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Getting creative with e-commerce packaging


We live in an era of highly customized and targeted marketing solutions. Yet the many of the products we order regularly online haven’t evolved to reflect this. It’s time that brand owners made progress on providing data-driven and customized packaging solutions for their consumers when purchasing on-line.

Packaging, in one form or another, has always been around to assist people in transporting, storing and protecting a variety of items. Most historians agree that it dates back to the time when humans were nomadic hunters and gatherers. It has since evolved from leaves and animal skins to cardboard and various plastics.

Yet consumer packaged goods design has remained fundamentally the same for the past 100 years. The majority of products featuring a large logo, distinct brand colour and product imagery. That’s because they’re designed to standout on the shelf and to provide ease of navigation in a crowded retail environment.

But that doesn’t acknowledge that the consumer’s path to purchase is changing. The growth of e-commerce and the ready availability of data has led to a proliferation in customized, targeted, marketing, so why do we use the same packaging that we see on store shelves for home delivery?

There are certainly some economies to be considered in mass production but there are clear commercial benefits to be gained in optimizing packaging for the individual in the same way that communications messages are or different mediums and audiences. But, if purchase intent is driven by on-line content, the role of the package completely changes. Our goal is now to build brand love, loyalty and repeat purchase by tapping into human passion points.

So what can we do to move towards greater personalization of packaging design? A first step is to demonstrate we understand the target audience and deliver a more relevant experience. That’s vital because 96% of people say that the customer experience is important in their choice of loyalty to a brand, according to Microsoft’s ‘State of Global Customer Service Report.’

For instance, that plain old bag of flour sitting in your pantry with the standard logo and bold background colour. How do we build a more emotional connection with the consumer who purchased it? We know she takes pride in baking for her family but could sometimes use a little inspiration. What if our packaging was covered with easy-to-read personalized recipes, accompanied by beautiful bakery shop inspired photography and fun family games to play? Our frozen vegetable consumer loves the convenience but is concerned about the origin of the product. Our packaging could focus entirely on the product story, the journey from field-to-table and the farmers that harvested them, really bringing this amazing journey to life. Or how about when I am enjoying a bag of salty snacks while watching a football game. Could the packaging help fill those annoying commercial breaks with sports news, highlights, trivia and incredible Sports Illustrated style photography?

The point is that brand owners have an amazing opportunity to break the traditional packaging norms developed for the retail environment and deliver targeted content and stories to people through a product they have already chosen to purchase. There are no limits to ways to tailor designs to audiences – customizing by culture, demographics, and concerns for the environment.

In terms of customizing by culture it’s important to take note of the evolution of language, especially in terms of changing demographic statistics. Linguistic diversity is on the rise in Canada. In 2016, 19.4% of Canadians reported speaking more than one language at home, up from 2011 (17.5%). And seven in 10 people with a mother tongue other than English or French spoke one of these languages at home. Imagine selecting a preferred language option and having your product arrive with all communication in that language?

It’s also worth considering the ageing demographic profile of the population. At the time of the last census, in 2016, Canada registered the largest increase in numbers of seniors in its history and, for the first time, the share of those aged over 65 (16.9%) exceeded the share of children (16.6%). With this in mind, you could order senior- friendly product packaging that is easy to open, to re-seal, and to read.

Then there’s the massive issue of sustainability. The growing awareness of the impact of the materials we use on the world around us, and the drive to dramatically reduce the amount of packaging while rethinking the materials to make them less damaging to the environment. Typical packaging is designed for maximum face panel exposure at shelf. But could we eliminate the box and ship cereal in the inner bag? Or heavily promote refill bags for standard containers like laundry detergent? The emergence of platforms such as Loop, the circular shopping system designed to reduce waste, makes this a more realistic option for companies including Loblaw that have already signed-up.

And, in terms of achieving this, which brands are doing well? Mainly those that understand that product packaging can provide a deeper engagement and extended brand experience with the shopper in the home delivery moment. We’ve seen a proliferation of curated “box” companies, from providing tonight’s meal through to pet toys. Brands that grasp that unwrapping and discovery can be an amazing part of the experience are the winners. Take a look at Chefs Plate, for instance, which makes the fully-recyclable packaging and personalized recipe booklets with a section for notes are all part of their integrated brand story.

Packaging can also be used to deliver a brand proposition through the careful consideration of language, imagery, materials and attention to detail. It’s worth it because people have time to linger over and appreciate packaging at home – they’re not handcuffed by a 3.2 second interaction at the shelf. And it’s also the case that packaging on home deliveries allows more flexibility on how to include regulatory requirements than in stores. is one brand that really embraces this approach, using packaging design to really deliver surprising moments and start a conversation around its packaging.

These examples show clearly that customized product packaging for online orders is already established. But there is a bigger opportunity to take this further as home delivery continues to rise and consumer data becomes even more readily available. Brand owners should welcome this approach as a method of fuelling innovation and growth in stagnant categories.

The Institute of Communication Agencies’ Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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