Posted on July 7, 2023 by Dennis Salazar

E-Commerce Packaging 101: Options and Terminology

This is written with the utmost respect and appreciation for our potential customers and clients who are new to the whole process of packaging for DTC marketing. In fact, from our very start in 2007, we have always been the go-to source for start-ups and first-time entrepreneurs and we have enjoyed that tremendously, especially when their new brands become household names.

New entrepreneurs are busy developing and sourcing their products, creating their marketing plans, and fine tuning their web presence and site, just to name a few tasks. They don’t have time to become packaging experts, but that is okay, because that is what we do.

The goal is to always get on the same page with our inquiries so we can make their vision a reality, and these basic options and choices may help the very beginner to better understand what is possible and affordable.

Corrugated & Paperboard Combos

Corrugated board versus paperboard

There is much written all over the internet on both substrates but most of it lacks clarity and does not compare the two directly. Allow us to make it as clearcut as possible: Paperboard is the thinner material used in cereal boxes, flat mailer envelopes, and most retail, display packaging. Corrugated board is different in that it has three distinct layers – an inner sheet, an outer sheet and what is often referred to as the zigzag or waffle material (technical name – fluting) in between the outer and inner layers. Paperboard is rarely used for e-commerce applications and corrugated is only occasionally used for retail display use. Paperboard is typically not used for shipping purposes, corrugated is the primary substrate for e-commerce (DTC) shipping.

RSC shipping boxes versus die cut mailer boxes

Creative & Versatile E-Commerce Packaging

Most NON-e-commerce shipping applications utilize a standard RSC (regular slotted container) type box. They have four top and bottom flaps and have to be sealed with tape across the middle of both top and bottom, sealing the flaps together. A die cut mailer features an attached lid that opens and closes, usually tucks into the front of the box for closure. This design creates more of a display type container, making it ideal for use in DTC (direct to consumer) e-commerce situations. We can print the inside and/or outside of both style of boxes so we are creating more e-commerce RSC boxes than ever before. This helps customers in numerous ways, especially cost. See the first “related post” below.

Box versus Mailer versus Shipper

There are many terms floating around out there and they are not always used accurately. A “box” can be a die cut mailer or an RSC style box as described above. A “mailer” can be just about anything, including the boxes above or even an envelope. The term “shipper” can also be used for almost any packaging design being shipped via UPS, USPS or FedEx. So if we initially focus on clarifying what you envision, it is only so we can share the vision with you and lead you in the direction you want.

Flexographic versus digital printing on a box

People are sometimes surprised and disappointed when they find out our MOQ for flexographic printing is 1,000 units. Though that is considered very low in our industry, they often compare that MOQ to DIGITAL companies they find online who are able to print as few as a dozen boxes. The two distinct processes use different equipment and different inks, and there is also a huge difference in cost per box. So, if a customer needs anywhere from one to a few hundred boxes, we usually refer them to a short-run digital box printer who can best help them. We also invite them back for a much lower cost when their usage reaches 500 boxes per month.

What we have provided above is a basic guideline for the most often misunderstood packaging terms. In reality there are a dozen different style of corrugated, e-commerce containers and there are multiple different type of printing options. However, what is discussed above probably applies to 90% of all applications. Could you be one of the 10%, yes, maybe, but not likely. In either case, allow us to help you determine the best direction for you to go even considering your initial low volume and limited budget.

Call us at 630-551-1700 or contact us through this website to speak to one of our industry leading, very experienced branded packaging advisors.


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