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E-Commerce Packaging vs Retail Packaging: Understanding Their Key Differences

E-Commerce Packaging vs Retail Packaging: Understanding Their Key Differences

E-commerce packaging is used for products that are purchased online and shipped directly to the customer, while retail packaging is used for products sold in physical retail stores. Although they are both used to protect and contain products, they differ in their application, design, material, cost, printing, size and shape, requirements, and other factors due to the different requirements of each distribution channel. 

In this article, we will further explore the differences between e-commerce packaging and retail packaging. Whether you’re planning to start your e-commerce business or an established one looking for ways to upgrade or adapt to the fast-growing industry of consumer goods market, here is what you need to know.

The Crucial Role Of Packaging

Packaging is more than a simple outer shell for products. While product protection is its main role, it is also used to enhance the customer experience, establish the brand identity, and ultimately increase profitability. Packaging also makes it easy to handle, transport, and store products.

The packaging design and materials can also share important information to customers about the product, such as its features, ingredients, and origin, as well as any environmental or social responsibility credentials. 

In today's competitive marketplace, packaging plays a crucial role in the overall success of a product and its brand. It is a key element in creating a strong brand image and differentiating a product from its competitors. Packaging can be used to create a unique and memorable unboxing experience for the customers. 

Retail Packaging DefinitionE-Commerce Packaging Definition

E-commerce packaging, considered exterior packaging, refers to the packaging materials and methods used to protect and transport products purchased online, from the time they leave the warehouse or manufacturer to the time they reach the customer's doorstep. It is specifically designed to meet the following demands of the e-commerce industry:

  • minimize damage during transit
  • ensure the safe delivery of items 
  • provide a positive unboxing experience for the customer. 

Retail Packaging Definition

Retail packaging is what you often see on shelves and store counters. It is mainly used to attract the attention of potential customers, display the product's features and benefits, and protect the product during transportation and storage. The goal of retail packaging is to effectively promote and sell the product to consumers in a physical retail environment.

E-Commerce Packaging vs Retail Packaging: What's The Difference

Purpose & Applications

Retail packaging is the box, bag, or container that a product comes in when you buy it from a physical store (brick-and-mortar stores, supermarkets, etc.). 

Marketing-wise, the design of retail packaging mainly serves as a sales tool because most of the time, the consumers are not aware of what they are exactly looking for in the store. Therefore, it has to be optimized to catch your attention, promote brand recognition and establish brand identity. It also helps the consumer get more information about the product. 

For example, your favorite shampoo may be a colorful bottle with a label that catches your attention. It has big texts and labels that describe all the benefits you’re looking for (non-stripping, organic, etc). 

In the safety and transporting aspect, retail packaging is made to protect the product during transportation (usually in bulk) and stacking in the store.

On the other hand, have you ever wondered how the things you purchase online get to you in one piece? Well, that's e-commerce packaging. Its primary focus is to protect the product during transport from the warehouse until it arrives at your doorstep. 


E-commerce packaging is made for products that are sold online and shipped directly to customers. This is why it must be able to withstand the rigors of shipping, handling, and storage, such as impacts, temperature changes, and moisture. This ensures that your product is safe and secure during its journey to you.


Have you ever noticed how the packaging you see when you're walking through your favorite store is designed to catch your eye and draw you in?

That's because retail packaging materials are often chosen for their visual impact. From the colors and graphics to the shape and texture, every detail is carefully thought out to make the product stand out on the shelves.

If you're browsing through the snack aisle, you might notice that some bags of chips have bright, bold colors, and fun graphics. These eye-catching designs make the product more tempting and encourage you to pick it up and take a closer look.

The choice of materials used in retail packaging will depend on a range of factors, including product type, brand identity, sustainability, cost, and legal requirements. Some materials that can be used as retail packaging include the following:

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Metal products
  • Paper

On the other hand, e-commerce packaging is manufactured with both practicality and aesthetics in mind for a great customer experience. Materials used in e-commerce packaging are often chosen for their durability and ability to endure the demands of the shipping process. Some of the most commonly used materials for e-commerce packaging are as follows:

  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Bubble wrap
  • Air pillows
  • Bubble mailers
  • Paper-based materials
  • Plastic films and bags

Customization & Optimization 

E-commerce packaging presents greater opportunities for branding and marketing with customization and optimization. It is shipped directly to the customer, which means that the packaging itself can be used to create a memorable unboxing experience and enhance the brand's image.

For example, imagine ordering a pair of shoes online and receiving them in a box with your name printed on it and a personalized message thanking you for your purchase. This kind of personalization can go a long way in creating a positive impression and building customer loyalty. 

By including a handwritten note or message, the business can show that it is run by real people who care about their customers. This can help to humanize the brand and make it more relatable.

Some e-commerce businesses may also choose to create custom packaging with the customer's name or other personalized elements. This helps create a sense of exclusivity and personalization that can make the customer feel special. 

Custom packaging from Trade Coffee

Image Credit: Coffee Affection


Custom packaging from Compartés chocolates

Image Credit: Compartés

On the other hand, retail packaging is customized for shelf space. It is all about making sure that products look good and are easy to find when they're on display in a store.

In order to make sure that products can be easily seen and accessed by shoppers, the packaging may need to be customized to fit the available space. This could mean making the packaging a certain size or shape, or including features like hanging hooks or easy-to-open tabs. Eye-catching graphics, vibrant colors, and unique shapes could also be added to differentiate the product from competitors. 


When it comes to e-commerce packaging, the main goal is to make sure that products arrive at their destination in good condition. To achieve this, e-commerce packaging may include extra layers of protection, like bubble wrap, air pillows, or foam inserts. These materials can help cushion the product and prevent damage during shipping, but they can also make the packaging bulkier and heavier. Unfortunately, some of these materials can be difficult to recycle, which means they may end up in landfills or even in our oceans.

However, there are ways to make e-commerce packaging more sustainable. For example, using biodegradable or compostable materials can help reduce the environmental impact. Another option is to use recyclable materials, like corrugated cardboard, which is easy to recycle and is often made from recycled materials itself.

Some companies are also experimenting with packaging that is custom-fit to the product, minimizing the amount of material used. This can also reduce material waste and transportation costs as it can lessen the air space in the package.

Minimal Packaging for Harry’s, a shaving brand

Image Credit: Smurfit Kappa

On the other hand, retail packaging needs to fit neatly onto store shelves, so it tends to be made of materials that are lightweight and take up less space.

While the common materials used in retail packaging can be recycled, unfortunately, not all of them actually end up being recycled due to contamination or a lack of proper infrastructure. Single-use plastic packaging is also often used for small items, like snacks or toiletries, because it's lightweight and can be molded into different shapes. These plastics are typically discarded after use. 

Despite these challenges, there are still ways to make retail packaging more sustainable. For example, some businesses are using biodegradable or compostable materials, like plant-based plastics or paper-based materials treated with a composting agent. Others are designing packaging that is easier to recycle by using materials that are more easily separated or by labeling the packaging with clear recycling instructions.


E-commerce packaging tends to be more expensive to produce than retail packaging for a few reasons.

One reason is that e-commerce packaging needs to be more durable and protective than retail packaging. When products are shipped, they may be tossed around in transit, so e-commerce packaging needs to be sturdy enough to withstand the bumps and bruises that can occur during shipping. This often means using thicker, stronger materials and additional padding, which can increase the cost of production.

Another reason e-commerce packaging is more expensive to produce is that it often needs to be customized for each individual product being shipped. Unlike retail packaging, which can be designed to fit a range of products, e-commerce packaging needs to be tailored to fit the specific size and shape of each item being shipped. This customization can also drive up the cost of production.

To keep costs down, some e-commerce businesses choose to use simple and lightweight packaging materials, such as plain cardboard boxes.

However, for high-end products that are sold online, such as Razer gaming devices, Native deodorants, and other luxury items, the unboxing experience is crucial in creating a sense of luxury and exclusivity. This is why they still invest a lot in packaging for a unique unboxing experience for their customers.

Visually appealing and functional boxes from Razer

Image Credit: Vortez

Minimalist packaging boxes for Razer

Image Credit: Razer

Custom-printed boxes from Native

Image Credit: TechCrunch

Image Credit: EricaFinds

On the other hand, retail packaging can be produced in larger quantities and tend to be simpler in design with more standardized sizes. These can make it less expensive to produce.

In addition, retail packaging may not need to be as sturdy as e-commerce packaging, as it doesn't have to withstand the same level of handling and transportation. For example, a package of cookies in a retail store may just need a cardboard box to hold them together, while a package of cookies shipped through e-commerce may need additional padding and protection to prevent damage during transit.


E-commerce packaging often uses digital printing, while retail packaging may use offset or flexographic printing.

Digital printing is great for smaller print runs and allows for more customization and personalization. This means you can easily create unique designs and messages for each package. On the other hand, offset printing is a more traditional printing process that’s better suited for complex designs with lots of colors and finishes. 

Flexographic printing is another popular option for retail packaging because it can print on a wide range of materials, like paper, plastic, and metallic substrates. This method is often used for larger production runs, like for cereal boxes or frozen food packaging.

It's also worth noting that e-commerce packaging may not require as much printing surface area as retail packaging. Retail packaging often has large, elaborate designs and branding that cover a big portion of the package, while e-commerce packaging may only need a smaller logo or branding element. 

Sizes & Shapes

In terms of size, retail packaging needs a specific size and shape as it is often designed to display products on store shelves or to fit into pre-existing displays. It may also need to be lightweight and easy to stack for transportation and storage.

On the other hand, e-commerce packaging needs to fit the specific product being shipped, with enough space to protect it during shipping. This means that it can vary greatly in size and shape depending on the product being shipped. For example, a large item like a piece of furniture will require much larger packaging than a small item like a phone case.

Furthermore, e-commerce packaging may also need to fit within specific size and weight restrictions for shipping. It must be able to be easily stacked and stored in a warehouse or shipping container.


Legal requirements for packaging vary depending on the country and the product being sold. In general, both e-commerce and retail packaging need to comply with regulations regarding safety, labeling, and environmental impact. However, there may be some differences in requirements depending on the type of packaging and where it is being sold.

For example, in the United States, e-commerce and retail packaging must comply with the Federal Trade Commission's rules regarding truth-in-advertising, which require that all claims made on packaging are truthful and not misleading. Certain products like food and medical devices must also meet specific labeling requirements. Meat and dairy may require special packaging, such as vacuum-sealed packaging, to prevent spoilage and ensure food safety. 

If the product being packaged contains hazardous materials, such as chemicals or batteries, the packaging must comply with regulations governing the transportation of hazardous materials. 

Impack: Your All-In-One Packaging!

Retail packaging and e-commerce packaging serve different purposes and applications, with retail packaging designed for in-store displays and e-commerce packaging designed for direct-to-consumer shipping. While both packaging may need to comply with safety, labeling, and environmental requirements, they differ in terms of the materials used, customization and optimization, printing, size and shape, and cost.

When it comes to e-commerce packaging, Impack's bubble mailers and packing tapes check all the boxes. Made from sustainable materials, they are visually appealing and can be customized to meet your branding needs. With low minimum order quantities, our e-commerce packaging solutions are perfect for businesses of all sizes. 

So if you're looking for top-quality e-commerce packaging, look no further than Impack. Connect with us today.

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