Updated: Aug 11
When I was a kid, receiving a package in the mail was amazing. The anticipation, novelty, and wonder outdid the opening of any birthday present. Nowadays, I am barraged daily with non-descript brown boxes that I must quickly intercept at the door for fear someone will steal it on my doorstep. While I am excited to receive some packages, that sense of wonder and excitement has been muted, and has been replaced by more transactional feelings.
I have written in the past about why I think physical retail will persist in the future (see blog posts). I still believe this thesis holds despite brick-and-mortar retail's onslaught during COVID-19, but I think there’s an extra nuance now. The central thesis in that article was that we humans have a desire to feel connected. Brick-and-mortar retail fulfills many of our cave-person instincts, to hunt-and-gather, to feel part of a community, and to feel safe.
eCommerce is dramatically growing mostly because it is convenient and because the brick-and-mortar alternative has been rendered unviable in the COVID-19 context. But there is another reason it is now growing – some online businesses have created an experience that emulates the connection and community one feels at a great retail store, leaving a customer with a sense of awe and wonder, much like I felt as a child when opening a package in the mail.
There are three common ingredients I’ve observed in online businesses that engender a great customer feeling, and each is needed:
The nuts-and-bolts work: Regardless of how amazing a product is, the basic transaction and customer promise must work. From the intent-to-buy to receiving the product, a business must carefully assess and exceed customer expectations around time, convenience and value from start to end. This is the boring stuff but it must work!
The Brand creates a tribe: In the age of influencers and social media, we search for digital tribes. Companies that successfully establish tribes balance welcoming with exclusivity – i.e. “not everyone can be part of the club, but I belong here.” Like our ancient ancestors, modern digital tribes use markings, tools and artifacts to show their loyalty (even if it is in the form of logos, likes or retweets). We are just cave people after all!
Connection and wonder exist: Whether it is a hand-written note from the store owner or seeing one’s name custom-printed inside the box, bringing the store shelf into the home is the last ingredient. Packaging is proving to be a great way to achieve this. When a customer opens the box, how do you make them feel excited? Amazed? Connected to you and your common tribe? These are the questions the best eCommerce operations wrestle with daily.
Our team at Category 5 Imaging has launched paq, a direct online custom packaging service because we are seeing and feeling this transformation. While in-store retail isn’t going away, online is recreating and complementing the in-store environment. The best businesses connect all three of the components above and embed them in their team culture and customer experience. We love the opportunity to work with businesses as they seek to find new ways to surprise, delight and connect with their customers.