I live in New York City, where empty delivery boxes piled outside of buildings are a common sight. These days, I can't help but notice all of the branded boxes from e-commerce orders. There are always some that stand out among the heaps of brown cardboard, whether they're a different color or printed with the brand's logos. It's the little things.

E-commerce customers don't walk into a store to find a smiling shopkeeper, perfectly presented products, and a physical space built to reflect all that is good with the brand. Instead, they get a cardboard box or a plastic bag.

This is a challenge that creates an opportunity. Sure, the customer is not in your store. But e-commerce enables the brand to extend the shopping experience into the customer's home. In-home marketing, if you will.

Some brands are fine with that experience featuring the same old brown cardboard box, but that's not necessarily going to build customer affinity. Impressive packaging can be the differentiator for retailers hoping to stand out from the pack and create loyal brand advocates.

Mr. Porter and Ralph Lauren are good examples of retailers that are delivering a premier shipping experience. I believe it's an investment that will pay off for them, just as it could for others who make a similar investment.

Consistency is key in the online shopping experience, and Mr. Porter has a clearly defined approach to packaging that leaves a positive impression on shoppers. Every order is sent in a cardboard box that has a slick white box inside branded with the "Mr Porter" logo in black. The retailer also pays close attention to package fit. Both the branded white boxes and the exterior cardboard shipping boxes are nearly always right-sized for products.

Ralph Lauren's packaging is also extremely consistent and always of high quality. Nearly every order receives an identical treatment, proving that high-volume retailers can deliver consistent, seamless branding at scale for online orders.The iconic Ralph Lauren logo is printed in navy inside the lid of the pizza box-style outer container.

The company also attaches a thank-you note to brown wrapping paper with a Ralph Lauren-branded navy sticker. It feels like a gift. It's special. And at the end of the day, making your customers feel special is what it's all about. If you're clever enough to create that experience in a box, customers will come back for more.

Published on: Jun 4, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.