How independent retailers can use packaging to connect with customers

Putting a figure on the number of independent retailers is no small feat. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, there were 273,000 indie retailers in total in 2012, but this number is changing all the time due to the fast-paced nature of the industry and how we define independents in the first place.

With everyone from household brands to micro sellers now coming under the same umbrella, independents are a gloriously diverse market. This variety, though, can make it even more difficult to stand out from the crowd and make a lasting impression.

Beyond the product itself, more consumers are buying into retailers who can demonstrate care for the smaller details or deliver some aspect of personalisation. This is where packaging can play a crucial role.

Drawing on your indie identity

Buyers might forgive a dented carton or unimaginative parcel from a big corporate because they expect to be one of a million customers that products are being churned out to. Yet there is something artisan about independent retailers where the expectations are higher.

Independents are often thought of as smaller, more personalised businesses compared to multichain high street retailers. A romantic notion exists where the buyer likes to think of you, the seller, sitting there, making their one-of-a-kind product by hand and packaging it individually, just for them.

This expectation means that, when something arrives in a crumpled envelope, it can instantly shatter that image and create a very negative experience for the consumer.

Putting a label on it

Labelling is a cost-effective way to deliver a personalised approach and connect with the customer. Smaller eBay sellers will often include a handwritten note as a small touch, but depending on your quota, this can become a timely exercise.

Personalised labelling on the box itself however, is a great way to engage customers and acknowledge that you think about them as more than just an order number. If they’re based in London for example, your packaging might include iconic imagery of the city, or a doodle of the skyline. This can filter down to shapes and seasons too. An egg-shaped parcel for Easter, or a festive print for Christmas.

Lastly, technology can act as an enabler to extend the experience and incentivise future purchases. For instance, a QR code on boxes that, once scanned, take customers through to personalised discounts based on previous orders, or that connects them to your social channel where they can find product inspiration.

Thinking inside the box  

Chucking a product in a box and shipping it off simply isn’t good enough anymore and independents of all shapes and sizes need to consider how the customer receives the order at the other end. This is where indies can capitalise on that expectation of care and detail via the ‘unboxing’ experience.

If you’re a micro retailer that makes and sells personalised jewellery, you may decide to place a box within a box, for example, or include a high-quality piece of wrapping which customers unfold, creating an element of ceremony.

Equally, a craft beer manufacturer might want to consider offering packaging that arrives as a ready-made gift box. A cardboard box featuring a cellophane window that reveals the selection of beers included, and a handle at the top making it easy for the buyer to transport to parties, events and the end recipient.

It’s all about you

Ask yourself why consumers decide to buy from you in the first place. Unless you’re in a unique circumstance where you’re selling something they can only purchase from you, it’s likely they picked you out because something about the look and feel of your brand caught their eye.

One of the biggest mistakes we see indie retailers make is spending huge amounts of time crafting the perfect typography and logo, only to disregard it in their packaging, sending out products in plain mailing bags or scruffy cardboard boxes.

A huge element of including your branding is about identity and creating an emotional bond between customer and brand. It also builds anticipation and ensures the customer immediately knows the box being handed to them is a parcel from you. Just think about Apple. The minimalist branding and uniform box which requires you to gently pull one part away from the other has now become iconic.

In many ways, independent retailers can think of themselves as having a head start when it comes to developing a connection with a customer because of the connotations and expectations attached to the overall experience. To fully capitalise on this however, they must think of the customer as an individual, using packaging as a mechanism to entertain, delight and surprise.

Konrad Kwiatkowski, marketing manager and co-founder at Packhelp, a packaging manufacturer that gives customers the possibility to design their own boxes through an online web app.

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