How to get your packaging right for distribution

James Hardy of reveals what you need to know before packaging your product in preparation for shipping.

When you are an ecommerce entrepreneur, packaging your products for sale and shipment is a key step in your online supply chain. Packaging is often left to the last-minute, especially when a small business owner is completely engrossed in product development and product iterations. Don’t let bad packaging damage your efforts to develop the perfect product – making sure your product arrives intact and as you intended is vital to your ultimate success and repeat sales. Based on the experiences of our members, what follows are simple steps to getting packaging right:

Get the right wrapping

When running an online business, your packaging needs are much different to those of a bricks-and-mortar outlet as you need to take shipping into consideration. You will need external packaging that is tough enough to get the product to your customer without any damage. Online businesses that sell direct to the consumer need not be as concerned with the ‘on-the-store-shelf’ style of packaging that is used in shops. What you need is strong mail-order packaging that correctly fits your product and keeps it safe for the duration of its journey to the customer.

To avoid any packaging pitfalls, e-tailers should ask their suppliers up front for appropriate packaging for their needs. Upon placing an order with a packaging supplier, clearly state that you want mail-order packaging. If the manufacturer sends the wrong packaging goods, do not stay silent and accept what you receive. Many will be willing to correct the mistake by sending packing sleeves or offering a credit.

Source globally online

Packaging literally comes in all shapes and sizes, so if you need specialised designs from scratch, you’ll need to approach sourcing your packaging in the same manner you would for any other product. Because of a change in global manufacturing centres, often you will need to look abroad to find a manufacturer that can help you source the right packaging.

With a plethora of sophisticated online sourcing platforms available to small businesses today, you will have no lack of choice when it comes to manufacturers. With this vast amount of choice, come challenges. You will need to send drawings of your ideal packaging and/or photos of similar items that you would like to emulate. Once you’ve found a supplier that understands your vision, you can have them send you production samples to ensure that everything works the way it ought to, before placing a volume order. Expect to endure a bit of back and forth to get the design just right, but in the end it is worth the time and effort if it means your product and brand are well represented by the packaging you have chosen.

Environmental made easy

Recycled and environmentally-friendly packaging is integral to many brands and can also be sourced online. With various online sourcing tools you can find suppliers that use recycled paper, soy ink for labels and 100 per cent recycled plastics. Use the evaluation tools available to you to verify a supplier’s eco-credentials. Ask to see verified videos and photos to check a factory’s credibility and if you are very serious about ensuring recycling standards, committed suppliers usually have third party certificates available to validate their green credentials.

Quantity is negotiable

China’s packaging factories are geared up to handle massive orders, but if your requirements are more modest don’t let the published minimum order quantities put you off. A lot of factories are open to negotiation (many of them are small/medium businesses themselves), especially if you are able to explain to them that you are starting small but have plans to grow in the future. If you are sincere and clear with them that you can give them larger orders in the future they’ll want to work with you. You will pay more per unit for a smaller quantity, but that is a much better option than paying less for more and having packaging stock to store, that you may never use.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

When choosing a packaging partner, many customers contact a long list of suppliers to assess their capabilities and enquire about pricing and minimum order quantities (MOQs), then ask a shortlist of suppliers to send production samples. Common advice from our members is to choose a factory based on the highest quality sample, but also build relationships with additional suppliers. As a business, you never want to be solely dependent on one supplier. You never know when/if something could happen to a supplier and you definitely do not want to be left with no options. So if their supply chain breaks down, or they become unreasonable on pricing, you always have back-up suppliers at the ready to step in and fill the gap.

Source global, design local

While factories in China are great places to get your packaging made, when it comes to design you are better off sticking close to home. While off shoring the manufacture of your packaging makes fiscal sense, quality brand design is often best done local to your own market. There are multiple reasons for this: language/spelling, legal compliance with goods labelling and a local understanding of your consumer.

Good on-pack design is about more than just dodging cringe-worthy spelling embarrassments, however. Even if your products are sold online rather than in stores, pretty packaging can pay dividends. Mail order packaging need not be a dull brown box – just look at Net-a-Porter’s slick black box approach for inspiration. Who doesn’t look forward to receiving a parcel in the post, why ruin the anticipation with a lack-lustre parcel at the end of their customer experience with you?

Related: The most appealing part of a product’s packaging revealed

James Hardy

Steve Pacocha

James Hardy is Head of EMEA region for

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