Because customers have come to expect fast, free shipping for nearly everything (thank you, Amazon Prime), e-commerce startups are under a lot of pressure to meet these expectations. And, while there are several things that they can do to compete, e-commerce merchants can encourage repeat visits by exceeding their customers’ expectations in other ways.
One effective tactic is to create a memorable “unboxing” experience. If you are familiar with this e-commerce term, you may envision YouTube videos of excited influencers opening packages with drama and flair, enticing their viewers to purchase the same items with a coupon code listed in the comments. And, while this is definitely an effective marketing tool, it is not what we are referring to here.
Creating a memorable unboxing experience for your customer is important because it is just that: an experience.
Our memories are based on our experiences, and they define our beliefs, opinions and feelings. So, if a company can create a memorable (and positive!) experience for its customers, it begins to establish a relationship resulting in future purchases and customer loyalty – both of which are essential for lasting success.
Retailers like Amazon offer customers what they need, when they need it. When you order a package of light bulbs because you don’t want to put on pants to go to CVS, they arrive in two days, in a branded box, with several plastic bubbles to ensure they arrive in tact. It’s great for your utilitarian needs.
But, let’s say you want to splurge on something a bit more special. Maybe you are looking for a set of unusual earrings that you can’t find at the department store or a finely-crafted belt that your old-fashioned dad would deeply admire. When emotion and desire drive a purchase decision more than the utilitarian “need,” user experience becomes an essential component.
When a customer invests the time and effort to search for the perfect gift, it’s an emotional process. So, if the merchant you purchase from acknowledges this by making the purchase special, perhaps by adding a few sheets of tissue paper or red ribbon on the box, you feel grateful. You will remember this experience (and it’s not because you saved a few bucks or because your order came a day earlier than expected).
This is the kind of experience you want to create for your customers; one that impresses them, that they will share with others, and that will keep them coming back to your e-commerce shop.
Fortunately, there are several ways to do this:
Design clever packaging
Don’t take the Amazon route and tape a cardboard box with branded tape. Instead, stamp the box with a memorable graphic, cover it in playful text, or mark cutouts that enable customers to repurpose the box in fun or useful ways.
Once the customer opens the box, impress them with custom packaging. Startup company, Sheets and Giggles,does this by placing all orders in cloth knapsacks made out of the same eucalyptus fabric that their bedsheets are made from. By doing this, they demonstrate pride in their product, care for the customer’s interaction with the product, and a generous spirit that is rarely found among companies focused primarily on the bottom line.
Personalize the box and/or the contents
Whether you acknowledge them as first-time or return customers, include your customer’s names on the materials in the package or show some personality. This can be done by using messaging like, “Nice to meet you” for a first-time customer or “Hello again!” for a return customer.
The key to adding that extra touch at scale is to keep it simple. As long as it’s relevant and it comes across as authentic, it will elevate the experience of your brand every time.
Surprise them with unexpected gifts or tchotchkes
Everyone appreciates a promo code for a future order, but few of us are delightfully surprised by them. Instead, we toss them into a coupon drawer where we (usually) forget about them. But, if you have ever purchased something from an Etsy seller, chances are pretty good you were charmed to discover various unexpected items included in your order, such as quirky magnets, fun stickers or unusual candies.
The previously mentioned Sheets and Giggles also make their customers feel special by including at least one unexpected gift with each order, such as sleep masks, slippers, T-shirts and coasters. They also occasionally include a more expensive item, such as a robe. Imagine how you would feel if you received such an unexpected bonus in your order!
Include a story about the creator or the origination of the product
Telling a story about humble beginnings or about an unusual place where the product came from builds rapport with the customer. The item is no longer an item in a box, but rather, it has a history and a life.
Another tactic is to include a detailed “inspected by” note in the box, which also humanizes the process necessary to get the product to the customer. Some e-commerce entrepreneurs have claimed that doing this reduces their number of returns, because customers are less likely to complain about a package that was inspected prior to shipping.
Some retailers have done so well with their packaging that the package itself is worth something. An obvious example is Tiffany’s, the blue boxes of which are often found listed on eBay. But whether or not a retailer’s packaging finds intrinsic value, it’s experiential value is undeniable and an indispensable component to an online startup’s efforts in retaining loyal customers.