Want a best selling brand?

Tell us about your brand and your big ideas. Because every great relationship starts by reaching out. Just fill in a few details to get the ball rolling.

Discuss a Project Discuss a Project


The Ultimate Guide To Retail Packaging Design.

Share Fb Tw In
Retail Packaging Design

DTC may seem like the best channel for commerce, but at some point, every brand must enter into omnichannel commerce by pursuing retail to scale their business profitably. Retail presents more prevalent packaging challenges than you experience selling directly to the consumer. This article educates new and DTC brands on the necessary steps to create a shelf-tested, performance-ready retail packaging design.

Get ready to learn the ins and outs of retail product packaging from:

  • The differences between retail and ecommerce packaging strategies.
  • Why your packaging design must consider your shelf competitors.
  • The greater importance of optimizing the packaging experience.
  • Embracing the human sense we only find in retail packaging.
  • Designing in consideration of multiple merchandising placements. 
  • How to create your retail packaging design strategy. 
  • The right way to go through the packaging design process.
  • The importance of shelf testing your packaging against competitors.

Get this right, and your product will experience significant brand exposure. 

Packaging Design For Retail Vs. Ecommerce

The first step to successfully executing in retail is understanding how retail packaging design differs from DTC—Let’s look at other packaging differentiators between retail and ecommerce packaging designs. 

Shelf Competitors

As big as your online business is, existing brand awareness is not enough to carry you through a successful retail campaign. Unlike ecommerce, a potential customer can use their two hands to compare your product against the competition. 

Surprisingly, ecommerce giants have yet to consider this with a distraction-free pop-up model. Sure, they have comparison charts, but these do not stimulate buyer consideration like a shelf grab. 

Unlike Google shopping, retailers cannot place you in the 100th position, meaning you’re out if you do not perform! Once you are out of a retailer, finding shelf placement in the future is nearly impossible.

You get one shot at success in the retail Store, so you must do what it takes to outperform current and future shelf competition.

In most cases, a retailer will only give you one chance to win over customers. For this reason and many others, the retail packaging design is critical to your success in retail stores.
In most cases a retailer will only give you one chance to win over customers For this reason and many others the retail packaging design is critical to your success in retail stores

Packaging Experience

Unlike ecommerce, retail product packaging offers an opportunity to bring your product to life. Most brands cannot achieve this when using standard run-of-the-mill, economically priced, boring packaging. Retail opens the doors to custom packaging as a means of product differentiation. 

But there’s the other side of CPG packaging experience where damaged packaging may be acceptable in the ecommerce model, where you can blame the shipping company; in retail, store managers will either send your product back or look like a poor substitute to your shelf competition. 

This two-sided coin of packaging can make or break your retail revenues. Custom retail packaging must stand out, but not in a “what happened” way. Customer experience is critical for CPG brands who want to enter the retail channel. 

A Sense Of Touch

While touch fits into the “packaging experience” conversation, the customer’s ability to feel your product is a topic that deserves a separate section. 

One of the top three reasons people still shop in retail stores is the ability to touch a product. Until (if ever) the metaverse takes over the CPG industry, your kinesthetic packaging experience either encourages or discourages purchase intent

So if you are paying for custom retail packaging, measure its effectiveness for the visual and kinesthetic stimulus it creates. 

Merchandising Functionality

Hopefully, every DTC brand ensures that their product can stand up without falling over. But not every brand embraces the difference between staying correctly positioned in the retail store vs. the consumer’s cabinet. 

It’s a good idea to be considerate of your packaging presentation, as your brand may find its way onto an end cap or capture a retail display. Your octagon-shaped custom packaging might “look” cool, but will it be a nightmare for retail merchandisers? Does it limit your opportunity for enhanced exposure?

These are all things we must consider.

Retail Packaging Design Trends

Latching onto CPG packaging trends might find you industry acceptance, but it only sometimes equates to packaging performance. However, exploring these trends is entirely acceptable in the product packaging design process

Here’s a look at the current trends in the retail space.


Sustainability Button

A hot topic for sure, but while consumers are open to the idea of sustainability, pricing is critically important to the success of a sustainable packaging design. 

A brand offering a sustainable product and packaging may collect a 20% pricing premium, but can they command a 70% pricing premium? The impact is sure to change. 

Sustainability is part purpose but also part marketability. Therefore, promoting sustainable packaging must be as creative as your efforts to stand out in the CPG category. Plenty of brands fail with a sustainable model because they need more distinction in communicating their sustainable brand story. 


Minimalist packaging designs are still popular with consumers who desire a simpler lifestyle. But only some categories and consumer demographics appeal to this less-is-more initiative. 

Minimalism will always be a packaging discussion as brands who win with this design theme are bucking the consumerism marketing trend. Still, too few unicorns exist to make the removal of necessary design elements and purchase drivers the norm. 

But removing the clear definition of minimalism allows brands to take a “more minimalistic” approach compared to their shelf competitors. If a category exists where mediocre purchase drivers flood the front panel, limiting to three may be a strategic move. 


Not me, not me, not me, me! 

That’s how it looks when consumer’s eyes scan the shelf. They may not be saying this directly, but every “no” conveys that the product is not the best fit for them. 

With this understanding, retail packaging design always has and always will demand personalization. However, technological advances allow brands to make packaging that speaks to a specific customer. 

Recent advances in smart packaging allow us to take personalization off the package and into the digital world. Consumer perceptions show this to be a good thing, creating the need for connected packaging to be a part of a brand’s retail packaging strategy. 

How To Create A Winning Retail Package Design

There is a process to creating a retail package design that both retail buyers and consumers will receive well. At SmashBrand, we have an extensive list of steps to ensure our clients achieve retail packaging performance. 

While we cannot give away the secret sauce of our packaging design agency, here’s a look at the packaging design process.

Start With Strategy

Success doesn’t happen accidentally, which is valid with retail packaging design. You can build a strategy that starts the packaging design process by combining brand insights, agency expertise, and consumer research. In strategy, you will review the following:

Here is a retail packaging design strategy checklist that you can use to begin your product packaging process.
  • Packaging trends: Reviewing the latest packaging design trends (such as sustainable packaging) is necessary to identify market penetration opportunities and what may have become white noise. 
  • Target audience: Identify the target market and consider their preferences, demographics, and psychographics. The packaging design should appeal to their tastes and preferences.
  • Brand personality: Determine the brand personality and ensure the packaging design reflects it. For instance, if the brand is playful and fun, the packaging should reflect this.
  • Brand identity: Review the consumer’s current understanding of the brand and its identity in the marketplace. 
  • Unique selling proposition: Identify and highlight the product’s unique selling proposition and highlight it in the packaging design. A USP could be the product’s features, benefits, or quality.
  • Competition: Analyze the competition and ensure that the packaging design stands out. It should be distinctive, unique, and memorable.
  • Materials: Choose the appropriate packaging materials that align with the brand’s values and the target market’s preferences. For example, if sustainability is a key value, the packaging materials should be eco-friendly.
  • Purchase Drivers: Look for what messages matter to your consumer audience and then find a way to distinguish yourself from the competition who lean on these purchase drivers for success.
  • Typography and color: Choose typography and color schemes consistent with the brand theme and appealing to the target market. The right color and typography will help to create a cohesive visual identity.
  • Branding elements: Ensure the packaging design includes branding elements such as logos, slogans, and taglines. These elements help to create brand recognition and brand recall.

Additional considerations that impact your long-term success in the retail channel.

  • Packaging Experience: Consider the practical aspects of the packaging design, such as ease of use, durability, and convenience.
  • Regulatory compliance: Ensure the packaging design complies with labeling requirements and safety standards.
  • Budget: Consider the budget for custom retail packaging to ensure it aligns with the brand’s projected profit margin.

Once this data is in place, you can shift to the packaging design. 

Shift To Design 

With the packaging design brief ready, the design team goes to work. A graphic designer must have the capability of providing various versions to the client for preliminary feedback about the direction of their designs. During this conversation between the agency and the brand, it’s important to note the importance of not letting subjectivity interfere with the packaging design process.

After presenting the preliminary designs and eliminating those heading in the wrong direction, the graphic designer will refine the design concepts to align with the brand’s expectations. The concepts will now have subtle changes in the graphic design and messaging. An example of this is showcasing flavor freshness over the flavor profile. 

Now, it’s time for the designs to go through concept testing

What is Concept Testing?

Concept testing in packaging design is a market research approach used to evaluate the attractiveness and efficacy of proposed package designs. It entails presenting numerous graphic design concepts to customers in drawings, mock-ups, or digital renderings and soliciting input on their packaging preferences, perceptions, and behaviors.

  • Concept testing aims to uncover design features that resonate with the target market and modify the design in response to feedback.
  • Concept testing guarantees the final packaging design is appealing, effective, and aligned with the brand’s aims and the target market’s tastes.
  • Concept testing is essential to the package design process because it reduces the risk of investing in a design that customers may not receive well. 

A graphic designer or packaging design agency will make informed judgments about enhancing and optimizing the design by soliciting input early. The effort put into concept testing results in more successful product launches and customer satisfaction.

Refine and Test For Performance

In recognition that you are not competing against yourself when placed on the store shelf, we determine “effective packaging” based on its performance against the competition. Package design testing includes testing for shelf performance which gives you and the retailer assurance of the potential of your product in their stores. 

At SmashBrand, our proprietary version of purchase intent testing proves brand performance and revenue increases.

Retail Packaging Design Guaranteed To Perform

Want A Best Selling Brand? More than a packaging specialist, we become your brand partner, helping you maximize your ability to reach your target customer in a retail store. Book a time to discuss your branding and packaging design projects with our team.