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How product packaging can drive startup success

Smiling woman packing package at home.

If you're an entrepreneur working day and night to bring your startup product to market, product packaging might not be at the top of your to-do list. From managing your development costs to refining your product, there's plenty to get through and only so many hours in the day.

In fact, forward-thinking startups embrace packaging logistics from the outset, striving to optimize business operations, maximize customer experience, and drive profits down the line.

So whether you're dreaming of making the elite group of startups achieving unicorn status, or you're solely focused on keeping the lights on for now, make sure packaging is on your radar.

Check out our infographic with tips for product packaging success. 

Here are seven key factors your startup should consider as you push for early-stage growth.

1. Planning for packaging

While it may not be the first thing to jump to mind as an entrepreneur, the fact remains: you cannot avoid packaging. At a basic level, packaging is required to protect the contents of your shipment.

The earlier you weave packaging into your business planning, the larger the payoff downstream. What this means in practice is introducing discussion around packaging as early as the product design stage. Initiate a planning exercise with your team and list out all the factors to consider when it comes to packaging for your prototype.

Take the opportunity to also discuss the implications for overall customer experience. Remember that, in an increasingly online world, your packaging is one of the few direct touchpoints you may have with your customer and can define how the customer perceives your business. Have a vision for how your customer receives, and unboxes, your product. First impressions count.

2. Packaging design

What is your product? It may sound obvious but packaging for large electronics is different from packaging for smaller gadgets. Nobody would ship a mattress the same way as they ship sporting equipment. 

To assist your planning, isolate what is necessary for getting your product shipped safely and reliably to its destination. Your product packaging must be, at a basic level, functional. Getting the fundamentals right is essential to a positive customer experience.

To work out what it takes to get your product safely from point A to point B, scout around your competitors and see how they package similar goods. What common features do you notice? What ideas can you glean? Look at other startups for inspiration around core package design.

Additionally, ask whether there are regulatory requirements your product might be subject to. Will this affect how you design your packaging? Again, don’t try to figure this out on your own. Venture outside your company and seek advice from an expert in packaging design.

Above all else, steer clear of inefficient packaging. The extra bubble wrap, tissue paper, and additional packaging material used in an oversized box not only has a negative impact on the environment, it’s a drain on your bottom line. The sea of filler used to fill up the empty space in a box can be used for other shipments, and therefore having to keep less packing material on hand.

Optimize your packaging strategy to match your product with the right size boxes and help eliminate waste and reduce lost margins.

3. Sustainable packaging

Companies nowadays are eager to promote their green credentials at every opportunity, and your startup should be no different. Sustainable packaging is not only good for the planet, but good for your finances and helps you stand out from the crowd.  

When designing your packaging system, gravitate toward eco-friendly materials wherever possible. Select reusable packing materials, particularly for larger shipments. Eco-friendly versions of packing materials, such as biodegradable twine and recyclable peanuts, are good options.

Deploy the minimum amount of packing material necessary to avoid damage in transit. At the same time, don’t skimp on your packaging. Remember items that arrive in pristine condition due to well-designed packaging are less likely to be returned.

Don't forget to let the world know you take responsible packaging seriously. Apply for the UPS® Eco Responsible Packaging Program certification to show customers you have met rigorous standards for external packing. Or convey your startup’s commitment to addressing climate change through carbon neutral shipping.

4. Functional vs branded packaging

Getting your package to your customer intact and in an environmentally-responsible way is the first step. The next step is deciding how, through packaging, you wish to position your business.

It is entirely fine to stick to a functional approach. After all, the primary purpose of the packaging is to get your product to customer in the best possible condition. Nobody expects bells and whistles when receiving replacement parts for heavy manufacturing. However, when ordering high-value jewelry, a more considered presentation may be in order.

Even with functional packaging, there are ways to enhance customer experience. Include discreet branding, whether inside or outside the package, or throw a promotional branded item, such as a pen or a water bottle, into the box. Who doesn’t like a little swag?

If you choose a more branded approach, get creative. Your packaging is great marketing real estate. Think of different designs and messages to convey.

However, don’t try going it alone when it comes to brand development. Bring in different perspectives from across your business to help hone your messaging.  The more minds you have ruminating on all aspects of your product, the better.

Differentiate your packaging from what is already in the marketplace. What unique twist can your brand be known for? What tone of voice will your company adopt? How can you be as memorable as possible? If you're running an e-commerce subscription business, think of every delivery as an opportunity to switch things up for your customers. Be helpful, be bold, and be brand savvy.

Consider contracting with a branding agency to help you with this work. Startup marketing doesn’t simply take care of itself.

5. Unboxing as customer experience

Receiving your package is one thing, but unboxing it is another. Before you get too fancy, however, make sure you have the basics right.

How easy is it for your customer to unpack your product?  For products consisting of several components, is it clear which item is used for what? Don’t leave anything to chance. Conduct dry runs and be militant about each detail. Consider including a hand-written note, a voucher for a future purchase, or even a small gift. Engineer an element of surprise.

With higher-value items, aim for the “wow” effect.  Include tissue paper, stickers, or even scent inside of the package. Be creative with your packing slip. Even something as apparently small as inserting a note of inspection may help reduce returns.  

For the outside of the package, what tape will you use? What color will you choose for your packing material? Is a packing box even necessary or might a poly mailer do the trick? With each of these factors, balance your projected costs against your commitment to customer experience.

For maximum effect, consider enlisting the support of influencers to review your product on social media.

6. Calculating shipping costs

By now, you may think you have done the bulk of the hard work. Not so fast: there are other very important factors to take care of. Your product may be brilliantly packaged, but it serves no purpose sitting in your premises. It still needs to get to its destination.

Ask the right questions: How large are your shipments? Are you sending direct to consumer, or via retailers and distributors? Do you expect to be shipping internationally? How can you most cost effectively organize your shipments? Do your research to properly understand the available shipping options.

Don’t forget to consider the impact of dimensional weight, which compares the size of the package with its actual weight. If your packaging can be made smaller while still protecting its contents, this could lower your shipping costs. And as any startup owner knows, every penny counts.

Shipping logistics should never be an afterthought. Design an efficient supply chain from the outset with the explicit goal of optimizing your business and maximizing future profit.

7. UPS packaging support

There’s much to consider when it comes to packaging for your startup product. Taking a product from idea to reality occurs in stages, and at each stage UPS offers solutions that go hand-in-hand with a startup’s needs.  

Take our alliance with Sealed Air, inventor of Bubble Wrap® packaging and the leading global provider of packaging solutions for the food, e-commerce, consumer and industrial markets, with 49 research labs and 94 manufacturing facilities worldwide. Startup successes such as Pharmapacks directly attribute packaging innovations from Sealed Air to improved customer experience and a sharp uptick in revenue growth.

Additional resources are at hand. The UPS Package Design and Test Lab will help design your ideal packing system while keeping sustainability front of mind. As for packaging materials, the UPS® Packaging advisor is a tool that recommends packaging materials based on size, weight, and product type.

Packing a punch

Get your packaging design right from the outset to maximize your startup's success. The more hands-on you are with your packaging, the greater the potential for rapid growth. Contact our dedicated startup team today at startupteam@ups.com, or head to www.ups.com/startups to sign up for a virtual consultation, and learn how to pack a punch through product packaging.

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