Brand owners dominated the retail-brand relationship in the 80s and 90s, whereas this last decade has had retailers at the helm. It’s always been a delicate dynamic, but the relationship is showing signs of strain as retailers give store brands more play and everyone feels the recessionary squeeze.

Get over it, I say. If you’re worrying about who has the upper hand, then you’re misallocating resources from the real challenge-that is, making things right with consumers.

Economics aside, mass retail has overwhelmed shoppers for some time. In-store environments are cluttered. SKU proliferation (though getting better) makes choices too complex. And packaging often buries brand relevance behind superfluous marketing claims.

It’s in stark contrast to the premium brands we profile in our cover story this month. They stand out with simplified presentations. Smaller store formats. Better navigation. And a seamless integration between packaging and the retail environment.

Of course, some of these solutions would be tough to replicate on a mass scale. But the takeaway is that it’s less about what’s being sold and more about how it’s being sold. It’s the in-store experience.

You can bet that shopper experience will be one of the few things driving consumer loyalty in this rocky economy. And since your retail customers have just as much at stake, why not come together and work more closely?

Share insights about the way your consumers shop, and where. Ask retailers to disclose findings on what influences the brands their shoppers buy. Work on store-specific or, at least, format-specific solutions.

A good place for ideas is our Packaging that Sells conference, where thought leaders from Hershey, TerraCycle, Clorox, Supervalu, Unilever and others will share their own packaging and retail solutions.

Whatever you do, come together with your retail partners on the shopper experience. Right now. And then again in October, with us, at Packaging that Sells,www.packagingthatsells.comBP