The holiday season is nearly upon us! And while it’s common in the ecommerce world to think of the holidays from the sales angle, the savviest merchants also consider the holidays a marketing tool. Think about it: for a whole month, hungry shoppers will be discovering your site for the first time or even introducing your brand to friends and loved ones via gift-giving.

Reaching that new pool of shoppers is a crucial goal, but it’s not the only one; retaining those customers is your endgame. Here are six ways to create an unboxing experience that will keep ’em coming back for more:

1. Use Packaging Materials That Reflect Your Brand Values 

While this tip won’t be applicable for every ecommerce business, it’s something to keep in mind if you: a) actively espouse environmentally conscious brand values, or b) target an audience known for being conscious consumers. If sustainable values tie in with your brand, make sustainable packaging and shipping choices. Ditch the plastic and opt for paperboard; use biodegradable packing peanuts (fun fact: some of the most popular ones are made from cornstarch!); and on an ongoing basis, re-evaluate how much packaging you actually need. 

Now, the catch is that eco-friendly packaging (infuriatingly) isn’t the cheapest option, and that can put budget-conscious businesses in a tough place. So the first step is to think about what you can reduce, not what you can replace. Bath and body shop Lush, for example, famously sells their products “naked,” or sans packaging. That’s convenient for Lush for a couple of reasons: 1) It aligns with their vocal support of the environment, and 2) They don’t have to pay premium for eco-friendly packaging. It may not be realistic for every business to go “naked,” but you can often spot little ways to reduce your packaging. Not every product in a set needs to be individually wrapped, for example. 

2. Let Your Customers Get Creative 

This admittedly makeshift cat house (I’m a marketer, not a carpenter, okay?) wasn’t supposed to be more than a fun diversion I’d recycle the next day: 

…But my cat loves it, so now it’s a permanent fixture in his kitty corner. A new cat tree came in that box. On the side of the box, the brand actually suggested doing this very thing and making a cat house. They even offered illustrations and instructions that I promptly ignored. It was a clever way to engage me in some fun, and now I’m stuck looking at their branded box all the time. 

Cardboard boxes and other packaging can be put to many different uses — just think creatively! If you sell kids’ products, finding a clever use for the box will be a no-brainer (games, puzzles, paper airplane instructions, etc). If you sell makeup, tell your customers how to convert your packaging into storage containers or brush holders. Other verticals that can think “storage” include apparel, office supplies, and food. Have some fun! Your customers aren’t always worried about creating a masterpiece. Sometimes it’s more about the convenience, or even just having a way to procrastinate for a few minutes (lookin’ at you, cat house). 

3. Include Promotional Materials and Offers

Adding coupons, discounts on related products, and other promotional materials to every shipment is way more targeted — and less annoying — than sending junk mail out into the wild. You can assume the materials will be reasonably well-received, and they give your customer a tangible incentive to come back to your shop. Don’t forget to encourage reviews and email subscriptions too! 

I have a brand called Cocofloss to thank for the strangest, yet most memorable, experience I’ve had with shipping inserts. They included a printed hard copy of their latest newsletter with my purchase! They didn’t have to spend much money on it — they’d used an ordinary Inkjet printer on ordinary paper, so the newsletter looked a bit like a kids’ menu at a restaurant — but I found it oddly endearing. It also gave me a good taste of Cocofloss’s brand voice and clued me in on what to expect if I signed up for their newsletter. 

4. If You Use Amazon, Know Your Loopholes

If you sell your products through Amazon, you already know that including any materials pointing your customers back to your website or another off-platform location is a no-go. That doesn’t mean there aren’t loopholes. The biggest one is the box itself: you can usually use your own branded boxes and include useful information on the box. While that doesn’t mean you can add your website address, you can generally get away with including your customer support number.

If you sell technical products or other items that have complicated setup instructions, you can also film videos of the setup process and encourage people to go online and view them. Opportunities like this get customers out of the Amazon bubble where you have more freedom to promote your website and brand. 

Don’t flagrantly violate the rules, of course, especially if you rely on Amazon for a good portion of your revenue. Just think laterally about what might be genuinely helpful for your customers. 

5. Include Freebies and Samples 

If you sell food, skincare, makeup, or other products that are sample-friendly, do not underestimate the power of the sample! Not only do samples introduce the customer to another product they might fall in love with, but a lot of people actually consider samples an extra incentive to shop with the brand. There are people who actively shop with the makeup company Sephora, for example, because they know they get to add two free samples to their cart every time they shop. 

6. Make Setup Instructions as Useful as Possible 

We touched on filming step-by-step setup videos and other tutorials in the Amazon section, but it’s not just a loophole. When you give your customers plenty of ways to understand the information you’re sharing with them, you create a better user experience across the board. The more technical the product/difficult the setup, the more true this is. IKEA’s famous disembodied hand instructions might work for their furniture, but instructions like that are difficult to follow for all but the simplest projects. 

“Put books under your furniture.”

The most user-friendly thing you can do is offer a variety of learning formats: text, illustrations, actual photographs, and prominent information about where to go to watch videos (and who to call for hands-on support).  

While it’s obviously preferable to have someone deeply familiar with your products write instructions, beware the “curse of knowledge.” This is the curse experts in every field face (and storytellers too) when it’s time to communicate information to a layman. It’s easy to forget that what’s intuitive and unspoken for you isn’t that way for everyone else. The curse of knowledge can create skipped steps, missed critical details, and seeming leaps in logic. 

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to combat the curse of knowledge: find a friend or family member who’s game (and ideally, not great at following setup instructions — I would be a perfect candidate) and supervise them as they follow the product’s assembly instructions and set it up. Pay attention every single time your guinea pig gets something wrong or expresses frustration, then invite them to give feedback on the process once it’s over. Avoid the “Oh, they just don’t get it” line of thinking, because it’s your responsibility to put in extra effort to be understood. It’s not your audience’s responsibility to put in extra effort to understand you. That’s not just true in business; it’s true for writing and communication in general. 

Have some fun and think creatively, and you won’t just see sales this holiday season. You’ll also develop long-term relationships with customers who will happily return to your shop again and again!