Why read this? : We review the importance or packaging for e-Commerce. Learn how it helps you stand out on the digital shelf. We look at a sample of online baskets and show which packaging designs work best for e-Commerce. Read this for design ideas to make your packaging work harder for you in e-Commerce.
Packaging's role in marketing
Here’s the type of time priority question marketers have to ask themselves on a regular basis :-
Do I spend time on a marketing activity that touches EVERY customer; that we can use to help save the environment, and which allows customers to tangibly interact with my brand?
Do I spend time on a marketing activity that costs lots of money; is frequently ignored by my target audience and even when noticed is soon forgotten?
You’d think the choice of where to spend your time would be obvious. But clearly, it’s not. Because, we all know most marketers spend much more time on advertising than they ever do on packaging development.
Why’s that? Well, what if we rephrased that original question?
Packaging - advertising's less glamorous cousin
Do I spend time with supply chain people and print managers who’ll drone on about colour separations and cardboard thickness? And who’ll make me take a whole day out to go to some god forsaken factory in the back end of nowhere?
Do I spend time with funky agency creative and media people who’ll present flashy videos on their shiny Apple Macs? While bringing me fancy coffees and boosting my marketing ego that we’re creating a create work of art which will win awards?
Now, maybe it’s clearer why advertising dominates the time of your average marketer.
Yes, advertising is a much more fun way to spend your day. But as per our packaging development guide, there’s plenty of evidence packaging can be the most important part of your mix. And advertising isn’t always fun with its car crash creative reviews, and awkward media sales team meetings to deal with.
Packaging can be hard work, and often highly technical. But it’s got an important role to play in your brand identity, product offer and communications. And as we’ll cover in this article, it’s where you start when you want to get more sales online.
Packaging for e-Commerce
We originally intended to go down the (virtual) aisle of a couple of online stores and pick out some good and bad examples.
But our first store (no names, but not hard to work out who it was) was running 2 banner ads with product baskets on its front page. So let’s start with those to see what good in packaging for e-Commerce looks like.
FAIRY packaging dominates this basket
What stands out immediately in that basket? It’s the big FAIRY logo right in the centre of shot, isn’t it?
Look how the contrast of the red font on a white background stands out against the clutter of colours and ‘noise’ in this image. Proctor and Gamble get a big tick for this packaging. It stands out online and we’re sure also stands out in store.
In our design principles for marketing guide, we refer to the CRAP design principles from Design for Non-Designers* by Robin Williams. CRAP as in Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Fairy’s packaging designer does a very good job on all of those things.
(In fact, it’s a good example of the Von Restorff effect from our behavioural science guide. People notice things which look different to what’s around them).
Mars, Bulla and Oral B are at least recognisable
Look a bit closer at the other brands here.
Though less strong in terms of stand-out than Fairy, you’d pick out Mars, Bulla and Oral B as brand names easily here. So they get a pass from a brand recognition point of view. Ish.
(See also our design psychology article which covers the principle that recognition is easier for customers than recall).
However, look a bit more closely. In this basket, is it actually clear which Mars product it is? Looks like chocolate bars? Might be ice cream?
Look at Bulla. Excuse our ignorance, but what the fuck are “Splits” when they’re at home? Some sort of ice lolly we’d guess, but unclear.
Oral-B, challenging because they have a lot less space to play with on the pack. But in this image, you can’t really tell what the product variant is.
And the other 3 products in the basket?
Left to right, the Natural Cracker Company with sea salt and vinegar crackers. That’s quite a lot of words to fit in a small space. And that beige background behind the brand name? Not terrible. But also, not helping the contrast of the brand name on screen.
And there seems to be a lot of other things going on with the pack. What are those green things? Asparagus tips? Wheat sheafs? Pretty certain neither sea salt nor vinegar, so you question why they’re there at all.
Jump over to Kellogs. And while they’re normally pretty good at packaging, something’s gone wrong here. Firstly, LCMs? No idea what those are. Don’t care, either. And that blue font with a yellow 3D shadow on a blue background? Doesn’t help stand-out and legibility. There’s some product imagery there, but it doesn’t help tell you what the product is in this image.
If you also look hard enough, and we missed it first time, there’s also a small tin of Greenseas, we think Tuna. But because it’s green is similar to the Fairy green, it looks initially like it’s part of the Fairy packaging. Fail.
And finally, sadly, there’s what appears to be some Bonds socks squeezed in the side of the basket. Or maybe it’s pants? And we mean that in both senses of the word.
So, learnings about packaging for e-commerce?
But, we’re often amazed how many companies and packaging design agencies fail to do this. Focus on sharing only relevant information on pack. Use the least amount of text to do so.
Good design has as little amount of detail as possible as Dieter Rams famously stated. And packaging should follow the principles of progressive disclosure, only telling the customer what they need to know. (see our article on design psychology for more on progressive disclosure).
Not everything the designer or brand manager wants them to know.
Let’s try another online basket
What stands out in the new promotional banner?
Other than the slightly creepy bear with the heart? Scan your eyes left to right and what you pick out first is probably “Roses”.
Because again, there’s contrast. A strong colour logo on a light background.
At a push, you’d also pick out Celebrations. But that logo’s harder work given it’s vertical rather than horizontal. And most people reading text in English, read left to right.
So Cadbury and Mars get a pass here.
As for the other brands, we get that ‘premium’ products want to use subtle, less ‘shout-y’ design cues. But Guylain and Lindt have little colour contrast and fussy fonts that are barely legible on a small screen.
If you squint hard enough, you can work out there’s some sort of L’Oreal product also sneaking in next to the Roses. But not which product it actually is.
And there’s something called Honey Bear in the background there. But unless you know what that is, the product placement shot is useless.
Maybe we’re being a little harsh?
Now, these banner ads were clearly photoshopped together by someone at Woolw… er, the online grocer. And the brands themselves probably had little control over how their product would appear on screen.
We’re pretty certain that for those brands to appear in that shot in that basket, money will have have changed hands between the manufacturer and the retailer.
And of the 15 products in these baskets, only 2 we would say are using their packaging for e-commerce to maximum effect.
That’s 13 brands who have opportunities to make their packaging for e-Commerce work harder.
What about on the shelf itself?
Well, on the shelf / category page, you get more standard pack shots with no lifestyle clutter. A standard flat image of the product. And of course a lot of sales promotion activity.
So let’s jump over to another online grocery store and see how a more standard product range works. Let’s look at the specials on the front page.
3 of these products would get a pass for the brand name being instantly easy to read.
Arnott’s, Sensodyne and Omo have good colour contrast on the names and large enough names to work on a small screen.
Interestingly, Pedigree, Steggles and Peters put the product variant name higher than the brand name at the expense of the branding.
We guess they’re relying on the brand colour cues to do the parent branding job.
From a design point of view, we believe Peters Original is the strongest of the 3 with Dentastix and Chicken Fingers a little too busy to work strongly online.
And as for Luv a Duck?
Well now. That’s just a tough one to do packaging for. We probably don’t give a something that rhymes with duck about what they’ve done there to be honest.
What’s the opportunity?
We were lucky to attend a conference a few years ago where one of the speakers was an e-commerce business leader at Ocado, the leading UK online grocery retailer.
His challenge to marketers was to think about what your packaging looks like on a 6 inch mobile phone screen. That struck as very perceptive at the time. He mercilessly pulled up a range of products from the company sponsoring the event and ripped in to all those which were ‘fails’ on a mobile screen.
And any time we got involved in packaging development since then, we’ve included this online thinking as part of the process. We always ask how the packaging will look on a digital screen.
Does the brand and product name stand out? Does it have good contrast? Is it legible? Is it recognisable? Does it convey the information the online shopper needs?
Looking at all the brands above from many of Australia’s leading FMCG companies, it’s hit and miss whether that happens as standard with their packaging design.
Conclusion - packaging for e-Commerce
So if you’re a marketer, an e-Commerce lead or a packaging agency, it’s really easy to add these sorts of questions in as an extra step in your packaging design process.
A simple extra step that’ll have a big impact on whether customers even notice your product online.
It may not be glamorous as advertising. But it’s an important and easy way to grow your online sales.
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