Retailers find creative fodder in packaging boxes

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Retailers have taken to elevating the lowly cardboard box that their merchandise often arrives in.

In the most recent example, Columbia Sportswear Co. has found a unique way to be environmentally friendly while also engaging customers with the brand.

When online shoppers reach the checkout at, which launched in August, they are giving the choice of shipping their orders in a previously used cardboard box. More than 60% of online customers have selected the used box option since the site launched.

Customers can also track the life of their box as part of a community Web site created by Columbia at On the outside of each reused box, consumer will find a sticker that includes a code and number, which can be entered into or scanned using a mobile phone. This will enable them to where their box has been, post pictures and stories about their box and periodically return to the site to follow their box's journey. There is even an A Box Life Flickr group and consumers can tweet about their box's journey and share it with the A Box Life online community.

“As a leading outdoor company, it is important for us to provide consumers with options that reduce packaging waste and to make business decisions that will reduce our overall environmental impact,” said Paul Zaengle, senior director of e-commerce for Columbia, in a statement.

Columbia's efforts bring to mind Ikea's advertising campaign from a couple of years ago to promote the opening of the retailer's first store in New York City. For the campaign, Deutsch NY had NYC structure built with hundreds of Ikea-branded flat-pack boxes, which were then used in TV, print and out-of-home executions.

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