It can take Lisa Harrington two hours to pack a single order from one of her customers. Not because it’s particularly challenging or the items she’s packing require anything special. It just takes time to set up all the camera angles and get the lighting right. Harrington founded her drinkware brand, Mermaid Straw, in 2018; five years later, she has 2.3 million TikTok followers, and they’ve fundamentally changed how she operates her business. How? They want to watch her box their order.
One out of every 10 customers leaves a note on their Mermaid Straw order specifically requesting that it be packed on camera. Others leave their order numbers in TikTok comments, begging for their purchase to be the next one filmed.
When Harrington spontaneously filmed her first-ever packing video pre-pandemic, she had no idea she was pioneering a new trend. Videos hashtagged #packingorders currently have more than 9 billion views on TikTok; candy, jewelry, and crystal companies alike now film orders being fulfilled. Some even charge customers for the privilege of watching their items be packed. For years, unboxing videos—those meticulously crafted scenes of people opening iPhone or gaming console packages—were all the rage. Now, clips of sellers boxing up individual orders are on the rise.
“It has all the appeal of unboxing, plus the knowledge that what you’re watching is especially for you,” says Pamela Rutledge, a media psychologist who has written on unboxing in the past.
The unboxing phenomenon began in the mid-’00s when consumers began photographing themselves opening parcels; from there, it took over YouTube, where a single unboxing video can get 151 million views. Rutledge explains that unboxing and boxing videos alike satisfy our curiosity and create emotional bonds. Yet while unboxing videos might make you feel connected to a creator or influencer, boxing videos make you feel closer to a brand or seller.
“I think that [customers] really enjoy that they seem like a real person to us and we’re a real person to them,” Harrington says, adding that boxing videos “get rid of that corporate feel.” At present, it is mostly small businesses that have the time, resources, and aesthetic setups to partake in the trend—but who knows if that will remain the case.
Brittney Applegate is a 30-year-old from Florida who owns a kawaii trinket company, Sunshine & Scoops. This February—less than a year after starting her online shop—Brittney began charging customers $8 to have their orders packed on camera.
“Personally, for me, it’s not about the money,” Applegate says. “I was drowning, I’m even drowning now with people paying.” She decided to charge so she could make fewer videos. “I can pack so many more orders in a day when I don’t have to video it,” she says, “so it was never money-motivated, it was more about time.”
And yet, the customers keep coming. When we speak, Applegate has 94 videos she needs to edit and around 70 more she needs to film. Why are so many people happy to pay to see their order being packed? “It’s not necessarily that you’re paying for the items. I think it’s more that you’re paying for the experience,” says Applegate, who has nearly 150,000 TikTok followers.
Applegate’s packing process is atypical. Customers who order from her don’t purchase specific items, but instead buy a random “scoop” of beads—each bead corresponds to something in her shop, so if a customer gets three red butterfly-shaped beads, for example, they’ll be sent three squishy stress balls. Applegate films herself scooping and sorting the beads before bagging up the items. “I think people just love watching the scoops unfold and get excited as they watch all of the items that are on the way to them,” she says.
Starting in April, Applegate will only sell 50 packing videos a month to be able to keep up with the demand. Candy store owner Jessica Stevenson says that if she filmed a video every time a customer asked her to, it would be another full-time job. Instead, the 35-year-old picks one order a day to pack on camera.
“We try to pick them at random,” says Stevenson, who runs Hello Sweets in Western New York and online. “We basically just want to show off our products. It’s a really good way to show other people what real people are ordering and what we have available.”
Packing videos are powerful marketing. Harrington says hers have “dramatically” boosted organic sales. “We haven’t done any paid advertising since 2020,” says the 35-year-old Indiana resident. “We’ve relied strictly on the traffic that we’ve received through posting our packaging videos. It’s been an amazing game-changer.”
Stevenson has seen similar success; her husband was able to quit his job and join her full-time in the store, thanks to its 530,000 TikTok followers. Although she knows the benefits of making packing videos, she confesses, “I’m truly not exactly sure why people want to see them.”
Rutledge suggests there are a number of reasons. “The human brain responds more to the anticipation of a reward than to receiving the reward,” she says. Therefore, watching your order being packed could actually be more pleasurable than receiving it. Rutledge also speculates that these videos can lead customers to form parasocial relationships with sellers, which makes their shopping experience feel more meaningful; watching an order be carefully packed and wrapped can “transform their order into a gift-giving experience.”
Even viewers who aren’t getting the order in question can have these emotional responses—and many of them also experience ASMR as tissue paper is crinkled, tape is ripped, and a soothing voice narrates the packing process.
But boxing videos haven’t replaced unboxing videos, which means ultimately this is just another way we engage with consumerism on the internet—or, as Rutledge puts it, “a way of extending the consumption experience.” Like many trends on social media, packing videos glorify spending, though Rutledge argues that the phenomenon could actually “decrease thoughtless purchasing” as people seek out “a longer, richer experience.”
Major brands may soon create their own #packingorders videos, but for now, this remains a trend dominated by small businesses. “It’s a great way for us to communicate and have that personal relationship with our customers,” Harrington says. “It’s just been something that’s really changed our brand for the better.”