The holiday season is a unique opportunity for small brands to shine, as customer sentiment is malleable, and word-of-mouth referrals are naturally inclined with gift-giving. Over the last few years, a significant shift has been made towards supporting local and small businesses. People are increasingly looking to purchase from smaller ecommerce brands instead of big-box companies during the holidays.

To capitalize on this shift and compete with larger businesses, smaller companies can employ an effective (and often overlooked) strategy of custom, sustainable branded packaging. This is a game-changer for small brands looking to "play big" and make a lasting impression on both the gifter and receiver over the holiday season.

The rise of sustainable, custom packaging

To level the playing field, companies like Arka allow small brands to access a range of eco-friendly packaging materials, custom sizes, product inserts, and even unique, customizable holiday-themed packaging tape. Businesses no longer need to compromise sustainability for cost—they can create a cost-efficient, memorable unboxing experience that is still kind to the planet.

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Four ways to win the holiday season

1. Design holiday-specific product bundles

Creating holiday product bundles offers customers better value and presents an opportunity to design packaging that enhances the gifting experience. Once the products for the bundle have been chosen, the focus can be on packaging dimensions that snugly hold those items in place. 

Custom packaging inserts can add an additional layer of professionalism and surprise, ensuring that every part of the unboxing experience is memorable. Correct dimensions and structural packaging can minimize product damage, lower shipping costs (by having a smaller footprint), and improve the unboxing experience for the gift recipient.

2. Opt for seasonal over holiday-specific designs

The holiday season is not just about Christmas—it includes various celebrations like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, and New Year's. When customizing boxes and logos, aim for designs that are inclusive. Think snowflakes, winter landscapes, or cozy indoor scenes rather than Santa Claus or Christmas trees. This ensures that no customer feels alienated whilst still celebrating the spirit of the season.

3. Gift-wrapped packaging designs

Another unique way for brands to stand out is by offering printed packaging to emulate a gift-wrapped package. It is an aesthetically pleasing and eco-friendly solution that eliminates the need for additional gift wrapping. Including a small "To/From" section directly on the packaging allows for a personal touch without the extra paper waste. Make sure to mention the sustainability benefits to customers—they will appreciate the attention to detail and the effort to reduce waste (and expense) for them this holiday season.

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4. Pay attention to the finishing touches

It’s often the little things that are the most memorable. Consider using custom stickers and designed tissue paper as that final touch that elevates packaging from good to unforgettable. Customers will appreciate the aesthetics and recognize the commitment to delivering an excellent product down to the last detail. These touches also improve the unboxing experience for the gift recipient, who might receive their package directly in the mail.

Benefits of sustainable packaging

Beyond the marketing benefits, sustainable packaging has broader implications for customers, especially when considering a societal shift to conscious consumerism. It contributes to a brand image that is purposeful and responsible. As more consumers make eco-friendly choices, aligning the brand with these values can go a long way in building lasting relationships. 

At its core, sustainable packaging signals to customers a forward-thinking brand. In an age where companies and reviews are often researched before making any purchase, brands that have opted for eco-friendly packaging will have an enhanced image of caring about their environmental footprint. This isn't just good PR; it's a foundational element that can set the tone for a brand's entire ethos.

As sustainability becomes more of a focal point for consumers, it also becomes a differentiating factor among brands. Sustainable packaging offers an edge over competitors who have yet to adopt these practices. This is especially crucial for small brands that must carve out a unique space in a crowded marketplace.

Increasingly, consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that align with their values. According to a 2022 study by IBM with NRF, nearly two-thirds of consumers are willing to change their shopping habits and spend more to reduce environmental impact. By switching to sustainable packaging, it's not just making an eco-friendly choice; it's making a business-savvy one that resonates with a large segment of the market.

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Sustainable materials are often more efficient to transport and store, resulting in cost savings in the long run. Lighter, smaller packaging materials mean lower shipping costs and less storage space required. Plus, tax benefits or grants (such as the Grant For Growth from VISA and Uber Eats) may be available for businesses that make eco-friendly choices.

Commitment to sustainable practices can also open doors to partnerships with other like-minded businesses or organizations, further amplifying brand reach and impact. Building partnerships can be an excellent way to engage with your community, whether through co-hosted events, shared marketing campaigns, or collaborative products.

It's a misconception that sustainable choices are always more expensive. With scalable solutions tailored to fit various needs and budgets, going green is becoming an increasingly viable option for small ecommerce brands. Therefore, sustainable packaging is not just about the environment; it's a holistic approach that benefits brands, resonates with customers, and even has financial merits. Far from being a mere 'tick-box' exercise, it's a strategic move that positions companies as leaders rather than followers in today's evolving marketplace.

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Let your packaging speak for your brand and the values it stands for. Your customers—and the planet—will thank you for it.

Time to make the shift

The holiday season is not merely a peak sales period; it's an excellent time to make lasting impressions, establish long-term relationships, and deepen relationships with existing ones.

When a customer receives your package, it's often their first tangible interaction with your brand. The packaging chosen isn't just a vessel for the product; it's an experience waiting to be had. From the moment they pick up the package, a narrative begins to unfold—one that reflects the brand's care, quality, and ethos.

So, as the upcoming holiday season looms nearer, make this a chance to be the turning point. Where packaging isn’t just there, inconspicuous, but resonates for the brand and its values. Customers— and indeed, the planet— will have much to thank you for. It's more than a shift in packaging; it's a shift in mindset and a step toward a more sustainable and successful future.

Phillip Akhzar is the founder and CEO of Arka with over a decade of experience in packaging. Arka provides custom and unbranded eco-friendly packaging at competitive prices.