Starting a retail store? Here’s your packaging guide

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After much preparation, you are about to launch your retail store. You have enticingly prepared your shop and you’re eager to welcome new customers. You have all the goods you need in your stockroom or warehouse, and you may have selected a 3PL for storage and shipping.

But, have you considered your packaging? This essential element could make or break your business. The exact packaging that you need will depend on what you are selling, but there are some basic principles that every retailer should adhere to.

Primary packaging

Primary packaging is what your goods are immediately encased in, so protection is the name of the game here. Importantly, it should also be relevant for the product. For example, if you are retailing shoes, a box made of single wall cardboard will contain the shoes and protect them from becoming squashed or scuffed in transit.

However, for clothing accessories, such as bangles and hair clips, boxes may not be appropriate. Cardboard backing with a plastic tie would keep such accessories in place, and enable them to be hung on display racks. Small, clear polythene bags would prevent tarnishing, and enable customers to view the products clearly.

Goods such as electronic items may need to be packaged in boxes, but for further protection, and to keep the items in place while in the box, polystyrene foam (cut to the appropriate shape) is often required. Obviously, this doesn’t allow customers to view items, so display models should be placed near the boxed products.

Consumers notice poor packaging, to the point where it may affect their decision to buy, so keep it simple, economical, and optimal.

Secondary packaging

Secondary packaging enables customers to carry the goods they have purchased, or logistics companies to ship them. It also allows several items to be grouped together for dispatch. Crucially, secondary packaging also protects both the goods and their primary packaging.

In retail stores, purchased goods are usually handed to customers in carrier bags; plastic or paper. These should be sturdy enough to hold several items, and have handles so that customers can easily carry them.

If you are an online clothes retailer, or offer an online delivery option, and you receive an order of a dress, a skirt, and a blouse from one customer, you can place these items — each in their primary packaging — together in one large polythene envelope, and send everything through the post as one package. With the rise of ecommerce clothing stores such as Asos, this method of clothing procurement is becoming more and more popular. So versatility in packaging is all the more important as consumers look for satisfaction from the whole buying experience.

Plastic and paper bags are the two most widely used secondary packaging item. Plastic bags are sturdy, waterproof, and can be reused many times before they develop holes. However, in many areas, they are not collected as part of household waste recycling, so people have to take them to recycling points at supermarkets. In fact, such is their environmental impact, large stores are legally bound to charge customers 5p per plastic carrier bag now.

The 5p charge, however, doesn’t apply to paper bags, and they can be easily recycled as part of household collections. Yet, can be still harmful to the environment. They require large amounts of fuel and water to manufacture — more than plastic bags do, in fact.

When you’re considering whether to use paper or plastic bags therefore, the decision you make will, at first, be based on aesthetics and branding rather than sustainability. Recycled paper bags are there to be utilised, but as a new shop we should try and keep expenses to a minimum to begin with.

Don’t forget about protection and security

Although plastic bags and cardboard boxes offer some protection, you may need additional protective packaging for your retail store operation. This will reduce your chance of getting complaints from customers whose goods have become damaged on their journey home, for example.

Bubble wrap is useful for protecting fragile items, so if you’re retailing art prints on canvas, for instance, you will need a large supply of it. Packing peanuts enable several different types of goods to be placed in boxes and not knock together, and foam sheets are ideal for protecting items such as televisions and computer monitors.

As well as protecting your goods from damage, you should consider protecting them from being stolen. Is your primary packaging tamper-proof? Does it enable you to add security tags or labels? What about your secondary packaging? Do you — or your 3PL — have a system in place involving coded labels on the secondary packaging, so that orders can be tracked and identified? Security is big aspect of packaging you need to think about.

What else might you consider for your new venture?

You may have carefully considered the design of your packaging, even going to the lengths of sourcing custom packaging with your branding displayed on it, but have you also considered adding packaging inserts? Order a supply of cards, printed with a simple message of thanks, or an offer of a price reduction on future purchases, and insert them into packages. This will help you to build customer loyalty.

Another way of increasing convenience and reducing costs is to choose retail ready packaging for your goods. This is a form of secondary packaging that can be placed on shelves without being unpacked. For example, pens may be sold in packs of three, in primary packaging that consists of cardboard backing and vacuum-sealed plastic. These are then grouped together in boxes with perforations, which can easily be opened and placed on a shelf. The box may be labelled with brand information, and the packs of pens will be facing the correct way for complete customer convenience.

For more information on getting the right packaging for your retail store, check out Retail and Ecommerce section.

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Sarah Hickson

With more than seven years experience as a member of the Davpack sales team, there are few who know more about the range of packaging materials we sell than Sarah. She recently left the company to become a full-time mother, but still maintains regular contact with her former colleagues. As well as sharing her own accumulated wisdom and experience on the blog, Sarah is looking forward to passing on stories from the front line of packaging sales. Davpack

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