How to design packaging that works in-store and on-screen

Written by: Gary Flynn
Published on: 23 May 2017

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Equator managing director Gary Flynn draws on his specialism in integrated packaging and discusses the challenges of creating packaging that works as well online as it does in store.

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If you’re anything like us, you’ll spend most of your waking hours with one or both eyes on a screen of some description, whether you’re working, sneaking a peak at your Instagram while you wait for your colleague to arrive at a meeting or streaming a movie at home.

Given that we now do so much with the help of one digital device or another, it’s odd to think that, only a decade or so ago, we were all still spending our weekends trudging round the supermarket as part of an inescapable weekly routine because we had no other choice.

Who would have imaged back then that we’d be able to re-order our regular grocery list with just one click, set reminders for regular orders or even instruct a voice-activated speaker to order something for us?

How can a single design work on-shelf and online?

Given that many of us are now as likely to select our favourite products from a digital image on our laptop or portable device as we are from an actual shelf, design needs to straddle the real world and the virtual world of online shopping to engage with consumers.

It’s been a dramatic sea change in design requirements that has forced design teams to consider how colours, logos and images work on screen across varied platforms, resolving how to ensure a single design achieves stand out on both a physical shelf and its virtual counterpart.

Meanwhile, we must continue to prioritise the role of the tactile in developing compelling packaging design; not only because in-store purchases still account for such a large proportion of total food product sales but also because the consumer’s post-purchase experience of packaging influences their decisions on whether to buy again.

How will the packaging work in each context?

To create packaging design that works both online and in-store, we must consider how the two retail environments differ so that we can look at the ways in which the packaging needs to attract consumer attention in different contexts and deliver a synergy that cuts across both.

In a store environment, purchasing decisions are influenced by position in store and on shelf. On a physical shelf, products are displayed side-by-side with their rivals, enabling a direct quality comparison of the packaging’s design and materials.

In an online retail environment, on the other hand, product selection is category or search based, enabling consumers to select a specific product by brand or type and scroll from one to the next. With a reduced ability for consumers to view similar products holistically and, subliminally, compare them on shelf, decision making times are faster, as is the capacity for a change of mind once an item has been placed in the virtual basket.

Consequently, an online retail environment requires packaging design that encourages excellent product and brand recall as the shopper scrolls through their chosen category or search results. Colour and graphics become more important, while clever design touches such as easy opening or re-sealable features are unlikely to influence a first time purchase, but may remain a factor in repeat purchasing decisions.

Taking a joined-up approach

A successful packaging strategy that cuts across both online and in-store retail channels requires a joined up approach that runs through the packaging development process from branding and concept, through design, repro, production and print. Only then can the visual and physical requirements of a product that successfully straddles virtual and physical shopping environments really be addressed.

It’s an approach that we at Equator have pioneered with our “under one roof” proposition, which combines teams across all packaging design and production disciplines within a single business.  And because we’re an international business that delivers successful packaging projects in the UK, the US and Ireland, we can also build knowledge sharing and emerging trends into our work, taking forward fresh insights into what works online and in-store when tackling new briefs.

It’s hard to predict the future, particularly in a world where technology moves so fast.  However, what we know is that packaging will continue to play a major role in consumers’ product choice both online and in-store.

By joining the dots from strategy and concept all the way through to production, Equator is continuing to drive innovation aligned to consumer engagement and influence.