Packaging design for ecommerce can break the rules

Ecommerce packaging faces challenges (can you say "cold chain" for grocery deliveries?) but also offers unique opportunities. The following insights come from the panel discussion "Capitalizing on Ecommerce through Every Aspect of Packaging Design" at the Packaging for Food and Beverage conference, held in conjunction with the recent EastPack show.

Here's a thought-provoking idea from conference moderator Chris Cornyn, who is chief innovation officer at Revolution Foods. Cornyn reminds us that most packaging is designed to fit onto store shelves that haven't really changed in decades. With ecommerce, there are no rigid shelf sets to work around. So brands can rethink what is the optimum packaging size for the use of the product. His example was the number of ounces of spaghetti sauce in typical jars. Most consumers don't use a full jar with their pasta meal yet that's the size sold in stores. Ecommerce frees designers from being influenced or pinned in by shelf height.

Panelists for this session on ecommerce packaging design were Jane Chase, senior director packaging engineering of The Schwan Food Co., Joe Pagliaro, founder and president of start-up consultancy 2940 (formerly director of innovation and packaging with Heineken USA) and Otto Hektor, vp, brand development-Americas, at design firm SGK.

From left to right: At the Packaging for Food and Beverage conference, Cornyn, Pagliaro, Hektor and Chase share good advice for designing packaging for the ecommerce channel.

On the topic of packaging designs seen in two-dimensions on a screen, versus 3D versions in person, Hektor advises to show close-ups of outstanding packaging features as a way to create different visual elements on the screen—and create interest in the product.

Chase suggests to also show different levels of the packaging, such as any secondary packaging, so the receiver knows what to expect.

And Pagliaro warns, "Don't jeapordize your on-shelf presence" (with plain, cost-efficient packaging, for example) because the in-person experience is still important for when the product arrives.

Advancements in technology will make (mostly) a positive mark. Chase cautions that some online shoppers could be intimidated by companies tracking their purchases. But Pagliaro says technology is enabling us (consumers and companies) to be more efficient, such as how smart packaging can tell us when it's time to reorder.

Hektor goes further and tells us to "embrace the Internet of Things." In time, he says, we'll get used to it, as long as it's not too intrusive. However, suggestions for additional purchases, based on past actions, should be served up in an organic or passive way rather than as a hard sell.

Chase has direct experience with ecommerce packaging. Schwan Food Co. has been delivering to consumers for 60 years through catalog sales. Now also offering online ordering, the company has realized that its ecommerce packaging is designed for its drivers more than for the consumers. But there's an initiative underway now to change that.

Regarding the cold chain, Chase says it's important to control the temperature throughout the supply chain, but that dry ice significantly affects packaging.

An audience member asked whether designers were creating ecommerce-friendly packaging or were most brands simply shipping products in existing packaging. Hektor says that some entrepreneurs were creating special packaging for their ecommerce products, but that most established companies were simply tweaking existing packaging.

Also during the Q&A portion, I asked where most of the ecommerce fulfillment would take place: in-house, at contract packagers or with third-party fulfillment plants. Pagliaro says he thinks we'll see a growth boom of third-party facilitators, as many brands want to focus on their core competency of making products.


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