Online growth and packaging reconsidered

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

2019 looks like another big step forward for e-commerce, across categories. The final statistics might not quite in yet and the growth rates might not be as huge as a few years ago but the share of all retail is definitely growing, with consequences for the entire value chain.

One estimation is that, globally, the total growth of e-commerce in 2019 was 21% taking the online share of total retail sales up to a staggering 14%. The numbers vary strongly between categories and we are looking forward for the dust to settle and to get the final numbers for 2019.

As brand owner you respond to this shift in purchase patterns and adjust the offer, products and packaging to online shopping. One main consequence from a packaging/logistics point of view is that products are no longer shipped neatly stacked on pallets protected by secondary packaging.

Online shopping means the opposite for a shipped product. It could be sent alone to be delivered at a doorstep or be dispatched together with random products to a pick-up point, probably both. In any case the product will need more protection than the standard primary packaging can provide.

The situation is improved either by adding more and protective packaging, changing material from glass to plastic or why not design the packaging and product for e-commerce, or omnichannel, from the beginning.

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

Unilever has decided to make all their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To get there they are, among other things, offering shoppers refillable containers. This also works well for online shopping where the smaller sized refill units are saving weight and cost.
Cif household cleaning products are offered as concentrated refill capsules for the original spray bottle. Just add water and hey presto the product is ready for use. Unilever is also part of the Loop initiative where a whole range of products are offered online in refillable containers.


Another similar product concept from a leading brand owner is Pepsico’s Drinkfinity, also an example of a concentrated product sold in shipping friendly containers. The concept consists of juice-based pods and a reusable water bottle. Just add some H2O. This is probably also a move to meet a shift in consumer demand for more healthy products. Nevertheless Drinkfinity was launched online where the product has an e-commerce site of its own, just like any other direct-to-consumer brand.


Perso is a L’Oreal concept that takes this a step further. Perso is a device that actually makes personalised skincare products for you, in your home, and is powered by Artificial Intelligence. From the three cartridges contained in the machine it makes unique skincare, lipstick and foundation products, just for you. All personalised as you have fed the thing with pictures of yourself, location and your preferences. This is what you can call reusable and smart packaging.

The concept of concentrated, space saving, light weight products has many positive sides. It saves cost, it is a great way to streamline online sales logistics and maybe it even gives the consumer the satisfaction of a “homemade” product.

The power of packaging

Packaging Design

CigI am thinking of the idea of using legislation to control consumer packaging decoration. The power of packaging design has to be restrained to make a product less attractive and hold the consumers back. I am of course referring to tobacco and the ongoing discussions about neutralising the design of the entire category. This says a lot about the power of packaging and of and how graphical design communicates. Australia was first out and this is at present also discussed in Europe.

Packaging PatentsPod

Tread carefully when making packaging design decisions. Nestlé is in court meeting a producer of coffee capsules made to work with Nespresso machines. The argument is about the design of the capsules and the functionality of the machines. Without going into details, it’s again about the inherent power of packaging to make or break. This time a little bit of diplomacy probably would have smoothed things a bit. Playing with packaging is playing with fire.

Packaging Changes

GladPeople apparently care and react to what they think is not quite right, also when it comes to packaging. Glad Wrap has been forced to rework their new packaging design after an uproar of public backlash from unhappy customers. Their mistake was to move the cutter from the base of the box to inside the lid. Shock horror. The consumers didn’t like the change and let Glad know, they got the message and changed things back to “normal”.

Packaging matters and design is over again proving to be a powerful tool.

Innovative brand extensions

There are loads of textbook examples describing successful brand extensions. I would say that the Virgin enterprises of today will serve as a good example of a successful branching out from the original Virgin branded vinyl recordings. Coca-Cola famously extended the brand to include also Diet Coke in 1982 and IKEA is also the number one Swedish exporter of food products.Peddy2

Artist and designer Peddy Mergui takes the concept of brand extension further than this and to a new level. In an amazing, challenging and also made up series of cleverly designed packaging solutions for famous brands. Famous brands that today are active far away from the here suggested categories.Peddy1

In a design museum in San Francisco the entire line of exciting and thought provoking packaging was displayed. Peddy gives us his view of what milk from Apple would look like, or a salami from Louis Vuitton and how yogurt from Tiffany could be packed. If you ever wondered what pickles by Gucci would look like, go to the exhibition web site.

A brand is expressed through its packaging and this artist will support us thinking out of the box and straight into the container.

Stop telling people what you don’t do. Tell them what you do!

GSIPeople need to be prompted. You can’t expect consumers to spontaneously demand specifics but they will certainly react to what’s put on display. This is a general statement but it is very much a fact that comes to packaging and what message you choose to convey. What I am thinking of is that you often see products that state they are free from fat, gluten, preservatives and sugar with less salt and not that many carbs.

Tell them instead what the product contains. That you have used the best raw materials that you could find and that you have treated the stuff carefully and according to the regulations.

This will over time build up consumer trust and loyalty. A packaging copy and design opportunity.

“Pretty” is appealing, it’s proven

I always thought I knew it but now I can relax and enjoy the confirming results from a study made by the University of Calgary. The study concludes that children prefer the taste of foods in pretty and decorative packaging and also that packaging design play an even stronger role than product branding.

SupermarketThe study was about examining the effects of branding and packaging on young children’s taste preferences. Young children got to taste identical foods in either branded packaging (strong brands like McDonald’s and Starbucks), in plain or in colourful but unbranded packaging. The kids were then asked if the foods tasted the same or if one tasted better.

The results are clear, children preferred the taste of foods wrapped in colourful and decorative wrappings, relying more on design than on familiar branding when making their choices. The findings challenge established commercial advertising and brand promotion on television and other media platforms.

The study concludes that “More attention should be directed at the important role of packaging in directing children’s food preferences.” But I would like to extend the findings to include us all. We do rely on all our senses when we make that choice in the supermarket aisles. We make our decision and a pretty and alluring pack design will support it.

It is time to make room for the packaging dimension of the product proposition in the brand owner’s mind sets and budgets to survive and grow their market shares.

Of course packaging functionality and quality of product etc. are important but that is for next step, repeat purchase.