What will the unboxing experience look like this Christmas?

Brands are coming up with festive packaging plans to make sure we can spread joy safely over the holidays.

Otherland candles unboxed


Like everything in our pandemic-hit world, Christmas is going to look a little different this year.

Countries are going in and out of lockdown, and it’s not clear how – or even if – we’ll be able to gather like we normally do.

We can make a few assumptions about what a digital December holiday might look like. During the busiest shopping period of the year, online shopping will continue to play a major role. We already know that shoppers are planning ahead when it comes to buying presents, opting to spread costs by buying now, rather than later (according to a survey by UK department store John Lewis, 60% of shoppers plan to have purchased gifts by the end of November). To limit face-to-face interactions, many presents are likely to be shipped directly to the recipient’s door, limiting gift-wrapping options. And on the big day itself, we may find our social feeds flooded with unboxing videos, as the experience of opening a gift in front of a friend or family member (and putting on your best happy-and-surprised face) goes digital, too.

This year it won’t just be what’s inside the box that counts – but how the brand packages it up for you.

What are brands planning for Christmas?

Brands are now starting to reveal what their Christmas packaging and gift sets are going to look like this year.

Haus, an aperitif brand that has become known for its elevated unboxing experience, has plans to release limited-edition packaging this holiday, and also give the option for customers to include personalised hand-written gift notes. “This is not going to be your typical holiday season,” founder Helena Price Hambrecht says. “As a brand that was built around gathering, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we can make the experience of distancing gifting, receiving or sharing Haus as great as possible.”

Last week in the UK, gourmet snack brand the Marshmallowist revealed its new gift sets, where each box features its own unique, one-of-a-kind cardboard sleeve. Like Haus, it will also be giving customers the option of adding a hand-written Christmas card to their order.

Haus is known for its elevated unboxing experience.

For brands that have only just launched and are still building brand awareness, the question isn’t just about how to play the gifting game – it’s also about how to get customers to stick around beyond December. Perfume brand Snif, which launched in October, is planning to take advantage of the fact that perfume is a natural gifting category. “When people are buying products in December, it’s typically to gift to somebody else,” co-founder Brian Edwards says. “We have a trial attached to our product, [so the question was] how can we make it easy for our customers to either gift our product, or share the fragrances we have.”

The solution was to create pre-packed sample kits that contain each of Snif’s individual fragrances. The box is roughly the size of a cigarette packet, has been designed using a festive colour palette, and will be sent out with every order in December, so customers can choose who they gift the stocking stuffer to. “It’s a way for them to share the fragrances, and for us to get our brand out there,” Brian adds.

Canopy, which sells a humidifier that boasts skin-cleansing properties, has decided to leverage its subscription offering for the holidays. The humidifier features an aroma diffuser, and Canopy is planning to release a limited-edition range of festive scents, themed around nostalgic travel destinations. “With the aroma kit, that’s going to be the surprise and delight [of our subscription service],” founder Justin Seidenfeld says. “Over time, every quarter we’re going to be introducing a new limited-edition collaboration on these aroma kits.”

The unboxing opportunity

It’s going to be hard to predict how many units will fly off the digital shelves this Christmas, and while the Marshmallowist says it has created “thousands” of one-off packaging designs in collaboration with PR and design firm The Wern, others are more cautious in their outlook. Months of uncertainty – and no clear idea of when “normal” might return – makes seasonal packaging a difficult cost for businesses to justify. Many brands will have made these decisions around July or August, Stephan Ango, co-founder of packaging marketplace Lumi points out, as Covid-19 was continuing to tear its way through America.

“This year, a lot of brands are being very conservative about their packaging decisions because there’s a lot of uncertainty about what their holiday sales will look like,” he says. “[But] I would say it’s an underestimated opportunity. Emotionally, it’s really powerful if you have this thought out experience that has something interesting for the consumer to unwrap.”

While unboxing may take on a new dimension this year, for brands that sell products online, this experience has always been an important way to create connections with consumers. Without their own brick-and-mortar destinations, packaging can serve as a brand’s de-facto storefront, helping to get customers excited before they even have the product unpacked and in their hand.

“It is one of the more intimate experiences consumers will have with a brand,” Jenna Navitsky, executive creative director at startup branding agency Red Antler explains. “You’re probably spending more time unboxing and taking out what you received and inspecting it than you do shopping for it. You have a captive audience … [and] there’s an opportunity to be much more intentional and thoughtful.” She cites Glossier’s iconic pink pouch as an example of a detail that makes the experience of receiving the beauty brand’s products memorable. “It’s something that’s durable, that you can keep using, and it extends the lifecycle of your experience with that brand.”

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