is individually tested and guaranteed to be working with a note from the tester — with his name and phone number in case there are any problems. These efforts make a generic set of products seem pretty special.

  4. Open a dialog

    Ask customers for feedback. This does not need to be an extensive, time-consuming survey, but a simple “How did we do?” Encourage testimonies and stories — even if the story is negative. Be sincere when you ask for feedback and don’t be shy about rewarding them for responding. Have fun with it!

    For instance, in every box shipment, Cushman’s Fruit Co. includes a clever certificate asking customers to send pictures of themselves enjoying the merchant’s luscious citrus fruit. In return, customers may see their pictures in the catalog and win $100!

    Another conversation you might consider is asking customers for product ideas. Some merchants solicit ideas and reward customers if the suggestion comes to fruition. And don’t forget to sincerely thank them! Be creative in your communications, making sure that your tone is sincere, relevant and on-brand.

  5. Create a memorable moment

    This is a moment that creates a “wow” or a “that’s cool” or, better yet, the urge to tell someone else about their experience. It cuts through all of the marketing hype and says, “This brand cares about me.” Creating a “memorable moment” does not have to be expensive and it doesn’t need to happen with every box shipment.

    For instance, when Cushman’s Fruit ships an order of its signature HoneyBells (a tangerine/grapefruit hybrid) in the box, the merchant includes a folksy and clever “how-to” manual that describes how to eat this juice-laden fruit.

    It even includes a colorful bib, printed with a design created by a customer (solicited in a contest in every box shipment!). It’s fun and memorable. Challenge your team to create a new “wow” every year, one that is affordable and memorable.

  6. Ask for the sale!

    If you have done everything right and responded to the anticipation of the box dance, it’s perfectly okay to ask for another sale. Chances are, the customers’ experience was so delightful they will want to purchase from you again. Most multichannel merchants place selling materials in the box, but have you really thought through how it should be received?

    If it’s a first-time buyer, why not sincerely thank them and create a first-time buyer reward? This might be a sticker or card tipped onto the outside of a bounce-back catalog or a thank-you card that resembles a certificate.

    If your box was shipped to a gift recipient, and you cannot include a catalog, why not create a special promotion including gifts not found in the catalog?

    If you are creating an incentive, always make sure it appears special. Some merchants have successfully tested an offer that looks like a gift card. Plan the “ask” carefully, and be sure that it is staged within the box so that it is not missed.

  7. Educate and inform

    If your product is complicated or needs explanation, be sure you have included careful and thoughtful instructions. Again, get creative and use this opportunity to talk to customers, not at them. Avoid creating frustration and help customers experience your product in the most positive light. Never assume anything and always be considerate.

How do you think your company’s order package stacks up? Are you a worthy dance partner? Have you ever even considered how your shipment is perceived?

Another good idea is to critique your competitors’ box shipments. What are they doing well and what aren’t they doing well? How can you be different?

Not every step of the box dance strategies will be appropriate for every merchant. But every catalog or Web marketer shipping goods to customers has the opportunity to make magic when the order shipment arrives, so if there is something you’re not doing that you could be, it may be worth considering.

And remember: The box dance is contagious. If your customer is delighted with everything about her order experience, she’s going to order again and, perhaps, tell her friends about your terrific presentation. And if it helps boost your brand — and your business-everyone in your company will be doing a happy dance as well!

Lois Boyle-Brayfield is president of J. Schmid & Associates (, a catalog consultancy in Mission, KS.

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