In a recent discussion, the comment was made that e-commerce is killing packaging design. The comment was intended to stimulate a hearty discussion (which it did), but it is a concept that I have not been able to shake from my thoughts. It could be argued that after looking at purchasing information and consumer reviews, one could eventually make a purchase without ever seeing a package or product, with purchases arriving in plain packages devoid of anything that would reinforce a brand preference. I think this is a rather dark view of where online shopping and packaging is headed.
Online shopping and increasingly online food shopping is not only a fact of life, but options are changing at an escalating pace. More than ever, digitally-proficient consumers are focused on and have access to detailed product information, enabling them to make critical product comparisons outside of a shopping environment where you are limited only to what is available on a shelf. So what does this mean for packaging?
Recognizing that multiple distribution channels are now open to all products, the competitive pressure is magnified. Studies show that digital shoppers tend to be less brand focused than conventional shoppers, but regardless, it is still packaging that conveys your brand message. The same principles of communication apply to on shelf or online channels – information must be presented in a way that consumers can easily and efficiently (it doesn’t mean design needs to be plain or generic) make their purchasing decision, and build brand loyalty.
A caveat – as a component of your integrated packaging creative and design process, include checkpoints to confirm proposed packaging can structurally handle the rigors of online sales and distribution. Where online sales plays a significant distribution role, your design solution may require supplemental packaging beyond standard cardboard shipping containers to ensure your product is delivered intact. All the branding in the world is not going to make up for a product that arrives broken or damaged, and there is no better way to alienate a consumer than to inspire them (with your brand promise) to make a purchase, and then disappoint them when it arrives. I recall a bottle of Tahitian vanilla that arrived at my house broken into a million pieces – it left a great scent in my mailbox but that was about it.
I believe that in the age of online shopping, packaging still remains the single most powerful tool in your ability to connect with the consumer at the final moment of truth– as long as you approach the role of package design with the objective of ensuring consistency and continuity as your branding reaches across multiple distribution channels. Packaging will always play a pivotal role with consumers regardless of where a product is sold. In the end, what the consumer holds in their hand, what they feel about the quality you deliver, and what they say about your product will win the day.
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