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A Guide to Packaging for Small Businesses

Any small business that sells physical goods relies on packaging. It’s a make or break aspect of doing business – whether you sell online, at pop-ups or from a permanent storefront. But getting your packaging right is often tricky, especially when you’re starting out.

That’s why we made this guide – a crash course on packaging that covers all the essentials; from choosing the right materials, to managing costs and labour. We’ll also touch on the basics of packaging design, e-commerce packaging and how to handle packaging for high-value products.

And, because it’s our duty to do so, we’ll address environmental concerns related to packaging, particularly the misconceptions around eco-friendly options, as well as the practical (and environmental) benefits of using polythene.


A woman working on a creative project in a NY loft apartment or studio. It's it brightly lit, and brick buildings can be seen through the windows behind her. The space is tatty but bright, with painted brick walls, bare wooden floors and old cast iron radiators. She is wearing a black tee shirt, and has a serious look. She's looking at a laptop while she creates packaging from a cardboard box, possibly to ship an item she has created.


1. Choosing the right packaging materials

This is where the biggest differences appear between vendors – because the packaging needs of small businesses are as varied as the materials available! Selecting the right packaging materials will protect your products until they reach your customers, but they should also offer a positive experience and fit your budget.

Common options

Polythene packaging

Polythene is versatile, durable and cost-effective, making it an excellent choice for a wide range of products. It offers excellent protection against moisture and damage during transit. Polythene bags can be custom made in practically any size, with gussets for additional strength and volume. They can be coloured and printed with custom branding, too, or with product information. Polythene bags are an ideal standalone solution for things like clothing and soft furnishings, or loose items (like food, small components or jewellery).

Polythene bags can also be used as an inner packaging material for boxed goods – offering additional scratch, moisture and dust resistance. Machined metal, glassware and painted ceramics would benefit from the additional protection offered by polythene bags as a box liner.

Cardboard boxes

Cardboard boxes are ideal for items that need a rigid structure, or products that require assembly and have many components. They’re great for goods that need to be stacked efficiently for storage and shipping, or that are fragile and have to have a shock-absorbing outer shell.

But cardboard packaging is rarely used alone. It almost always has another element (beyond the tape used to seal it), like packing foam, polystyrene inserts, or polythene films and bags. This is because, while cardboard is great as a lightweight scaffold material for packaging, it isn’t water or dust resistant, and can only absorb so much force before it crushes. Boxes are used as part of a packaging system, and not as a standalone packaging material.

Guilty of greenwashing?

Don’t just use cardboard and paper, then claim to be environmentally responsible. Chances are, the paper and card used in the eco-friendly packaging you’re eying up has wreaked more than its fair share of environmental havoc.

And what about your product as a whole? If someone scrutinised the supply chain, what would they find?

It’s important to understand the hidden plastic in eco-packaging and the knock-on environmental issues of choosing so-called eco-packaging. Some packaging options that claim to be eco-friendly may not be as sustainable as they seem, often using far more water, energy and biomass than materials like polythene.

Yes – plastic needs to be used responsibly, but the cure may be worse than the disease in many cases. This is particularly true of CO2 emissions and water consumption. Despite common misconceptions, polythene can be a sustainable choice due to its recyclability and lower carbon footprint compared to alternative packaging.

Even if you have an environmentally-conscious offering or a brand image tied with environmental action, the best solution on balance may still actually be plastic. Consider this aspect deeply, because it’ll impact your brand perception. But above all, be transparent with your customers, educate them on your packaging choices and give them options for reuse and recycling.

2. Managing costs

Keeping packaging costs in check is often hard for small businesses, whose demand isn’t always predictable. Here are some strategies to help manage costs.

Focus on efficiency

Bulk purchasing

Thanks to economies of scale, buying packaging materials in bulk can reduce costs. But you’ll need to evaluate your storage space to determine the maximum amount you can purchase and store efficiently – and whether you’ll be able to shift that much product! Wherever possible, make bulk purchases and keep inventory for longer periods.


Invest in easy-to-use packaging solutions, like polythene bags, which can speed up the packaging process. That’ll reduce your labour costs, or if you’re a solopreneur, give you more of your time back.

Cost management

Choose cost-effective packaging materials

Polythene packaging is usually cheaper to buy than alternative packaging materials, easier to store, cheaper to ship, lighter… It has a ton of benefits. It even has multiple uses, depending on the form factor you choose; polythene tubing can be made into any length of bag within nothing more than a heat sealer (or even just scissors and tape!).

Balancing cost and quality

While it’s always a priority for small businesses to keep costs low, you can’t let the quality of your packaging suffer. Poor packaging can lead to increased returns and customer dissatisfaction, lower your brand’s status and perception – and end up costing you far more than you’d saved.

3. Packaging design

It’s not all about function and funds; attractive packaging is just the trick to enhance your brand and customer experience.We’ve written all about it in our detailed post on packaging design – but here are some fundamentals to consider.

Design considerations


Your packaging should reflect your brand’s identity and values. Use consistent colours, logos and messaging across your packaging. Polythene packaging can be printed on directly, or have labels and decals applied to it. Cardboard boxes can also be printed on, although costs can be more variable and colours less flexible, depending on the materials used. Whichever materials you use for packaging, keep the look and feel of your brand consistent.


Ensure your packaging is easy to open, resealable if necessary and provides a good unboxing experience. This is one of those things where, if your end user gets frustrated by bad tear open bags that spill everywhere, or pull tabs that take half the box with them, they’re going to remember it – and consider buying another brand next time.

eCommerce packaging

Packaging for e-commerce requires special attention – because not only do you need items to ship safely, but you also have to consider that this may be the only physical interaction a customer ever has with you. As for the basics? Try to make it easy for customers to return products by providing reusable packaging, such as reusable polythene postage bags with a second tamper-proof seal.

Learn more in our eCommerce packaging guide

5. Packaging for luxury goods

High value products require extra care in packaging – learn more about this in our post on polythene packaging for high value products. Here are some essentials to consider when packaging luxury items:


Use tamper-evident seals and sturdy packaging materials to protect high value items. You may also want to consider using “decoy” outer packaging (like opaque polythene) that conceals the true value of what’s inside to discourage theft.


Once in the consumer’s hands, high value products should be packaged in a way that reflects their worth, enhancing the unboxing experience and telling the right brand stories. This is important for in-store items as well as delivered goods.

Polythene packaging for small businesses

We love to help make packaging for small business. Talk to a packaging expert, to create a packaging solution that works for you. Get a quote now, or call us on 01773 820415 to start your order.