If you go to YouTube and type in ‘unboxing’ your search results will be flooded. There are videos of people opening everything from cosmetics to Kinder Surprise eggs, all accompanied by their commentary. Sub-genres include ‘mass unboxings’ and even ‘retro unboxings’ which are as bizarre as they are fascinating. These include products from as far back as you can imagine, being opened and described as they are.

No matter what you may think of unboxing as a trend, it's clear that the unboxing experience is important. Viewer audiences for these videos can be massive, with some racking up millions and millions of views. The big question is: Why is this a thing? Why do so many people get such pleasure from what used to be a pretty mundane exercise? Most importantly, what does the psychology of this phenomenon mean for businesses of all shapes and sizes?

A brief history of ‘unboxing’.

Although the trend has really taken off in the last few years, the very first unboxing video was made in 2006, with the unboxing of a Nokia cellphone. If that sentence doesn't fill you with nostalgia, we're not sure what will. If you take a look at Google Trends, there is a pretty dramatic upward trajectory of unboxing’ from the year 2006 onward. Unboxing has since expanded to include pretty much every un-packable item under the sun.

Some companies, such as Microsoft, even produce their own unboxing videos, or send products for free to some of the YouTubers in exchange for a video. This is a form of advertising, as they effectively get their product in front of a few million sets of eyes. So, it’s safe to say that unboxing isn’t so much a fad but here to stay. And what's more, it can be an integral part of your marketing and branding strategy. But only if done right.

Why do we love it so much? 

Unfortunately, we can't ask every single person who has ever watched an unboxing video why they watched it. But, it’s safe to say that their popularity is equal parts vicarious and practical. On the one hand we get to watch the unveiling of a product we really want, but may not be in a position to impulse buy. Whether that item is a $1,000 pair of shoes or the latest MacBook, part of the thrill of the purchase is opening the package. The next-best thing? Watching a first-person video of someone opening that package.

On the other hand, watching an unboxing video gives us an honest look at a product that we wouldn't otherwise get unless we purchased it ourselves. We get to see how everything is presented and packaged, in a way that feels authentic. We tend to trust other people’s impressions more than the marketing efforts of the company directly. Watching an unboxing video gives us the opportunity to see behind the scenes, and get an honest take without marketing getting in the way.

So why does this matter for you?

At the end of the day, humans are visual creatures. How something looks is key to determining our first (and most important) impression. Putting it simply, we respond well to attractive, clever packaging. This creates the accurate perception that a company has gone that extra mile to make sure the customer feels valued.

Being on the receiving end of the experience is fun, playful, and sparks our curiosity and excitement. In the age of social media this has intensified further. The almost singular focus on aesthetic on platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram has meant that packaging is all the more important for brand perception.

When an order arrives looking well-presented, the recipient is much more likely to share it with their followers. That kind of social sharing and validation goes further than you might think. As mentioned earlier, people trust the opinions of others more when it comes to companies. Giving them something that they can share is a simple but often overlooked aspect of branding. Especially when it comes to your packaging. After all, without the box there would be no unboxing!

How unboxing can fill the gap in customer experience.

In the words of Jonathan Ives, the chief designer of Apple: “You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theatre, it can create a story.” Apple understands the importance of visual presentation better than anyone. From their website, to their physical stores, to the flawless white boxes that house their products, every element has been carefully designed. This makes the Apple brand cohesive and creates drama around a simple product (which is why Apple unboxing has become a genre in its own right).

Creating a memorable brand experience starts with crafting your narrative. How do you want your customer to receive your product? As seen by the unboxing craze, packaging provides a massive opportunity to increase customer engagement. Use it as a part of your marketing strategy, not an afterthought.

Here are the important questions to ask yourself: What response do you think you are generating with your current approach? Is it tailored for your brand, or is it pretty generic ? Will it excite customers, or will it be quickly discarded or ignored? It's worth thinking about how you can rebrand your packaging to create that sense of discovery and excitement. Unboxing is an opportunity! Use that experience to better reflect your core values, and make your customers feel valued.

This rings especially true in the world of e-commerce. Here, the relationship between the business and the customer is managed almost entirely online. When brick-and-mortar stores are well-branded and customers can interact directly with products, they immediately build a relationship with the brand that can be difficult to replicate in an online setting. This is where packaging becomes vital to building a long-term relationship with the customer.

Successful e-commerce companies know the importance of creating a memorable unboxing experience. With the lack of personal contact between brand and customer, that touchpoint is all the more crucial.

The Wrap up: 

The bottom line? What your products look like matters, at every level. If you have invested a lot of resources into the design/selection of your products, why just stop there? If you really want to add the cherry on the top, consider how you could use your packaging to better reflect your business.

At the same time, make the most of the trend towards well thought-out and memorable unboxing experiences. You are far more likely to retain your customer base and also have them assisting you in spreading the word about your brand if you give them that little extra something to get excited about!