You know the feeling--the anticipation of receiving that little gift you bought yourself and the excitement of it landing on your doorstep. But few brands realize that the moment consumers set their eyes on the package, the customer experience begins all over again.
Your product is just as important as the packaging, but why? What’s the science behind it? What are consumers expecting from their retail deliveries? How can brands maintain a personalized experience beyond the digital ones they provide on their website?
I sat down with Phillip Akhzar, founder and CEO of Arka, a leading custom packaging company - to understand the packaging phenomenon in retail and how it’s shaping the future of personalized customer experiences.
Bailey: Custom packaging is a huge trend with the rise of social media. People love videos and pictures of beautiful boxes filled with goodies - especially “unboxing” videos. I read a stat that unboxing videos uploaded onto YouTube have increased over 800% since 2010. Do you have an idea of why?
Phil: Personally, I can think of four reasons why they’re so popular. The first is that they are very easy for people to make, whether it’s a Social Media influencer or a parent with their child - all you’ve got to do is press record and get opening. Secondly, they’re fun to watch! It’s almost therapeutic watching someone open a pretty package and seeing how they react to what’s inside. The third reason is because people love to show off their latest purchases. How many people have you seen share their new shoes on Instagram and that kind of thing? Unboxing videos are basically the same concept, just taken to another level. The fourth and final reason is this - money! Unboxing videos have become a lucrative industry for social media influencers. The more subscribers and views they get, the more companies will pay them to show off their products. Lastly, look at the percentages that e-commerce has grown since 2010, it’s the fastest-growing trillion-dollar industry in the world!
Bailey: What types of brands do you work with?
Phil: We work with all types of brands, with a particular focus on sole traders and small businesses.
They’re a segment that we serve well, especially if they’re on Shopify or any other related platform. We take a highly personalized approach in meeting the packaging needs of these companies. We offer them a low minimum order of just 10 boxes, so they’re never overstocked. But, if you need to order thousands of boxes, we’ve got you covered too! We also give customers the option to either design their packaging themselves using our website, or to provide us with the color dies and we take care of the rest. Whether branded or unbranded, we have your back. Even if you’re using Uline, we can match that and have you make the switch!
Bailey: What does customer experience mean to your company?
Phil:Honestly, it means doing everything to surprise and delight customers. We’re only happy when our customers are happy - and they’re only happy when their customers are happy! This means we’ve got to get everything perfect, and that’s what we strive to do. This is why Arka prides itself in our customer service, if a customer asks for something, we’ll do literally everything we can to help them.
Bailey: What has brand customization taught you about the modern consumer?
Phil: I think it shows that the modern customer likes to feel special, that they’re getting something no one else is. The increasing popularity of brand customization shows an increased desire in customers for one-to-one communication, personalized experiences and to have their own unique spin on popular goods. One of my favorite examples is Levi’s. They offer the same jeans to everyone - but they have tailor shops that offer custom embroidery, hemming and patches, allowing customers to have their own, one of a kind product.
This isn’t original to Levi’s. This is specifically a learned characteristic from blossoming ecommerce businesses. This is what makes working with these smaller businesses so fun! They typically innovate before the big players do, due to flexibility.
Bailey: How do you think custom packaging impacts the overall customer experience?
Phil: Massively. As markets become more competitive, the little differences can have a huge impact. So much of today’s shopping is done online. As a result, your customer’s first physical contact with your product comes when they get the package delivered to them. Companies have to go all out to make this a memorable experience. It’s an opportunity to make them as happy as you possibly can, so you’ve got to grab it!
It’s honestly become table stakes. If you’re not rolling with a branded package, then your billboard is essentially empty.
Bailey: How have you seen customer expectations change when it comes to packaging?
Phil: Customers expect more than plain, boring boxes these days. Like I mentioned above, there has been an increased desire in customers for one-to-one communication. 55% of customers admit to providing repeat business to sites that gave them custom packaging. This number looks set to keep growing - especially if people keep watching unboxing videos!
Also, a lot of customers come our way asking for Apple packaging and are soon hit with the splash of cold water that it’s not how things work.
You start small and iterate from there. We’re not here to change you into an overnight success, we’re here to develop you into a lasting brand!
Bailey: Are you working with your clients to cater packaging to different demographics?
Phil: We’re always here to help make suggestions, but it would be a disservice to our customers to volunteer suggestions on how they should reach their unique customers. We are here to facilitate and make sure their dreams come true, but we can’t specify those dreams for them.
We have best practices in place and wish to discuss those first before moving on to something experimental.
Bailey: What strides are you taking in eco-friendly and sustainable packaging?
Phil:We’re proud to say that Arka sources recyclable material for our boxes, with some of our products being made up of 100% recyclable content. Our kraft boxes are also compostable. Aside from the products themselves, we also practice certified clean processes at our facilities. The de-inking process at our facility goes through a water filtration system that produces cleaner effluents than the water that came IN! As a former Industrial Engineer and Boeing Alum, the process at which a product is made is as important to me than the material itself.
Bailey: How do you see this industry evolving over the next five years?
Phil: More interaction between communities. Omni-channel presence is going to be a MUST.
Bailey: How would you describe a ridiculously good customer experience?
Phil:Surprise and delight.
Bailey: You also started a packaging company prior to Arka...where did your passion for this specific industry come from?
Phil: Every physical product needs packaging, and it’s amazing how no one in this industry is approaching this in a thoughtful manner. Having been in the industry for 13 years now, (since I was 19) it’s helped me understand how broken the process is. To come from the customers perspective, we ought to build the best thing out there for our customers.
Bailey: What trends do you see in customization and packaging in the next few years?
Phil:We specifically leverage “digital” printing. That means it’s a huge HP printer doing all the work, just like the one you may have in your office or home, just 350X bigger. More packaging is going to be produced with rapid prototyping, leaving more room for experimentation.
Bailey: What have been your favorite packages to create as a company to date?
Phil: No favorites in this game. But if I had to choose, the simpler the better.
There’s elegance behind that and I appreciate the toned down productions of something beautiful vs. the loud extravagant orders.