Does socially conscious unboxing exist?

As consumers grow more socially conscious, manufacturers are having to adapt. Stefan Pryor, packaging specialist for James Cropper, explores how packaging can create a socially conscious unboxing experience.

Growth in e-commerce transactions means growth in unboxing moments. But while brands are taking some positive steps by making these moments engaging, does a socially conscious unboxing experience actually exist? And could the absence of social conscience prove costly in terms of customer relationships?

As much as consumers now expect to be impressed by packaging, not just delivery, they also increasingly expect sustainable, socially conscious production. Recent research that James Cropper conducted revealed that well over half of luxury consumers want to know that their product’s packaging is eco-friendly. And all indicators suggest this trend is not going to decline.

Whether brands meet these expectations to placate the planet or their customers, or ideally both, it is pressing for us to start to address these issues head-on – today’s consumers are a discerning bunch, with new considerations that can’t be ignored.

But the socially conscious unboxing experience is not just a challenge, or a box to tick. Rather, this is a huge opportunity to make an even more meaningful connection with consumers at a vital touchpoint, with rewards of retention and advocacy for responsible brands.

Bringing the wow to e-commerce packaging

If we needed a reminder of the importance of the unboxing moment in e-commerce, we had one in October at Luxe Pack Monaco in the form of an intriguing discussion of e-commerce packaging and the ‘wow’ of the unboxing experience. Chaired by Alissa Demorest of Formes de Luxe, the question was: How can we renew and bring the wow effect to packaging for e-commerce?

It got us thinking; when we have these conversations, we have to put ourselves in the individual consumer’s shoes. You sit at a bank of desks in an office, or a kitchen table with family, or in your bedroom with a camera. The post arrives, and it includes the package you have been waiting for, having ordered a stunning new bag online. You are one of millions of consumers who, on any given day, are at the heart of an unboxing experience. Often in front of other people, whether co-workers, friends, family, or a multitude of Instagram followers; the ‘wow’ is important.

It can’t be denied that social conscience is now an inherent requirement of a ‘wow’ moment

In lieu of an in-store experience, the in-box experience of product and package have to combine to generate the ‘wow’. Delivery of the goods is not enough – and expectations grow further as you move up along the spectrum from mass market to luxury or bespoke.

And it can’t be denied that social conscience is now an inherent requirement of a ‘wow’ moment, while lack of social conscience can completely undermine that moment. We can’t forget that today’s shoppers are the same consumers who in a very short period did away with the plastic straw and villainised big brands for excessive packaging en-masse. Consumers are serious and they will vote with their online feet.

Driving brands from a linear to a circular economy

Consumer behaviour suggests that brands need to stop talking and start acting when it comes to their e-commerce footprint, and the materials used at the point of realisation – the unboxing moment – are a very tangible port of call where consumers and brands meet.

That push is rightly driving brands away from a linear economy, in which byproduct is neglected as waste, to a circular economy that sees it reclaimed as an asset for further production. Byproduct and the sustainable packaging it creates do not just become important in themselves, but are further profitable due to the value consumers place in them. In that sense, there is significant incentive to close the loop.

Can you meet these expectations or, better still, can you differentiate and stand out while placing social consciousness at the heart of the ‘wow’?

Consumers are giving brands an ultimatum: reinvent the box, plastic free, and inspire us with whatever custom ‘wow’ moment you can imagine

There are infinite executions within reach for brands who are ambitious in this space.

Take an iconic packaging format like Selfridges’ yellow carrier bags. Selfridges, known for its proactive approach to sustainability, collects used cups from its retail stores and offices so that they can be upcycled into beautiful paper for the store’s iconic yellow carrier bags. This is a simple but innovative example of the closed loop in action, all within a key moment of customer engagement for Selfridges, putting sustainability at the heart of their proposition.

Consumers are, through their shopping behaviour, giving brands an ultimatum: reinvent the box, plastic free, and inspire us with whatever custom ‘wow’ moment you can imagine while you do it. Online, this is even more pertinent, where after the purchasing click, the box is the whole show.

Giving a socially conscious slant to the unboxing experience

There is little inclination for a YouTube online shopping haul reveal to positively feature uninspired, unsustainable, unboxing moments, and soon little inclination for brands who cannot meet those expectations. These consumers can be selective – they need reasons to repeat and advocate, rather than move on and forget. But on the flip side, an amazing, sustainable, engaging unboxing moment is a massive differentiator. It’s an opportunity.

The push towards the closed loop, with innovative takes on paper and fibre-based packaging, is already in progress, giving a socially conscious slant to the unboxing experience. Unboxing is a touchpoint that has a very high ceiling. Right now, there are more opportunities than ever to provide the 'wow' moment in a green way, and at a time when consumers are keen to know about your green credentials.

Does a socially conscious unboxing experience exist? Absolutely. And it’s a more necessary step than you might think. It can be engaging, and sustainable; we are only limited by imagination, not materials. This is not just important for the social conscience of brands and, increasingly, consumers, but is a further point of differentiation in competitive markets. Otherwise, your unboxing experience may render your brand single-use.

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