E-commerce Packaging Has Different Needs


The retail landscape has changed. Nontraditional retail is on the fast track to becoming traditional and, among many other things, it’s changing the way brands need to think about packaging.

A package designed to sell on the shelf may not be ideal for e-commerce, or even worse, it might frustrate customers or be perceived as wasteful. At the same time, e-commerce packaging needs to be able to survive the actual shipping process and still deliver an awesome customer experience. It’s a balancing act that requires careful planning and forethought.

There are three key things brands should consider when designing e-commerce packaging — cost, experience, and sustainability. Brands will need to consider different packaging guidelines and requirements, depending on whether or not they’re selling in an online marketplace like Amazon.

Considering the Cost

Supply chain expenses within e-commerce are higher than they are for brick and mortar. Why is that? It’s all about the touchpoints. The standard process for brick and mortar involves the product going from a manufacturer, to a packing line, then shipped to a store. The product essentially has only four to five touchpoints.

Brick & Mortar touchpoints:

For e-commerce, the product goes from the manufacturer to the seller (or Amazon) to then be packaged for e-commerce. Now it’s off to Amazon to be sorted, stowed (stored), and/or shipped to the customer. A product can encounter upwards of 25 touchpoints during its journey. These touchpoints are what brands need to factor into their cost.

In the event of an e-commerce return, this is just the first half of a product’s journey. Returns— which are much more common online than in-store— get sent back to an Amazon returns center, back to the seller, and depending on the situation, back to the brand or reinjected into Amazon.

E-commerce touchpoints:

When brands don’t acknowledge the product journey, they’re unintentionally ignoring the costs associated with each touchpoint.

Considering the Experience

Alright, so the expenses are sorted. Now it’s time to deliver a great customer experience. Exterior packaging is a brand’s first tangible impression with the customer, which is why it’s so important to make it count.

Positive first impressions start with R&D. Questions such as, “How long will it take to open the package?” or, “Is it frustrating to deal with?” are what brands should be able to answer when it comes to their product packaging. It’s easy to forget that we’re all customers too, and our own packaging experiences can be a primary source to innovation.

We’re seeing how packaging influences the customer experience. Netrush has gotten feedback from customers saying that — even when the presentation looks great — it’s the process of opening the package and getting to the product that affects their overall experience. A bad experience could cause a customer to not buy from you again. It’s better to invest in minimal, easy-to-open packaging that the customers won’t remember than to brand oversized, difficult-to-open packaging that’ll be negatively remembered.

Netrush Packaging Director Colby Grantz


No one wants to spend more than a few seconds trying to open a box. Brands should prioritize quicker unboxing sessions for their customers when designing e-commerce packaging. Amazon has fully embraced this mentality — the standard Amazon box can now be opened in a few seconds by simply ripping the tape with your hands.

Exterior innovation doesn’t have to stop there. Take Enzymedica — a leading digestive supplement brand and Netrush partner since 2014 — as a real-life example. In 2018, Netrush worked with Enzymedica on downsizing their packaging to be more efficient while still providing a positive customer experience.

Initially, a full-size box was used to package their supplements, which came in a small bottle. Netrush’s idea was to use a flat box instead.


So how does one go about flattening a bottle? With a little innovation, the idea of changing their actual packaging from a bottle to a pouch was born. Problem solved.


Considering Sustainability

Sustainability is important, but it can be impractical and expensive. Fortunately for brands, the packaging industry is working hard to make it easier to embrace. Using corrugated material made from 100% post-consumer recycled content is a great way for brands to further their involvement in using sustainable shipping materials. Often mistaken for being a weaker shipping material, this particular packaging can be rated high for strength and cost-efficiency.

Omnichannel packaging is another trend that helps bridge the packaging gap between brick and mortar and e-commerce. Brands can cut down on inefficiencies by investing in packaging designed to fit the needs of every retail channel.

Amazon Packaging Guidelines and Requirements

Amazon requires brands and retailers to follow certain packaging guidelines — otherwise, the brand or retailer will be charged with additional prep charges. Assuming a product is being sold using Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), there are at least four packaging solutions to be aware of:

Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP) – Packaging that’s self-contained, easy-to-open, and uses a minimal amount of curbside recyclable material that goes through Amazon then directly to the consumer.

Ships in Own Container (SIOC) – Packaging that’s in a self-contained shipping box that goes through Amazon before going directly to the consumer. In this case, recyclable materials are not required, and unlike FFP,  it doesn’t need to be easy-to-open.

Prep-Free Packaging (PFP) – Packaging that’s certified to ship in an Amazon over-box — the over-box housing the already packaged item. This is less than ideal for customers due to the extra effort needed to open the package.

Standard – Packaging that meets the minimum Amazon guidelines to ship. Amazon requires that packages have a readable barcode that is protected to go through Amazon without incurring damage.

Key Takeaways

E-commerce isn’t going away anytime soon, and as a result, packaging needs to be adapted to meet the upcoming challenges and future considerations of the online shopper. As brands and retailers rethink their packaging solutions, it’s important to remember:

  • Brick and mortar packaging and e-commerce packaging have different needs.
  • Brands do have control. With a little innovation, packaging solutions can be made more efficient while still delivering a positive outcome for the customer.
  • There are three things brands should consider when it comes to e-commerce packaging:
    • Cost – E-commerce supply chain costs more than brick and mortar because it has to endure more touchpoints on its journey to the customer.
    • Experience – Creating a frustration-free packaging experience is a great way to enhance customer satisfaction.
    • Sustainability – Sustainability is important, and there are pragmatic, inexpensive ways to incorporate sustainable materials into packaging design.

To learn more, visit our e-commerce packaging page.