Practical Ecommerce

5 Things to Put in the Shipping Box

Online retailers have a powerful tool for marketing to existing customers, potentially increasing sales, average order size, and profit. That tool is the shipping box merchants send to customers with almost any order.

There are at least two things to consider when you think about in-box ecommerce marketing.

The first of these is that returning customers (those coming back for a second purchase) and repeat customers (those who have made three or more purchases) can be very valuable. In an often cited report, The ROI from Marketing to Existing Online Customers, Adobe points out that more than 40 percent of U.S. online retail sales come from returning or repeat shoppers who collectively represent just 8 percent of total ecommerce site traffic.

Returning and repeat customers are also likely to spend more on each order. Adobe estimated that a returning shopper will spend three times as much as a new customer on a per order basis, and a repeat customer will spend about five times as much as a new customer, again on a per order basis.

Marketing to existing customers can increase total sales, average order size, and, assuming that your items are properly priced, profit.

A second consideration is that sending an order to a customer might be thought of as a form of direct mail marketing.

For example, a multi-channel retailer in the Northwest recently examined the cost of offering free shipping on some orders. Separately, the retailer was sending direct mail offers and coupon offers via Valpak, the marketing firm. The direct mail had been very effective. But it costs upwards of $1 per delivery, depending on printing, postage, and how it was sent.

An opportunity arose when that retailer began to think about the box carrying a customer’s order as another direct mail marketing vehicle. The retailer could justify relatively thinner margins with free shipping since it was generating repeat sales often with a larger average order size.

The only real question then was what to put in the box.

Put Coupons in the Box

Eastbay, an athletic apparel retailer based in Wausau, Wisconsin, includes a broad, percentage-off coupon offer in the box with the orders it sends to customers. In a recent example, a returning Eastbay customer could get 15-percent off of a $75.00 or larger order with the coupon code included in the box.

The offer works because it is broad. Customers can use it to purchase whatever they like from Eastbay. A narrow offer, say for 20 percent off of a Nike Air Force One shoe, probably would not perform as well since not every Eastbay customer would be interested.

The offer is also trackable. Eastbay can look at how often the coupon code is used and calculate a lift in sales. This allows the company to optimize in-box marketing offers to get the most out of each new coupon.

Put Free Merchandise in the Box

Design by Humans, which is a community-driven shirt retailer, has been known to include free merchandise in its boxes. A new customer who buys two or three tees from Design By Humans might find an extra shirt featuring the Design By Humans’ smiley face logo.

The unexpected gift can have the effect of endearing Design By Humans to new customers and encouraging additional sales.

Put a Treat in the Box

Similar to adding free merchandise, some retailers will put a treat like chocolate, lollipops, or even gift cards to popular restaurants or coffee shops in the box along with an order.

The shopper is rewarded for making an online purchase, and the merchant is hoping that the treat will effectively train the customer to return and make more purchases.

The treat in the box approach can also create opportunities for collaboration with other retailers. As an example, a candy retailer might be willing to supply samples and a coupon to a clothing retailer for in-box inclusion.

Put a Review Request in the Box

There is a significant amount of evidence indicating that shoppers read product reviews and value the peer-generated product information those reviews contain.

Encouraging reviews has at least two benefits: It brings a customer back to your site, and it creates content that could help future shoppers make a buying decision.

Include a simple, no-strings-attached request for a product review, and be prepared to track the number of reviews the in-box request garners. Be willing to change the way you ask for reviews too, tweaking one thing or another to maximize the response rate.

One word of caution, don’t offer to give shoppers anything in return for a review. Some folks look at that practice as buying positive reviews, and it can have a negative impact.

Put a Catalog in the Box

Many retailers understand the value of on-site merchandising, offering related products, up-selling to name brands, or even cross selling to a similar item that may, for one reason or another, have a larger margin.

Adding a catalog or even a single-sheet product flyer to the box extends merchandising beyond the site and exposes customers to related or additional products.

As with several of the other in-box tactics, it is fairly easy to measure lift from the catalog or flyer.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Chad October 29, 2013 Reply

    I really like this concept of going that little bit further and putting things in the box as a surprise. Do you have any suggestion/tips on achieving these bonuses with drop ship e-commerce websites where you’re not in control of packaging?

  2. Armando Roggio October 30, 2013 Reply

    Chad, it is harder to do if you’re dropshipping, but some vendors will work with you. I would just ask them.

  3. Elizabeth Ball October 30, 2013 Reply

    Armando, these are great ideas! You could also create and include a branded 2014 calendar magnet (the photo frame type) so they keep on their fridge all year.
    Plus a handwritten card never fails to impress.

  4. Ydeveloper October 30, 2013 Reply

    If the owners are really concern about their Brand, then they should put a request to get review from them. This review helps in building their brand.

  5. Faye October 31, 2013 Reply

    I have been including a Thank You with coupon codes for $5 off $50 or $10 off $100 in all my outbound boxes for over two years now, and it has helped tremendously to grow our returning customer base.
    Also, if I have had any kind of dialog with the customer via either e mail or phone regarding their order, I also include a hand written note on the invoice.
    Customers really do like the personal touch, and appreciate good customer service!
    I do some drop shipping, and have e mailed the same thank you w/codes to those customers after I know they have received their item, you might try that approach Chad.

  6. James Meyer October 31, 2013 Reply

    Great tips! These do work, been doing them for years and see a great return. The key is to track promotions to see what does and doesn’t work.

    James Meyer, President

  7. Tim Hennings October 31, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for the useful list, especially for the mention of putting a print catalog in the box. It is best if that publication is targeted at the customer. People are turned off by one-size-fits-all. But if they get a brochure with a cover or heading that says “Selected Products for the Smith Family”, they’ll look at it. And QR codes give you a great way to track effectiveness. When you think about it, this is essentially a variation on giving sales people the opportunity to create a custom catalog for every customer. We write more about that here:

  8. Tom Napier November 1, 2013 Reply

    Great advise Amando! We supply this type of automation for making eCommerce and standard distribution/fulfillment centers more efficient, without adding the cost of extra labor. Those customers we have who automatically insert catalogs all seem to be growing each year at a greater rate than their industry. Two of our customers have gone even further and include (via database intelligence) to print a second page with directed/targeted marketing to their automated packing slip systems we supplied them. One of our customers claimed an immediate 5% sales increase and tracked this as you stated with the coupon code. Extra “stuff” is always nice as a gift, which is how most eComm customers think of their order, arriving in a day or two all wrapped nicely for them to open and appreciate their purchase. However, at the F/DC, this is an extra touch often calculated at 5 to 7.5 cents, so these extras can add up. Those samples, extras, etc. can be automatically inducted into the order as well. Below, Tim mentioned the use of QR codes, which can be automatically printed on demand within the direct/target marketing coupon (extra) page. Don’t forget, everyone reads their packing slip to make sure they were sent everything correctly, so marketing is over half the way to getting that next repeat order.

  9. Sari November 2, 2013 Reply

    Very good practical advice. Well written article. Thanks

    • Roger November 6, 2013 Reply

      Simple, easy to understand and very useful article.
      Thank you very much.