Custom packaging has its charms. Including a handwritten thank you note with an order, fancy gift wrapping, colorful tissue paper, and branded stickers can all appeal to customers and make a good first impression... but is it worth the added investment?
Anything which falls outside standard packaging procedures can be considered custom packaging. For some items, special handling may be needed due to the nature of the product. For example, fragile artwork or glass requires special packing and additional precautions. And at certain times of year, gift wrapping can be highly desirable. Custom packaging can also refer to putting your brand on your box or packing materials. For example, Amazon puts their logo on every box, which allows the customer to tell at a glance the source of their package before opening it.
So, why would you not want to use custom packaging? Here are five downsides that you should consider before going all in on custom packaging:
Any form of custom packaging is inherently more expensive. The cost of boxes goes up significantly if you want your brand printed on them. Custom boxes can start at a minimum order of 500 units for $5-25 a box. This cost is prohibitive unless you are ordering vast quantities of the boxes. Companies like Amazon can afford this-- many small businesses can't. Thank you notes, whether computer printed or hand written may cost a few cents on the dollar, but these cents build up over time (and volume), especially as your business grows. Special wrapping can also drastically increase overall cost, even when it seems the added cost of fancy tissue paper and gift wrap are relatively inexpensive... this all adds up!
Another significant "cost" of custom packaging is time. With the exception of branded boxes and packaging materials, any time an employee has to wrap items in a particular way, add a second insert, track down the right kind of box filler, etc, they are going to take significantly longer to fill the order. It also results in different orders requiring different procedures, which can break a packer's rhythm and slow them down. This reduces efficiency, which inevitably also leads to an increase in total costs.
Specialty packing also requires extra training of employees and, often harder, of third party contractors who may be shipping your product. Any process that falls outside standard protocol increases the risk of human error. For example, if you have two different branded boxes an order may easily find its way into the wrong one and thank you notes can end up being addressed to the wrong person (embarrassing). Product may be damaged during the gift wrapping process, or inserts may be left out or doubled.
Meanwhile using a plain box and a packing slip is easy for anyone to keep track of, and more likely to be done correctly, especially when handling a large volume of orders.
Branded packaging and inserts are extra items that need to be inventoried. Although you admittedly have to keep track of boxes either way, especially if you need multiple sizes, standard boxes can be ordered from any vendor in a pinch. Branded boxes may only be available from your go-to vendor and thus are more likely to be stuck in traffic when you are running low or worse. Thank you notes, unless you are making them in-house, also need to be ordered and tracked. This is an extra task you might not want to have to worry about.
Branded boxes are less likely to be reused by customers-- to send out their Christmas gifts, for example. Startups who have yet to establish accurate sales projections are more likely to end up buying too many branded boxes. If you discontinue a product and the boxes that go with it aren't suitable for anything else, then they are likely to end up in the recycling bin.
Today's environmentally conscious consumers often appreciate a "less-is-more" approach to packaging. Wrapping a product in tissue paper before boxing it may look good, but consumers may object to the waste of materials, especially as tissue paper is hard to recycle and many recycling companies will not accept either tissue paper or gift wrap. Even thank you notes are only going to be thrown away and may elicit a groan from committed paper savers. Plain boxes are easy to reuse and many people hang on to them to repurpose. Using no more packaging than necessary can not only keep costs down, but customers happy.
Every business is unique. Whether or not to use custom packaging is a decision you need to make for your own business. It can have advantages in terms of branding and customer experience, but those may not overcome the multiple downsides. Sticking with plain packaging may cost you in terms of recognizability, but it will also keep your costs down, reduce errors, and may please environmentally savvy customers who care about packaging waste.