Shipping is Your Best Customer Touch Point

Shipping is Your Best Customer Touch Point

Lots has been written about how e-commerce is taking over traditional retail and that all commerce is moving online. But the truth is, as an e-commerce retailer, you’re inherently at a disadvantage against all the stores at your local mall. They have something you’ll never have – a tactile, real-world product experience. Walk into Nordstroms and you can touch, feel, and try on the merchandise. You speak with a friendly sales person. All of this comes together to create a cohesive, high-fidelity shopping experience. You don’t have any of these advantages online.

There are plenty of ways to improve your customer experience as an online retailer, but nothing touches your customer quite as strongly as the experience they have when they first open their shipping box and find the products they ordered inside. Is there a better feeling in the world? You research a purchase, order it online, and wait days (or weeks) for it to arrive. You track the package online. You wait by the door for the UPS guy.

Most online stores neglect the first (and usually only) physical interaction they have with the customer – their shipping and unboxing experience.

That doesn’t just mean shipping speed, I’m talking about the unboxing experience. The unboxing is the first experience they have with your product after they’ve paid you for it. Before they even hold it in their hands, they’re experiencing your brand – what kind of box does it come in? When they open the box, what do they see first? What does the packing slip look like? You can really delight a customer with a great unboxing experience, and it adds so much value to their entire interaction with your brand. Yet it’s overlooked by so many e-commerce stores.

Amazon Gets It

Jeff Bezos (founder/CEO of Amazon.com) created the most successful e-commerce retailer of all time, and he intimately understands the value of the tactile customer experience. He says:

“The physical world is the best medium ever invented and betting against it has always proved wrong.”

That’s why you see Amazon investing millions into their Amazon Prime program to give customers a delightful and fast shipping experience. That’s why everything you get from Amazon comes in a custom printed box with custom printed Amazon packing tape. Amazon has even forced some companies (like Logitech) to redesign their entire packaging to be easily unboxed (Amazon calls it “Hassle Free Packaging”). This has been so successful that a Prime customer spends about 10x as much as a normal customer – and the primary marker of the Prime experience is an excellent shipping experience.

amazonprimeSo many e-commerce store owners out there obsess over A/B testing their websites, they optimize their email campaigns, but they totally ignore the way the customer experiences their product once they actually get it. Follow up drip email campaigns are great, but a package is tactile.

So how do you do the unboxing experience well? Let’s look at a few examples of people who are doing it right.

Bonobos

Bonobos is an online brand of tailored mens pants and shirts that are really stellar. They’re a pioneer in e-commerce all around, but specifically, they also have a great shipping experience. Fast and free shipping, a branded box, product wrapped in tissue paper sealed with a sticker, and an included return label, just in case you want to return anything.

In fact, the Bonobos unboxing experience is so good that people are literally posting Bonobos unboxing videos on their blogs. Unboxing videos for pants. Not a new iPhone – pants!

Dollar Shave Club

Everyone knows Dollar Shave Club for their viral videos, but what you wouldn’t know unless you were their customer is that they extend their irreverent brand all the way down to their packing materials. I’ll include a photo here, but click through to read an (unsolicited) blog post written by one of their customers – “The Dollar Shave Club’s Unboxing Experience is F***ing Great”.

A Personal Example

As a final example, I want to show you the way we handle unboxing at one of my companies.

We sell high quality, highly organic skin care products to a discerning customer base. Our customers do their research and then willingly pay more for a high quality product. They’re treating themselves, and we want to remind them of that. So every box we ship comes wrapped inside with gold tissue paper, and is sealed with a branded sticker and a sprig of lavender. When you open the box, it looks like there’s a present inside – a present to you. People LOVE it, and it gets mentioned in our online reviews all the time.

NMB Boxing

Bonus example: Whipping Post

Whipping Post makes beautifully designed leather goods. They’re high end products that are a bit pricier than most, but they make up for it with an awesome unboxing experience. You can click here to see the full gallery, or I’ve included a sneak peek below:

Whipping Post unboxing

For the skimming crowd, here are a few easy ways you can create an awesome unboxing experience at your own store:

  • Make custom shipping boxes. They’re typically almost the same price as generic brown, and add a ton to the experience. My friend Taylor Llewellyn is the founder of Tucker Blair (needlepoint belts) and Kona Kase (goody box for runners). Both times he’s done an excellent job of making beautiful, branded custom boxes.
  • If you do your own fulfillment, write a handwritten note on your packing slip. This takes 10 seconds to do and people LOVE it, especially if you address the customer by name and the packer signs their own name. It can be as simple as “Annie – I hope you enjoy our stuff! – Bill” or a seasonal message like “Happy Easter Annie! – Bill”. It creates a great personal feel.
  • Rewrite the copy on your packing slip – take something boring and include some on-brand copy. Dollar Shave Club does a great job of this (see the link above).
  • Include a freebie – a free sample or a small/cheap tchotchke. If you’re in food or personal care, samples can also be a great way to give a customer something for free while also introducing them to a logical add-on purchase for next time.

I want to close with an awesome quote from Andy Dunn, the CEO of Bonobos. Andy says:

“At the end of the day, you’re not building an e-commerce company, you’re building a brand that has e-commerce as its core distribution channel.”

I love that because it means you have to think about your brand overall – you’re not running a website, you’re running a brand that has a website. And the unboxing experience is as much a part of your brand as the website.

About the Author

Bill DAlessandroI'm the CEO at Elements Brands - a company I built from scratch that sells branded consumer products online and in stores. I ship thousands of orders each year, and run it all from my laptop by focusing on automation and outsourcing. I write about my experience with e-commerce, product creation, and startups, with lots of personal bits thrown in. More about me.

Comments

  1. Great post! As a consumer and ecommerce store owner I couldn’t agree more. Lots of people talk about “delightlng” and “surprising” customers. This is a real and actionable way to do that. Love the tip about custom shipping boxes, too. I dropship now but when I move to doing my own shipping, I’ll definately look into that.

    • Hey Ben, glad you liked it. You’re exactly right – the unboxing experience is a great way to walk the walk and excite your customers. Don’t write off a lot of this stuff just because you dropship though – if you do enough volume, you can probably talk your suppliers into doing a few of the simpler things on this list.

  2. Bill,

    This is an awesome post but do you have any tips on how to find niche products?

  3. Hey Bill,

    Wow, this is something that is so obviously important when you think about it, but not something that I see anyone else talking about in the ecommerce space. These are some fantastic tips–great point about the unboxing experience being the first and only physical interaction that online stores have with their customers. Thanks for the great article! I’m not doing enough volume to convince my dropshipper to do much of anything custom, but hopefully down the road that will be more doable.

    Leighton

    • Glad you liked it Leighton – it’s a really easy thing you can do with your store to stand out in the customer’s mind. You’d be surprised how flexible some dropshippers can be – if you sent them a stack of handwritten notes, it’s not too hard for them to drop one in each box!

  4. Great post Bill. I also heard your podcast on Buildmyonlinestore. This article resonates for companies that can pack their own merchandise, but how can a company that uses a fulfillment center implement these touch points?

    • Bill DAlessandro says:

      Hey Trevor,

      What if I told you almost every company mentioned above uses an outsourced fulfillment center? :)

      You’ll actually be surprised what you can get if you ask. Inserts are pretty standard in the industry, and it’s not that much harder for them to grab a branded box instead of a generic one if you provide ‘em. Just ask!

  5. Hi Bill,
    Excellent piece on the unboxing experience. I’ve recently added personal customer notes to our new customers and hope it helps with the experience.

    I’m wondering if you could direct me to the companies that make affordable custom boxes. I’ve been doing a ton of research and it’s still looking very pricey to me. I would love to know what companies your friends used.

    Thanks for your help again!
    Charlotte

    • Bill DAlessandro says:

      Hi Charlotte,

      Custom boxes get pretty affordable, but only with scale. For example, I currently pay about $0.30 per box for basic brown corrugated, but you can get custom boxes for ~$0.40 per box if you buy ~10,000 boxes at once. The nice thing is that they don’t go bad, so having a few thousand bucks in boxes hanging around isn’t the end of the world. If you’re looking for specific vendors, a simple google search for “custom corrugated boxes” will do the trick :)

      Bill

  6. Hi Bill, first heard about you on Andrew’s ecommercefuel podcast, and found this post when looking for ways to enhance the unboxing experience for our brand. Thanks so much for this information. It really got me thinking in the right direction. I think as the shopping world goes more and more online, merchants will have to be on top of this so important touch point with the customer. Looking forward to more great posts. Thanks Bill!

    Chris

    • Hey Chris – glad you found the site and enjoyed the post! I totally agree with you that as more and more commerce goes online, ecommerce merchants are getting better and better at differentiating through customer experience. Shipping experience is a big part of that.

  7. Hi Bill,

    Do you have any recommendations for places to buy custom printed boxes and tape?

    Thanks,
    Nathan

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