No one outgrows the excitement of opening a present. Even when the package being received contains something practical the recipient ordered online, opening the box still makes it seem like a present, no matter how mundane the contents.

Part of the excitement is the anticipation that goes along with the big reveal – the package itself should be inviting. The medium is the message, the adage goes and therefore the packaging is part of the present.

Many retailers still don’t get it. They treat the packaging materials as an afterthought and not as a crucial part of the experience. That’s a mistake. Companies can endear themselves to customers with a good unboxing experience. And, they can alienate them with a bad one.

If consumer brand execs aren’t thinking about the unboxing experience, they should know that their competitors are. As e-commerce grows and more companies compete in the omnichannel space, brands must strive to make a connection somewhere. It’s certainly not at the in-person point of purchase anymore. The ordering experience, of course, needs to be easy and efficient, but what happens after the orders are placed counts, too.

On-time delivery and undamaged orders are the least consumers can expect from online shopping these days. Beyond that, the goods should arrive in a right-sized container (a paper mailer or poly envelope may be better than a box depending on the items being shipped) with minimal waste and maximum impact.

Once the product arrives at the online shopper’s home, one of the only ways to make that impact is through the packaging materials.

Moving From Store to Door

In the early days of e-commerce, consumers might have ordered an item or two online every month or so. Today, some people place five or more online orders every week or even every day. That’s a lot of packages arriving to a lot of homes. Smart companies know they’ve got to differentiate themselves — not so much at the point of purchase anymore — but at the front door.

With fewer shoppers inside bricks-and-mortar locations, it’s imperative for retailers to replicate inside the customer’s home the experience pictured on the web, social media platform, or in the catalogue. Delivery packaging can make that happen. An e-commerce experience doesn’t have to end at the customer’s door but can easily extend through the door with packaging materials that provide similar stimuli to what shoppers encounter inside the store.

It’s what we at Sealed Air call the last moment of truth.

It’s an online retailer’s last, best chance to show a customer her business is valued. Our research shows that 66 percent of consumers believe the packaging of their shipment shows them how much the retailer cares. And the higher-end the brand, the more the customer expects from an unboxing experience.

So, let’s say your customer got what she ordered from your web site. It arrived on time and in perfect condition. It was in a box that was just the right size for the item ordered. The box was easy to open, and there was minimal waste for that customer to deal with. You’ve done well. But did you enough to ensure that customer remains loyal to your brand?

To pose the question another way: What separates a good unboxing experience from a stellar one?

Making E-commerce Personal

Think about the difference between getting a present haphazardly tossed into a wrinkled gift bag and one thoughtfully wrapped and festooned with ribbons and bows. Which would you open first?

The customer experience begins the second your customer interacts with that package. Once the package is open — but before its contents have been removed — is there a sense of delight for the customer? Does the package itself engage the senses?

Thoughtful packaging actually elevates your brand.

It can be something as simple as colorful cushioning materials that spell “congratulations” or “happy birthday,” or a subtle scent emitted upon opening the box that connects the customer to a brand’s lifestyle message.

Protective packaging materials are essential when shipping goods. But something functional doesn’t have to be strictly utilitarian. In fact, if you’re trying to provide similar stimuli to what shoppers encounter inside the store, then you must think about your packaging material as carefully as you would a bricks-and-mortar window display.

Every product you sell is connected to your brand promise. Why wouldn’t consumers associate your package with your brand? In the world of e-commerce, the package is a vital touch point.

Is your box a worthy brand ambassador?

Beware Social Sharing

The value of a good unboxing experience is invaluable. The best ones are being shared on social media. But so are the worst ones. In fact, the bad ones are even more likely to get shared.

There are blogs, Tumblr pages and Reddit posts dedicated to showcasing packaging that was too big, too small, too weak, too hard to open or just simply inadequate. Just search the hashtag #packagingfails to see how many companies get it wrong — and have been called out for it.

One Twitter user snapped a photo of excessive paper (one fail) in a too-big box (second fail) designed to protect a small umbrella — an item sturdy enough not to require excess packaging material. “I wanted an umbrella,” the Twitter user wrote, “not deforestation. #packagingfail”

It’s much better to endear your brand to customers through a stellar unboxing experience that makes the customer feel she’s gotten a special present even if it’s nothing more than a sweatshirt she ordered for herself.

A savvy retail executive — a believer in the importance of packaging — recently shared with me the mantra she gives her team: “We’re not just what’s inside that box. We are that box.”

Since the package is an extension of her brand, she cares as much about it as she does the product inside. She knows — as do we at Sealed Air — it’s not necessarily true that the best things come in small packages. The best things come in right-sized, protective, personalized packages.

Ken Chrisman is president of the product care division at Sealed Air.

More from WWD:

What Net Neutrality Means for E-commerce

Drop-Ship E-commerce Models Threaten Marketplace Alternatives

Invigorating Personalization Features Will Boost Consumer Loyalty