Consider your package design wisely. Or miss a huge opportunity for impact.

Traditionally, our industry has justified investment in quality packaging design by pointing out the importance of standing out on the shelf, of catching the eye, of looking unique, and being memorable. Those are all still valid reasons to invest in packaging design. And equally relevant in an ecommerce world, particularly when your product will be sold alongside others on large, online marketplaces. However, that is where many of the similarities end. With ecommerce booming and more businesses adding direct-to-consumer sales to their sales strategy, it’s imperative that marketers consider not only the similarities, but account for the differences as well.

“We expect that ecommerce will reach 14.5% of total retail sales in 2020, representing both an all-time high and the biggest share increase in a single year.” *

Packaging in Traditional Brick and Mortar

In traditional brick and mortar commerce, consumers interact with packaging prior to purchase. Before spending a dime, they can touch it, feel it, read it. There’s little risk in doing so. And absolutely no commitment. Compounding that experience, is the emotional connection consumers can have with a space itself. A visceral reaction that can come from walking into a favorite retail store or mall. Whether a sense of confidence, comfort, fascination or familiarity, these reactions too, are a product of thoughtful design. From the music that plays in the background to the fragrances that fill the air, every part of that experience is engineered to encourage and elicit purchase and satisfaction. In many cases, it’s the interaction of these things, the emotional connection to space and the physical connection to packaging, that determine whether a consumer commits to a purchase. That is just not the case in ecommerce.

Packaging in Ecommerce

In ecommerce, the consumer receives most of the information about the product from a website, or two or three. They read reviews and testimonials. They watch videos and research deeply. They can, and do, get a lot more information than can possibly be conveyed on a package or at a shelf. In most cases (particularly first purchases), the experience is much more logical, more cerebral. It’s an experience they have from their home, office, or (especially with younger consumers) from the palm of their hand. Emotional connections to particular spaces, sounds, fragrances are for the most part, non-existent. Consumers will still review and react to the packaging, yet they will do so on a purely aesthetic level (which some would suggest is reason enough to invest more in packaging design). Eventually, and at their own time, with all of their gathered information, consumers will then compare options, and make a decision – never having interacted with the product, or a physical space, at all.

Packaging and the Purchase Cycle

In marketing, we always talk about the consumer purchase cycle. There’s a multitude of ways it can be expressed. But, it generally begins with the consumer identifying a need, then continuing through consideration, research, intent, purchase, use, and then settling on advocacy/loyalty(if you’re lucky). In brick-and-mortar commerce, packaging and the physical experience play a significant role in the early stages of that cycle. In ecommerce, they play a much more significant role in the later stages. And, in a world where “unboxing videos” is a growing phenomenon, and social media allows anyone and everyone to share and talk about their purchases, the influence they now have over the later stages makes package design and the unboxing experience more important than ever before.

“One in three online shoppers have watched an unboxing video online.”**

The Impact of Packaging on Use, Enjoyment, Advocacy and Loyalty

With ecommerce, the first interaction a consumer has with your product and packaging is upon its delivery. And, as with any delivery, consumers experience a certain level of excitement and expectation around that interaction. Even more so when they’ve spent a significant amount of money on, or time waiting for, the product being delivered. Whether it’s fair or not, this heightened level of expectation undoubtedly influences the experience those consumers have with your packaging, product and brand. There is a lot riding on this first interaction (hence the “unboxing” trend). If your packaging and the unboxing experience rises to meet or exceed these elevated expectations, then you’re in a good place. Consumers will talk about not only your product, but the packaging as well. They’ll mention texture, print quality, and scent. They’ll photograph it, video it, and share it with their friends. They’ll become advocates, sometimes even before product use.

“Forty percent of online shoppers say branded packaging makes them more likely to recommend a product to friends.” **

However, if your packaging and the unboxing experience falls short, then you’d better hope that use of your product proves to be absolutely, unequivocally amazing. Or you’re in trouble.

Packaging Design in the Age of Ecommerce

Package design is a core strength here at Bolin. It’s something we love to do, and pride ourselves on. From insulation, thermostats, plumbing supplies, to lip balm, coffee, donuts, beer, even CDB gummies, it seems like we’ve done it all. And as we continue to serve clients in the ecommerce space, we hold to a truth we’ve learned along the way. A truth that has become even more absolute during this shift to ecommerce and D2C sales strategies: packaging is so much more than a delivery device for information and the product contained within. It is, and will forever be, an extension of the product and brand itself.


** US Ecommerce 2020, eMarketer Report – June 2020
** Dotcom Distribution, Packaging Report – 2015