May 27, 2014

Making Your Packaging Design Work Online

Making Your Packaging Design Work Online

Packaging works online pretty much the same way it works in stores — only with less emphasis on product protection, use and value, and more on whether it looks good in a thumbnail.  This may be one of the most important articles we have written this year.  Strategic packaging design is equally if not more important for online shopping.

As though it wasn’t enough to have to design packages for real-life interaction; now we have to design packages that are somehow pleasing in the world of e-commerce. This seems like a ridiculous task; after all, packaging is a tactile thing. We pick up the package, read it, gauge how effectively the package has protected the product and how the package will aid in the use of the product. These are things that help the consumer determine the overall quality and value of the product itself. Moreover, with the exception of reading it (for the most part), these are also things that cannot be accurately assessed electronically. So, what is the customer left with in terms of his or her impression of the package design? That customer is left with whatever impression the package designer wants him/her to have. Wait a minute… maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all!

Ultimately, package design in an online market makes itself distinguished through five fundamental guidelines:

    • Clear brand identity
    • The perception of quality
    • Recognizable thumbnail imaging
    • Distinct display of product dimensions
    • Shipping parcel marketing opportunities
    • We’ll go ahead and break down the importance of the above categories, and examine different methods of achieving them, and we’ll do so in an appropriately whimsical manner.

1. Clear brand identity — Books being judged by their covers

In the olden days, when the Internet was relatively new and we were just becoming acquainted with buying our drugstore staples online, we already knew what our brand packages were supposed to look like and how to identify them via tiny e-store thumbnails. Even if the package design was wholly unsuited for thumbnail display it didn’t really matter, since that is what the customer specifically sought. Now, those tiny e-store thumbnails might be our entire introduction to the product and the brand. How are we supposed to negotiate physical package design for products that are legitimately on actual store shelves with “virtual” package design? Arrgh… We have to lie down.

Below you can see how online shoppers interact with product pages.  The eye always comes back to the thumbnail over any other element of the web page.

Online Shopping Heat Map

What works best in terms of e-retailer package presentation? If the brand-name product is already well known and has a strong following, then package modification for optimum e-store presentation must be subtle; if the customer recognizes a change in the packaging, then he or she might conclude there could have been a change in the product itself, and this might not be a good thing. However, new products — products that might only be available online through specialty online retailers — are another matter. The initial design concept will be almost entirely based upon how it will be seen on a monitor, tablet or phone. Furthermore, the electronic product display might be more equitable online than it would be on a brick-and-mortar drugstore shelf; when the customer types in the search criteria for your type of product, it could be listed right along side industry juggernauts. This being the case, you want your packaging to be more e-friendly than the brands with brick-and-mortar presence.

2. The perception of quality — Don’t touch what you can’t afford, sunshine

Well, we’d like to touch what we can’t afford, but in an online retail situation, we just can’t. (We also can’t even touch what we can afford in this scenario, but whatever.)

How can you convey the impression of a high-quality packaging concept when the potential buyer can’t tell how well-made the packaging material really is? It could be made of spider’s webs and magic, but we wouldn’t know, because we can’t hold it. What we can do, is look at it, and this is where label design and could help give the product an air of distinction.

We all want our label designs to be as sophisticated as possible, but when it comes to what it is we think is sophisticated and elegant, and what the world thinks is sophisticated and elegant might be entirely different things. So, take a gander at the typefaces, color schemes and layout of the most elite, prestigious and expensive examples of products in and adjacent to your industry and take note. Obviously, don’t copy anyone’s designs exactly unless you have a hankering to turn all of your money over to a team of lawyers, but there are trends in luxury label design that should be noted. A bit of unexpected elegance could yield surprising results.

3. Recognizable thumbnail images — Making it photo-friendly

Yes, while a supermarket or drugstore product has to look good to the naked eye, a product that is exclusively e-retailed has to look good for the camera. What looks good onscreen? Simple, clear and bold design elements. The busier, lighter and more subtle design strategies are in danger of being obscured by the limitations of the e-retailer’s display. If you want your package and label to really pop, choose colors that can be brilliantly displayed on most monitors, tablets and smartphones.  Every single positioning statement, color, callout and detail matters more than ever now.

4. Distinct display of product dimensions — Stats, stats and more stats

Because your consumers won’t be able to pick up your product in order to assess its dimensions, weight and volume, you have to make the size on the package clear and readable. If your product is sold in a 4-oz bottle but other competitors typically sell 8-oz containers, you will want to note the size prominently, since this is the exact sort of misunderstanding that can leave some pretty hostile comments in product review sections.

5. Shipping parcel marketing opportunities — Slap your logo on the box and give ’em samples!

While this isn’t strictly the domain of package design, it is nonetheless a valuable opportunity to get your brand badge on your shipping parcel for items you’ll be shipping from your own fulfillment center. Amazon has embraced this with all of its figurative limbs, and look where it is now! So darned successful that the bulk of your shipments might one day be delivered via Amazon marketplace, making all of your shipping parcel marketing strategies essentially moot.

Ultimately, the e-retailed product package still has to have all of the fabulous elements that product packages have always had to have, with the addition of really clear product size descriptions (really — we can hardly stress this enough) and extremely high resolution imaging. It may seem superficial to judge a product by its package, but the Internet has taken that superficiality to a whole new level.  Strategic packaging design is equally if not more important for online shopping sales conversions.

6. Test, test, retest and consumer validate your packaging before it goes to shelf (or online cart).

At SmashBrand we use an “intelligent design” process that greatly increases the success of your brand in the marketplace by bringing consumers, competition, and the marketplace all into consideration. There are many great packaging design firms that use similar processes that bring in consumer validation and acceptance testing.  The difference can have a profound impact on the success of your product or service and have multiplying effects on revenue and market share.  Here is a quick infographic that explains this process and how you should be thinking when you are introducing new brands or products into the modern marketplace.

SmashBrand Design Process


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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