Consumers are more likely than ever to purchase and receive items without visiting a physical store. Instead, many will shop online, accelerating the rapid growth of e-commerce post-COVID-19. Recent reports suggest that 37% of consumers planned to shop online more than last year. But with fewer in-store experiences, a key touchpoint between consumers and brands is being removed, creating a new challenge for companies competing for consumer’s hearts and wallets: how do brands meaningfully connect with their customers without in-person interactions?
One way that brands can stand out is by turning ordinary deliveries into memorable brand experiences. As COVID restrictions persist, increased attention and anticipation is being put on the delivery experience. 52% of consumers report that receiving a package was like getting a “gift” and a welcome break from the daily grind. Whether establishing a new ritual through unboxing or appealing to the consumer through textures and scents, an often-untapped toolbox of tactics informed by behavioral research can help make the product, brand and experience memorable.
It is clear now that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated the shift to e-commerce. Growing steadily even before the pandemic, estimates show that e-commerce adoption has been accelerated by 4-6 years within a matter of months. In 2019, about half as many shoppers visited physical stores on Black Friday compared to last year and online sales rose 22% to $9 billion. While post-pandemic shopping habits remain to be seen, it is clear that for many, shopping online is simply a new normal.
But for many brands, the physical store was a vital component of the brand identity. While innovations in digital marketing have made it easier than ever before to target consumers online, these tactics risk getting lost in the consumer’s increasingly flooded inboxes and social newsfeeds.
To create memorable experiences that truly stand out, brands need to find new, unique touchpoints to connect with the consumer, and the delivery and receipt of the product itself is one touchpoint that research suggests is ripe for innovating. A few simple, research-backed, strategies can provide early guidance to brands looking to create a memory at the mailbox.
Create a Memory at the Peak Moment of Delivery
Identifying the potential of the delivery experience centers on understanding how our memories are made. While we tend to think of our brains like video recorders, creating a continuous record of our experiences, memories work more like a camera, taking snapshots during peak moments in an experience. To capitalize, brands should identify ways to make the unboxing experience as memorable as possible, while also communicating their brand values.
For example, when consumers place an order with luxury retailer Net-a-Porter, they have the option to receive their order wrapped in their signature branded black recycled box tied up with a Net-a-Porter black ribbon with white stitching to create a “treat-yourself” moment.
While many companies seek to reduce consumer effort in the delivery experience, the brand Man Crates creates a memorable unboxing experience by purposefully making its packages difficult to open. Man Crates delivers its products in tightly sealed wooden crates and challenges the recipient to break in to find their reward. This unique unboxing experience creates a lasting memory for the consumer by reinforcing the brand’s position as products that serve as rewards for “heroic” men.
Appeal to Multiple Senses
Many brands work hard to craft their packaging to appeal to consumer’s visual senses, but research suggests that appealing to the consumer’s many senses (i.e./ touch, smell, sight, sound) can have significant impacts for product evaluation.  For example, favorable scents, and especially those that are aligned with the product itself, have been found to positively influence consumer’s evaluation of the product when presented together.
To stand out, brands might test new ways to incorporate sensory experiences into their deliveries. For example, might the scent of fresh coffee beans add a level of excitement to a seemingly benign process like unboxing of a coffee maker? Might receiving a bathing suit on a cold December morning be elevated if it was accompanied by the scent of sunscreen and coconuts, transporting the recipient momentarily to their favorite beach? Does the sound of splintering wood make the product inside a Man Crate feel like more of a reward?
Appealing to multiple senses starts with thinking carefully about consumer goals. While coffeemakers and bathing suits are certainly functional, identifying goals like relaxing with a fresh cup of coffee or lounging in the sand in your new bathing suit will help identify the ways that sensory appeals can connect the delivery experience to a consumer goal to create a lasting brand memory.
Add an Element of Surprise
While it is obvious that many consumers might enjoy a pleasant surprise like a gift with their delivery, thoughtful brands will use the element of surprise to connect with consumers and create memorable experiences.
Digital technologies and an increasing focus on capturing first party data have made it easy to personalize to the consumer online (i.e. automating a discount offer on a consumer's birthday or personalizing based on past purchases), but old fashioned tools like paper and pen can achieve the same end. By including a short, hand-written note with a delivery, brands can surprise the consumer with their level of personal commitment. As research shows that even small, personalized notes or gifts are likely to be reciprocated, these small gestures may result in outsized payoffs in customer loyalty. For example, Haus, a DTC alcoholic beverage start-up, has delighted customers during the pandemic by including custom handwritten notes in their gift boxes, appealing to consumers who were unable to celebrate a special occasion in person.
Notes may be simple and effective but adding a memento with the product can be another way to surprise and delight. For example, why not include a small gift for customers who place their first mobile delivery order of fast food? Cosmetics brand Glossier has famously turned their mailer into a reusable makeup pouch. Their now iconic pink bubble wrap pouch not only delights consumers but also serves as a functional carrying case for their products and a “calling card” for the brand.
The pandemic has changed consumer behaviors in many ways and this year, shoppers are expected to be less loyal than in the past. 40% of consumers report having tried new brands during the pandemic and only 12% indicate they will purchase from the same brands and retailers as last year. While peak moments have always been a critical part of how the memory of an experience is formed, the shift to e-commerce means that brands have fewer opportunities to create peak moments, thus the moment of delivery must work even harder.
While drastic delivery changes come with costs and possible supply chain disruptions, even the smallest gestures may go a long way in building brand loyalty. By keeping the delivery experience top of mind, brands have an opportunity to delight their consumers by creating memorable experiences that appeal to multiple consumer senses and surprise them through meaningful and personal gestures.
 Kahneman, D. (2000b). Evaluation by moments: Past and future. In D. Kahneman & A. Tversky (Eds.), Choices, values, and frames (pp. 693–708). New York: Cambridge University Press.
 Laird, D. A. (1932). How the consumer estimates quality by subconscious sensory impressions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 16(3), 241–246.
 Cialdini, R. (2001). Harnessing the Science of Persuasion. Harvard Business Review.