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How to Make the E-commerce Fulfillment Experience Fun

Ross Beyeler

Your website is a beautiful, branded piece of art. Customers are ordering left and right, boxes are shipping out, and you’re feeling pretty darn good about things. But… (oh no, there’s a but. Why is there always a but?!) how is your fulfillment experience working for your customers?

Yep, I said fulfillment experience. Putting your product in a brown cardboard box and slapping a shipping label on it works. And that’s what most e-commerce retailers do. But oh, fulfillment can be so. much. more. You can stand out by creating a moment of unexpected joy for your customers that will make them want to jump to social media to share. And sow the seeds of a long and fruitful relationship.

Why a Fulfillment “Experience”?

With e-commerce, your customers aren’t walking into a store to experience your brand. The e-commerce touchpoints are less likely to make a strong physical impression. While your website certainly is an important point of connection, the first opportunity to physically interact with your customers is often through the fulfillment experience.

Most e-retailers focus on the fulfillment process: order tracking, shipping, keeping inventory up to date, and financial reconciliation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about looking at fulfillment through your customers' eyes and providing an experience that enhances their impression of your brand.

The Science Behind a Great Fulfillment Experience

If you talk to a cognitive neuroscientist about the brain’s pleasure-reward system (cocktail party convo, anyone?), they would tell you that the memory centers in the brain pay attention to everything associated with a pleasurable experience so it can be repeated in the future.

When we open a well-presented package, not only are we having fun, our brain is taking notes so that we can repeat that experience again.

A stand-out fulfillment experience can encourage repeat customers, create brand excitement, and make your products infinitely more shareable. It can remove any potential buyer’s remorse and make a customer feel confident about their purchase, even before they unwrap what’s inside. All of this can lead to greater brand loyalty and increased customer lifetime value (CLV).

The Phenomenon Known as “Unboxing”

Unless you’re an avid YouTube addict or a packaging design nerd, you may not know about the phenomenon known as “unboxing”, a recent trend that celebrates the enjoyment of unpacking a new product. Today, there are more than 63 million “unboxing” videos on YouTube. A survey done by Google shows that one in every five consumers has watched an unboxing video, and 62% of those people watched it because they were researching that product.

Unboxing Video Still from Unbox Therapy YouTube

Fulfillment Ideas to Get You Thinking

So how can you create a fulfillment experience for your customers? The first opportunity that most people think of is the box itself.

The Box

It’s true, there’s a ton of customization that you can do with your packaging. You can add color and branding like LootBox.

LootBox Packaging

You could use cardboard tubes like these, featured on packaging tubes

Or this elegantly designed beauty from BirchBox.

BirchBox packaging

The key considerations when thinking about how to brand your shipping box are choosing the right box for your product, the ease of unboxing (no one wants to struggle to get that box open), and creating an impression that aligns with your customer’s overall experience of your brand.

Other Packaging

Think outside the “box”. There are tons of opportunities to have fun with the rest of the packaging.

  1. Laying Out: Think about how you place your products inside the box. You want them to look a certain way when the box is opened (hopefully they aren’t tossed around too much in transit). Picture a shop window and how products are arranged – that’s what you’re going for.
  2. Protective Materials: It may just be packing peanuts, but make your protective materials be a conscious decision. You could use colored tissue paper or bubble wrap. And there are tons of options for custom tape the keep everything held together.
  3. Stickers and Ribbons: These can be used to hold together tissue paper or close an internal box. They are a low-cost item that can add a unique finishing touch.\
  4. Pick Tickets and Receipts: Even these simple slips of paper can be a part of the fulfillment experience with a bit of funny copywriting or a simple branded graphic. Place these papers into a simple envelope for a formal feel.
  5. Notes: Small companies with in-house fulfillment could include a handwritten thank you note, while larger stores may consider a pre-printed note of thanks.
  6. Surprise Perks: Who doesn’t love to get something extra? A sample of a new product or a tiny gift with purchase. Laura Ashley made a brilliant move by shipping free socks to a customer before their bedding order was delivered.

Laura Ashley Free Socks


There’s more to fulfillment than packaging. Email marketing can be a strong piece of the fulfillment experience with branded messaging woven into order confirmations, shipping notifications and updates, and post-purchase follow-up to ensure your customer received and is enjoying their product.

While these emails could be straight-forward and do the minimum of communicating their purpose, they can also be used to present relevant curated content, deliver future discounts and incentives, or offer product education (like this message from Harry's).

Harry's Fulfillment Email Example

Or they can include creative branding messages like this clever email footer from PhotoJoJo.

PhotoJojo Email Footer

Order Status Lookup

While customers are waiting for their package to arrive, an easy and fast resource for checking order status goes a long way toward endearing you to your customers (like the one below from Aftership). Proactive status updates pushed to email -- or a platform of their choice: Text, FaceBook, Twitter, etc. -- can be a great differentiator and make it easier for customers to consider ordering from you again in the future.

Aftership Order Status Notification

Which Ideas Are Right for Your Business?

Whoa. Those were a whole lot of suggestions, right? Creating an ideal fulfillment experience could get expensive and time-consuming fast. How do you choose just the ideas that make sense for your business and your customers?

  1. In-House vs. Outsourced Fulfillment: If you're putting your hands on the pick and pack, it's much easier to add personal touches like handwritten notes. But if you outsource to third party logistics, you can consider more scalable options like branded packaging.
  2. Volume: Are you fulfilling 200 orders a month, or 200,000? Consider the costs and time needed in relation to your sales volume.
  3. Technology: Can you easily change up your order tracking page? Are you using email marketing that could benefit from a jolt of fun and branding? Consider the technology tools at your fingertips and how they could better interact with your customers.
  4. Brand:  Your brand should be one voice and one identity across all interactions with your customers. Who are you? Are you funny and irreverent, or logical and useful, or playful, or earth-friendly, or soothing and calm? Your entire fulfillment process should embody your brand and what it means to your customers.

    Start by Telling a Story

    So, how to get started? Tell a story. Tell your story. Your fulfillment experience is an opportunity to extend your brand’s story and reach out to touch your customer directly. And invite them to share their story in return: share your social handles and set the stage for a conversation.

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