As more items are shipped to consumers — both from DCs and from stores, experts explore the ramifications of packaging on brands.
By Carol Brzozowski
COVID-19 brought an upsurge in home delivery, not just from DTC and e-retail, but even from local brick-and-mortar stores. The increased volume has many brands paying more attention to something subscription services have long scrutinized: the packaging for home delivery.
Brand image influence
Even if not seen in a retail environment, packaging can still contribute to the overall brand image when an online purchase is delivered, notes Adam Armstrong, account director for Jump Branding & Design.
The package continues the consumer’s relationship with the brand, and that can be particularly important when the purchase was made online. In-store, a customer’s senses can connect with a package to affect a purchase decision through weight, shape, color, texture, smell, substrate, and auditory stimuli. But when the purchasing decision is made online, only visual cues can be leveraged, notes Richard Dirstein, EVP of creative and innovation for Shikatani Lacroix Design.
The packaging continues the brand relationship. PHOTO: COURTESY OF GREAT NORTHERN INSTORE
“Similar to physical retail shopping, a package has only a split second to create a connection with a prospective customer,” says Dirstein. “That is made emotionally and it happens in the blink of an eye. We call that the ‘blink factor.’ It is measurable and predictable.”
Packaging capitalizes on the emotional effect of the unboxing experience. “The moment when the consumer opens the box and discovers his or her product, it becomes almost like a gift he or she is opening with pleasure and impatience,” says Nathalie Gamache, VP of marketing and innovation for Cascades Containerboard Packaging. When an emotional connection is created, the consumer may become a brand ambassador by sharing their experience on social media, she adds.
Customer loyalty can be driven by the packaging and display, concurs Nanneke Dinklo, senior marketing director of packaging and display provider Bay Cities.
The brand influence may go beyond the recipient, as consumers may share their experience on social media. PHOTO: ISTOCK/STEFANAMER
Experts offer several ways to create that emotional connection. Gamache points out that effective customization and marketing messages can be printed on and inside the box.
Dinklo says packages can be customized to speak to the consumer by using their names and customizing instructions. She suggests printing offers on boxes, using a QR code or an AR experience enabling customers to use their cell phone to connect directly to a company’s website for more instructions on using the product or to offer recipes, for example.
Armstrong adds that packaging can work as a sales tool to cross-promote related goods, tell a sustainable brand story, or drive people to the brand website.
Brands can include recipes, instructions, cross-promotions and more to reinforce the connection with the consumer. PHOTO: ISTOCK/SVETIKD
Bay Cities has been seeing a rise in “inside-out” packaging, according to Dinklo. Inside-out packaging effectively eliminates the need for a separate shipping container and is likely to continue to grow as a way for brands to be environmentally conscious while still communicating their brand and messaging.
“With inside-out packaging, the consumer can turn the box inside out. The box is usually brown outside and printed inside,” says Gamache. “When turned inside out, the print will then be outside. Brands can encourage consumers to reuse their box – such as for a gift box – which makes this box more sustainable as a second use.”
Inside-out packaging allows for extensive brand messaging. Hair care brand Madison Reed reinforces an emotional connection with the consumer through messages like “Hello Beautiful.
Printing inside the box contributes to the unboxing experience, says Gamache, adding that digital printing is an ideal solution for small-volume, high-quality printing for customized packages.
“The boxing experience is like Christmas for the customer when they receive something on their doorstep,” Dinklo says. “People want to get a wow experience when they open the box – once they open the box, they see something they didn’t expect. Especially if you have a higher-end product, you don’t want your box to come across as something that’s not in line with your branding.”
Only 11% of online buyers are satisfied with the packaging they receive, says Gamache, adding that ensuring arrival in perfect condition is key. She says 58% would consider buying somewhere else if a product arrives damaged. Using proper interior and exterior protection can prevent damage in transit, she says.
That sentiment is echoed by Anne-Marie Werner, marketing manager for packaging and display provider Great Northern Instore. She says products can be protected sustainably. Custom-molded pulp protects products that could break, dent, or shatter while in transit, such as glass or other items. “It also can significantly reduce packaging materials and labor (it takes only a few seconds to place products in the insert), and is 100% curbside recyclable,” she says.
A structural designer can offer interior protection such as corrugated inserts or made-to-measure honeycomb pads to keep product from moving inside the box, says Gamache, adding that a company can test packaging in a laboratory certified to offer drop, vibration, and compression tests simulating transport conditions. “Amazon requests such tests on some packaging formats,” she says. As a member of the Amazon Packaging Support and Supplier network, Cascades helps clients obtain their certification.
Custom-molded pulp protects products in transit. PHOTO: COURTESY OF GREAT NORTHERN INSTORE
Rising numbers of items are being shipped from stores rather than a distribution center. When this happens, knowledge of the materials used is important.
“As a packaging company, we have to be very aware of what is being placed in these boxes and mailers to help our customer make the right decisions,” says Marianne Quirk, creative director of Prime Line Packaging. “You can create multipurpose packaging that not only looks good on a shelf, but also makes sure it sustains through a shipment phase if needed.”
But Dirstein warns that this is costly. “The cost for brands to create a package that can be shipped or shelved and be equally appealing is not currently feasible,” says Dirstein. “More durable means more packaging. More packaging means larger carbon footprint, which defeats the purpose.”
Nonetheless, solutions can be found. When a product might end up being shipped from the store, brands can adapt purpose-based solutions to avoid waste and maximize efficiency, says Gamache.
Dirstein says many brands use a two-tier strategy. “Some come from stores, some come from distribution hubs. The challenge is the same. Protection from A to B, spillage, contamination, and delivering a new package.” Similarly, many foodservice brands offer packaging in larger formats for restaurant use and smaller single/multiserve packages for consumers, he says.
“Promising same or next-day delivery often means items are shipped individually instead of grouped,” he says. “This is often logistics – not sustainable – packaging by the retailer.”
Brands can capitalize on the emotional connection of the unboxing experience. PHOTO: ISTOCK/LEOPATRIZI
People seek a different experience in-store than when a brand is shipped to their homes, says Dinklo. For this reason, many brands use packaging specifically for e-commerce, but he sees a blurring of channels. “Over time, we see they are changing their packaging so that they can use it in store, but it’s also easy to ship,” says Dinklo.
With the rise of the number of subscription and delivery companies, it is prudent for brands to consider the possibility of being shipped from the store when making packaging decisions, especially for the future, says Quirk.
“Poly mailers are a great choice when shipping from stores since they don’t take up a lot of space in the back room and are easy to use,” she says. “They can be made in different materials, ones that can be used more than once, bubbled for extra protection, or just flat.”
Printing on different materials is another consideration, says Quirk. For example, Kraft natural material prints differently than printing on a poly mailer.
“From a design perspective, you have to be more strategic with how you convey your message when package sizes are shrinking and materials are being minimized,” says Armstrong. “The trend of minimalist design as a way of conveying a more premium brand image helps when faced with this challenge.”
Packaging should be easy to open. PHOTO: ISTOCK/PRATHANCHORRUANGSAK
Growing online sales creates less of a need to communicate product features and details on a package, as this becomes the role of the website, he adds.
“There is an increasing demand for sustainable packaging, and consumers are more willing to pay a premium for it,” he says. “This means brands can afford to invest in better packaging materials and methods and make sustainability an important pillar of their brand strategy.”
Consumers want easy-to-open packaging, Gamache points out. Cascades offers tear tape or zipper rule to facilitate the opening.
While consumers want packages delivered as soon as possible – in 80% of the cases, they want same-day delivery – some packaging is made to be easily and quickly built to participate in logistic chain efficiency, says Gamache.
“Products are sent back three times more when bought online than in retail stores,” says Gamache. “Some packaging can be built with double tape inside to be opened and then closed so the consumer won’t have to use other packaging to send the product back. Inside-out packaging can be useful for that.”
Carol Brzozowski is a freelance writer who frequently covers business and technical topics.