The Ultimate Guide to Subscription Box Packaging

Subscription Box Packaging 101


Congratulations! If you’re reading this guide, chances are you’re preparing to launch a subscription box business. Whether you’ve already built your brand, or have an idea in mind, now is a great time to dive into the subscription box industry.

Since introduced nearly a decade ago, the subscription box model has changed the way we shop and engage with brands. From razors to vitamins, subscription boxes are available for nearly every niche category you can imagine. Like the feeling of receiving a gift, subscribers love the experience of opening their latest box delivery and the surprise when they discover what the subscription has brought them.

However, it’s not just about the product on the inside. Your packaging is likely the only physical touchpoint your subscribers will have with your brand. Thus creating a share-worthy packaging experience is key to the success of your subscription box business.


Why E-Commerce?

The Unboxing Experience

Over the past several years, unboxing videos have become a phenomenon sweeping the internet. The concept is simple: people opening up subscription boxes while sharing their commentary on the packaging and items inside. Authentic unboxing videos and reviews can help drive sales through word-of-mouth marketing and increase brand loyalty among subscribers.

Target Beauty Unboxing


To succeed in today’s competitive subscription landscape, it’s not just about offering a great product. You must deliver a packaging experience worth sharing. Successful subscription box brands engage with target audiences and interact with influencers by way of unboxing.


Industry Outlook

The rise of the Internet has not only changed the way we connect and interact with one another, but it has also revolutionized our shopping habits. An estimated 96 percent of Americans shop online for the ease and convenience of not having to leave their house. With the explosive growth of e-commerce, the demand for high-quality, branded packaging has followed suit. For e-commerce brands, packaging is now the physical link between you and the consumer.

Your packaging not only holds the product inside, but it is also the first thing your customer sees when they receive their order. Packaging that fails to impress or doesn't adequately represent your brand can result in a poor perception of your business, even if they enjoy the product.


Designing and Purchasing Subscription Box Packaging

Choosing a Box Style 

Choosing the right box style is the first step in designing fantastic packaging. The box serves two purposes: it must protect your product during shipping, and it serves as the physical representation of your brand. Subscription box brands often use corrugated mailer boxes. Mailer boxes come in a handful of popular styles, including but not limited to:

Roll-End Front Tuck (REFT): As one of the most common subscription box styles, the rounded flaps are engineered to tuck smoothly into the front of the box for secure closure and easy opening. This box style is popular as it offers both security and presentation value.


Roll-End Front Tuck with Dust Flaps (REFT with DF): Also referred to as an Ear-Lock Mailer, this box style is the #1 choice for subscription box packaging. It delivers all of the convenience and presentation of the basic REFT box but with the added benefit of dust flaps. Dust flaps are additional side flaps that tuck into the top of the box along the sides to prevent dust and dirt particles from entering the box during the distribution and shipping process.REFT with DF

Econo Roll-End Front Tuck (Econo REFT): For some box sizes, the Econo REFT box style offers the most effective use of material space (up to 30% less waste than a traditional REFT). If your desired depth and width dimensions are identical or close to it, this is a great box style to use.

Econo Roll End

Roll-End Tuck Top (RETT): With this box style, the front flap tucks into the top of the box with slightly rounded corners to make opening and closing easy. Without any locking feature for security, this box style requires a seal to prevent the box for opening, such as tape or a label.


Choosing the Right Material

The packaging material you choose largely influences the look and feel of your final subscription box packaging. The most common subscription box packaging material is corrugated board (commonly known as cardboard). Since each material offers a unique visual effect, it’s important to explore the differences to choose the right option for your brand.

Kraft: The natural appearance of brown Kraft gives a soft and earthy look to your subscription box packaging. Keep in mind that colors printed on Kraft may appear different than colors printed on regular white or premium white board.

Standard White: Standard White is the everyday white corrugated material used for subscription box packaging. This material has a slight variation in the whiteness if you look closely.

Premium White: Premium White is a great option to elevate the look and feel of your packaging through enhanced print quality and color. This material option is preferred when much of the white of the box is exposed (not covered by graphics).

Please note: The materials discussed are those offered by Fantastapack and may differ from those of your chosen packaging provider.


Choosing Your Print Method

There are two categories of print methods used for subscription box packaging: analog print and digital print. Analog print methods, which include flexography and litho-lamination, use print plates to transfer the ink onto the material’s surface. Analog requires a different print plate for each color. Flexo printed boxes are often 1-3 colors, but litho-lam typically includes 4-6. Both methods are designed to produce many, many boxes that are all the same.

Due to the necessary manufacturing materials and machinery setup time, analog print methods typically require a high minimum volume order. This high volume requirement can be a financial burden on a budding brand.

In contrast, digital print works similar to a large-scale desktop printer. No print plates are required to transfer the image. Ink is applied directly onto the substrate. Digital has many advantages, including full CMYK color printing, short turnaround times, variable artwork capabilities, and low minimum order volumes. Digital gives brands the flexibility to order what they want, when they want, and how they want.

Choosing between analog print methods and digital print depends on your subscription box needs. Analog is best suited for high-volume jobs of identical boxes. However, many new or up-and-coming subscription box brands find value in the speed and flexibility of digital, especially in the early stages of business.


Designing Your Subscription Box Packaging

Having a well-designed subscription box is worth the investment. Not only can it help attract new subscribers, but it can also increase retention, reduce churn, and encourage social sharing. Thus it’s beneficial to work with a graphic designer or design agency with experience in packaging.  

However, keep in mind that the packaging concept that a designer develops for you depends on your packaging budget. Your budget often dictates the packaging material and the type of print method that a designer must work within.

Design-centered websites like Designspration and Packaging of the World can help you gather packaging inspiration for your brand. Posting job listings and searching on creative boards, such as Upwork or Dribbble, is a convenient way to find a freelance designer with experience creating graphics for packaging. Crowdsourcing sites like 99Designs and Crowdspring are an increasingly popular and cost-effective option to gain access to a wide range of design professionals.

No matter which route you choose, investing time and effort into your subscription box packaging design will pay off in the long run.


Ordering Your Subscription Box Packaging

After you've chosen your box style, packaging material, print method, and packaging design, the next step is to place the order. Be aware: there’s more to ordering packaging than meets the eye! With a host of factors to consider, here are three steps to help you get started:

Step 1: Determine Your Packaging Budget

Before placing an order, the first step is to plan out your packaging budget. Your budget plays a crucial role in determining the quantity of your order.

Step 2: Consider Your Timeline

The next step is to determine when you need your boxes in-hand for packing and shipping (this process is called fulfillment). Your timeline will help you choose a vendor who can meet your expectations.

Step 3: Select a Custom Packaging Vendor

Be sure to carefully research and evaluate your packaging vendor options. From customer support to sustainable business practices, it’s essential to be aware of the value-added services that they can provide before making a selection.


Managing Subscription Box Inventory

Packaging inventory management is a challenging yet common problem for up-and-coming subscription box brands. It can be beneficial to use sales forecasting to help determine appropriate packaging order volumes. For new subscription box companies with either minimal or no sales data, you can gauge interest level using social media, crowdfunding platforms, and surveys.

It can be tempting to order an excess of packaging to receive a lower price point per box. However, this strategy can end up being pricey in the long-run due to the cost and space of warehousing or storage. Ordering what you need, when you need it (also known as just-in-time inventory) can be a more effective strategy.

For subscription box brands, digital print supports just-in-time inventory. Since custom print plates are not required, you can order exact quantities without additional setup or tooling costs. The reduced lead time allows for a more frequent order replenishment cycle than traditional print methods can accommodate.


Additional Subscription Box Packaging Considerations

Subscription box packaging is not just about the box. Don't forget to consider the packaging extras, as they can enhance product protection and brand presentation.

Fantastapack Label Family

Void Fill: Void fill solutions such as crinkle paper, tissue paper, and bubble wrap fill up the unused space inside the box to protect the product inside during transit.

Tape: Tape not only keep boxes sealed tight for shipping, but it also protects against package tampering. There’s a wide range of tapes and adhesives to choose from, such as polypropylene tape, filament tape, and more.

Labels: Incorporating labels to your subscription box packaging can help add an extra layer of security while enhancing the appearance of the box.

Inserts: Corrugated inserts are designed to fit inside your box to protect your product or hold it in place during transit. They can be also be used to compartmentalize the inside of your box for an enhanced unboxing experience.


Deploying Your Subscription Box

Subscription Box Shipping: Choosing a Carrier

For subscription box businesses located in the United States, the three top nationwide carriers are FedEx, UPS, and USPS. Each carrier has unique features and benefits, so it’s essential to evaluate the unique offerings before making a selection.

Here are five key factors to consider when choosing a shipping carrier:

Packaging Weight: A heavier package requires more resources to transport both in terms of labor and fuel. As a result, weight is a critical factor in shipping costs. The shipping cost per package is often based on dimensional weight — or the length, width, and height dimensions of the box, as well as an estimated weight.

Destination: A greater shipping distance typically results in a higher cost. There is an exception though — lighter items that are small in size. These items are eligible for a flat rate affected only by weight when shipped via the postal service. The USPS classifies these items as Flat Rate Priority Mail.

Shipping Speed: Fast shipping is a priority for many online shoppers. You may decide to include local carriers that offer same-day shipping at a slightly higher rate to provide premium shipping options.

Tracking & Insurance: Order tracking provides peace of mind and reduces the amount of customer service exchange. Depending on the value of your subscription box, it may be worth paying extra for insurance. If your product is valuable — such as jewelry or electronics — shipping insurance may be worth having.

Packaging: Packaging can have a significant impact on shipping costs. Using boxes that are too large can mean that you end up paying for unnecessary packaging and weight. Conversely, using boxes that are too small can lead to product damage and returns from customers. Ensuring your subscription box is appropriately sized is the best way to minimize shipping costs and prevent damage.


Subscription Box Shipping: Tips to Save on Shipping Costs
Once you’ve chosen your shipping carrier, here are three tips to keep your shipping costs low and your subscribers happy:

Tip #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

Don’t be afraid to negotiate and meet with multiple shipping carriers to see which offers you the lowest rates. Understanding your shipping patterns, packaging size and dimension, delivery distance, and delivery speed gives you more leverage to negotiate.

Tip #2: Keep Fulfillment In-House (to Start With!)

Fulfillment is the process of prepping, packing, and shipping your subscription boxes. When starting a subscription box business, it can be more cost-effective to keep fulfillment in-house until you’ve reached a tipping point in monthly order volume. Exactly what that tipping point is will depend on your specific situation. This strategy also allows you to keep a close watch on operations as you continue to build a loyal subscriber base.

Tip #3: Optimize Your Subscription Box Packaging

While using plain, one-size-fits-all shipping boxes may seem like the cost-effective option, custom packaging can help you save money on shipping costs over time. Custom packaging ensures that you are sending out the right-sized boxes that fit your specifications, rather than paying to ship unnecessary packaging weight or space.



Subscription Box DownloadGrowing Your Subscriber Base

Packaging’s Role in Advertising

In today’s digital age, traditional brick and mortar stores are no longer a required part of the buyer’s journey. The majority of consumers prefer the ease and convenience of shopping online, compared to shopping in-store. Since eCommerce now dominates, packaging has become a significant part of the conversation.

Many consumers rely on photo-heavy social sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to help make their purchasing decisions or to share their product review. As such, packaging is becoming as “Instagrammable” or “Pin-worthy” as the product it holds. eCommerce brands have clued into this trend and are capturing the attention of online audiences by including covetable packaging in their online advertising, right alongside their products.

TheReviewGirls Screenshot

By including great design, clever use of copy, and engaging graphics, eCommerce brands are taking packaging to the next level and delivering an experience that drives value.


Influencer Marketing

Influencers build their sphere of influence by creating online social media content. For subscription box businesses, there is an incredible opportunity to increase brand recognition by tapping into an influencer network. Here are three steps to help you develop an influencer marketing campaign:

Step #1: Set Measurable Goals

The first step is to define measurable KPIs (key performance indicators, such as desired reach, engagement rate, etc. Setting quantifiable goals can help you keep track of performance and determine return-on-investment.

Step #2: Find Your Tribe

Do your research and identify a list of influencers to contact. During this process, be sure to consider your tribe — the target audience who may identify with your brand. Your chosen influencer(s) must be able to reach your tribe through their content effectively.

Step #3: Incentivize Your Subscription Box

For paid promotion, the incentive is typically monetary. Brands and influencers agree upon some form of payment, along with the content platform(s). Other factors can often be negotiated, such as post frequency and posting times.

With an unpaid influencer marketing campaign, brands must communicate the benefits of a mutual partnership. It can be helpful to personalize the subscription box experience for the influencer to encourage brand engagement. Also, consider providing them with a unique discount code to offer their follower base as an added incentive.


Raising Awareness

The process of finding new subscription box customers can be daunting. With so many brands out in the market, it can be hard to get the word out, even with a great product and packaging experience. Fortunately, many popular platforms already exist for you to advertise and sell your subscription box on. Listing your box on directories can help amplify your online presence and capture new audiences that you wouldn't otherwise reach. These directories include:

-My Subscription Addiction

  • For a detailed list of subscription box directories, click here.


Retaining Subscription Box Subscribers

Retention and churn are two key performance indicators (KPIs) that every subscription box business owner must understand. Retention is the percentage of subscribers who remain loyal in a given time, while churn is the percentage of subscribers who cancel their service.

Understanding how to increase retention and reduce churn can help you achieve long-term success in the subscription box industry. You have the attention of your subscriber base, here’s how to help keep them subscribed:

Establish a Loyalty Program: Offering a loyalty program or point system to incentivize subscribers and reward them with exclusive benefits with every purchase. Benefits may include free merchandise, discounts, priority customer support, or early access to new offerings.

Personalize the Subscription Box Experience: Many subscription box brands allow subscribers to choose the items in their box to reduce churn rates and increase customer satisfaction.

Make the Cancellation Process Easy: If a subscriber wants to cancel their subscription, make sure the process is simple and accessible. Having an easy cancellation process can enhance the reputation of your business and encourages subscribers to re-join in the future, so long as they had a positive experience.

Collecting Feedback

How can you tell if you’re delighting your audience and hitting the mark when it comes to delivering on your product’s promise? One of the best ways to make sure you are as attuned as possible is to reach out to your subscribers for feedback. Here are six methods to reaching out your subscribers:

-Host a Reddit “Ask Me Anything”
-Go live on Facebook or Instagram
-Newsletter emails
-Social media polling
-Addressed postcards
-Short exit surveys
-Live meetups

After gathering feedback, consider your subscribers' insights as you refine your brand, your offerings, and your packaging. While there are elements that are core to your subscription box, many of the customer-facing aspects of your business should be open to improvement.

By taking action based on feedback, you can deliver the subscription box service that your audience desires, while ultimately earning new and repeating business.


Scaling Your Subscription Box Business

Effectively scaling your subscription box business can be a challenge in such a competitive landscape. There are four principles that contribute to growth. Understanding these four principles can help you take your business to the next level.

Save Time: Consider automating repetitive or time-consuming tasks to save on time. For example: installing an online chatbot program can guide subscribers to help themselves and minimize customer support inquiries.

Save Money: One of the main aspects of eCommerce that holds back subscription box brands from effectively scaling is fulfillment. The self-fulfillment process of prepping, packing, and shipping can be both time-consuming and costly. Once you’ve reached a specific sales threshold, having a third-party fulfillment partner can allow you to devote more time and effort to improving profitability.

Sell More: Subscription box brands must maximize their average customer lifetime value and increase the return for each acquisition. One way that a subscription box brand can maximize the value of their current subscriber base is to upsell.

Upselling involves encouraging a customer to purchase a more expensive product, service, or package. For subscription box brands, this can mean promoting a higher-tiered subscription level with more features, flexibility, and incentives to benefit the customer experience.

Spark Joy: Fantastic packaging can spark joy and increases the likelihood that subscribers will share it with their friends, family, and online audience. Instead of delivering an unbranded and forgettable box, opt for a unique packaging experience that leverages vivid graphics, color, and creative messaging.


Staying Competitive in the Subscription Box Industry

With so many brands vying for market share, emerging brands face the difficult challenge of standing out in a competitive space. Increased competition may be beneficial for the consumer but presents a challenge for new or aspiring subscription box business owners. Here are three tips to staying competitive in the subscription box industry:

Tip #1: Build Your Tribe

Your tribe consists of your brand’s biggest fans – loyal subscribers who are likely to post, share, and refer others to your services. When building a tribe, be sure to regularly engage and interact with loyal subscribers via communication channels like social media and email. It can be helpful to connect with individual subscribers to garner feedback, ask questions, and encourage social sharing.

Tip #2: Offer Exclusive Value-Adds for Subscribers

To distinguish your brand from others in the market, incorporate exclusive value-adds for subscribers that further incentivize membership. These value-adds can include:

-Subscriber-only giveaways or contests
-Gifts or samples
-Access to a private Facebook group or community board
-Access to subscriber-only content, webinars, etc.
-A reward system for referrals, reviews, or other actions

Tip #3: Prioritize the Unboxing Experience

If you want to stay competitive in the subscription box industry, your packaging must deliver a memorable unboxing experience that keeps them coming back for more. Your packaging is the only physical way subscribers can interact with your brand. Thus it's vital to leverage creative graphics and design to create a shareworthy experience.


Subscription Box Inspiration 

Short on inspiration? We’ve compiled a subscription box gallery to help you get inspired. Take a look at these fantastic designs from Fantastapack customers before you create your own custom box or mailer.