Is it ever okay to delay my rewards due to packaging issues?

A recent communication from a Kickstarter project creator stressed the importance of packaging for his project, a luxury designed kitchen product.

But, even though the reward was a luxury design product, because I backed it via Kickstarter, I had two basic expectations on the packaging:

  1. basic protective packaging to prevent damage during shipping;
  2. that the packaging is recyclable.

After reading the project creator’s update, I realised that my expectations and those of the project creator varied dramatically: for me, as a backer, the reward is more important compared to the packaging. In this case, I backed the reward, not the box it comes in.

For the project creator, as a designer, he wanted to get the packaging perfect, and was even willing to delay shipping of the manufactured reward due to incorrect colour scheme on the packaging. The actual box of the reward seemed more important to him than fulfilling the shipment.*

This made me wonder: is it ever okay to delay my rewards due to packaging?

In some cases, yes, packing plays an important role and getting the packaging right is critical to the success of the product. But, in most crowdfunding projects, it is acceptable to use generic cost-effective packaging.

There are six key items to consider about packaging:

1) The project creator’s motivation for using crowdfunding

Some project creators are using crowdfunding as a route to market, to demonstrate to investors and high street retailers that there is a demand for their product. Some project creators are also solely using crowdfunding as their business model. Three project creators I backed created their business around crowdfunding, and are running their companies and selling products via crowdfunding platforms.

These project creators are not using crowdfunding to test an idea that can be iteratively improved, but rather to create an off-the-shelf product ready for mass commercialisation. Accordingly, there is a knock-on effect on what project creators consider as market ready in relation to the reward and its packaging. Packaging plays an important role enticing consumers to buy it off the shelf and the crowdfunded product may be delayed until the packaging is “right”.

2) If the actual product, for example a graphic novel or board-game or tech device, is enhanced by its packaging

Backers are willing to pay a premium for packaging if the packaging is an intrinsic part of the product, such as for boardgames or graphic novels.

In boardgames, there are a number of issues to consider on packaging:

  • the box plays a role in the experience of the boardgame;
  • the box has to be durable and last a long time;
  • the box has to protect the game;
  • the box has to be designed in such a manner to allow board game enthusiast and collectors to adequately use it, for example, box size for sleeved and unsleeved cards;
  • the box adds to the overall value of the game.

For graphic novels, packaging the graphic novel in a clear plastic sleeve shows a good understanding of the target market and their needs.

For tech devices, the packaging forms part of the initial ownership experience, but most packaging is recycled once opened, except for some die-hard fanboys.

For most other products, the packaging is secondary. For example, as long as a pair of drinking glasses are boxed appropriately and protectively with recyclable materials, I am happy.

3) Protective packaging

At a bare minimum, make sure that the reward will not bend or break during shipping. If the reward is a book or wrapping paper or fashion accessory, a simple package that won’t bend or break during shipping is sufficient.

If it is a breakable item, such as glassware, then pack it appropriately.

4) Exclusive crowdfunding packaging

To increase the appeal of a product with backers, a project creator may decide to create exclusive crowdfunding packaging. This works well if the item is an market disruptor or collectable, and backers will be willing to pay a premium for the packaging.

5) Cost-effective packaging

Most project creators opt for cost-effective packaging, namely slipping the reward into a standard envelope and shipping it. Typically, the reward is as is, namely it doesn’t have any packaging apart from the envelope.

Although this is not ideal, it is fine. Backers understand the sentiment behind crowdfunding, and provided the reward is as described and not damaged during shipping, then the packaging, usually, really doesn’t matter.

6) Consumer sentiment and sustainability considerations

The sentiment of today’s consumer has changed when it comes to packaging, especially in an online and competitive economy. Most consumers are more critical of what they are paying for, and if the packaging carries a premium, then the experience of the product and packaging needs to justify the premium.

If I am buying a product via Amazon, the online description and photos matter more to me than the packaging, even for luxury items. I simply expect the basic protective packaging for any items bought online. For example, linking to the case described above, I buy luxury kitchen items from retailers such as a JosephJoseph via their online store, and in all cases, I simply recycled the packaging without a second glance.

Consumers are also more environmentally aware, and packaging is the first to be considered as to whether or not the product meets the consumer’s definition of sustainability. No matter what product is on offer, if the packaging violates a consumer’s preference for sustainability, then the product simply will not be bought. Forcing luxury packaging on a consumer seeking sustainable solutions creates unnecessary conflicts.

Sustainability considerations from the consumer trumps packaging in all cases.

A possible approach: tiered packaging strategy for route to market

If a project creator is using crowdfunding to build a track record for his product, then maybe a tiered solution relating to packaging should be considered.

It is important to remember the differences between crowdfunding and commercialisation:

  • in crowdfunding: fulfill your promise to backers and create a track record for delivery.
  • in commercialisation of products: use various tactics to get consumers to buy the product of the shelf.

Accordingly, select the relevant packaging strategy for the route to market you are using.

Rules of thumb for packaging in crowdfunding

Use adequate protective packaging.

If the product requires special packaging, e.g. boardgames, the backers would expect this and pay for this.

If the packaging will be recycled, use generic packaging instead. Ship the reward to your backers, don’t focus on ancillary issues!

When you are ready for commercialising your product, you may need to or want to change and modify how your product will be presented in store.

The onus, always, lies on the project creator to accurately describe his vision for his project, including ancillary issues such as packaging, and sell this to backers.

* Project update: The project creator solicited comments about whether backers would be happy with another delay to fix the packaging. The overwhelming response from backers was to ship the rewards and adjust the packaging for when he goes commercial. The project creator disagreed with his backers, and the overall shipment for the project is now running three months late (at the time of writing).