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.