The truth is, technological advancements, such as smart homes, wearable tech and voice and face recognition make our lifestyles more convenient and more interesting no matter our age, but it is those aged 37 and younger who approach the integration of tech into our everyday lives with the least amount of trepidation and the maximum amount of sanguinity.

To the younger generation, it feels natural and fun to utilize their mobile phones while shopping and, in the home, so why not have a go? And since many millennials and post-millennials have cash to spend, retail has responded with a transformation of the shopping model into a more personalized, more convenient and emotionally rewarding experience.

Seamless from Start to Finish

Faster means automated. And when we’re talking about e-commerce, this means an end-to-end experience that is seamless for the consumer, even when there are numerous parts operating behind the scenes. While e-commerce marketplaces thrive in clothing and home furnishings sectors, the heyday of FMCG e-commerce has yet to arrive, which makes this the ideal time for producers and private label brands to establish that start-to-finish immersive experience.

Remember Dash buttons? One touch and your favorite name brand item is immediately ordered with no follow-up necessary. Amazon has recently halted sale of the devices (though the ones previously sold can still be used) and the presumed culprit for the demise of Dash is the superior technology of voice assistant systems such as Alexa and Google Assistant. The touchless systems handle the ordering, at a word from the user, however the concept of widespread total automation is still waiting in the wings. In the Dash days, several models from leading white goods such as Bosch were enabled with the Home Connect app which in addition to remotely running your dishwasher kept tabs on your dishwasher tablets, reordering when the supply fell low. But keeping track of tablets is just the beginning, argue analysts.

The future of smart home appliances will see human intervention reduced or eliminated as machines “learn” to work in concert with smart packaging. The days are not far off when refrigerators will come equipped with a remote chip reader that clocks FMCG items and tracks their usage, just like those Bosch Home Connect dishwashers track your tablet usage.

However, if we’re talking about adding a chip to make packaging digital, so that your almond milk reorders itself when you’re nearing the bottom of the carton, then there are a host of concerns that accompany this advancement – from privacy and data protection issues to recycling.

Packaging for Today’s Consumer

Since in our current era millennials are more likely to spend more on eating out, ready-made food and convenience food, today’s packaging is becoming sleeker: becoming easy to carry, easy to open and keeping products in date for as long as possible. The innovative “grab and go” designs are on the rise, and convenience and portability concerns factor into every stage of the product’s lifespan, from on-shelf standout to post-life ease of recycling.

Tech integration is a major force, with packaging featuring as a touchpoint complementing that of the online experience. Retail appears headed for a renaissance, with the advent of apps which enhance point of sale displays with engagement programmes such as VR assistance, as well as a host of branded apps which lead to a more informed shopping experience. Augmented reality (AR) allows customers to try on products virtually top to toe – from the LCST Lacoste App to try on shoes and the Topshop App to try on clothes, and even Sephora’s app which allows you to see what make-up will look like once applied to the consumer’s own face. UK retailer Argos is now offering an AR app that helps shoppers test whether furniture will fit in the home. AR has been roundly lauded for its real potential to streamline the shopping experience and reduce the number of returns.

However, perhaps most relevant for packaging designers is the use of packaging to inform and educate consumers, so that interaction with the product is initiated easily and that packaging melds into the consumer’s shopping experience in real time. It should encourage consumers to hop on to the app, facilitating the immersion so it’s easy for consumers to check customer reviews and access in store directions, color options, similar products suggestions and pricing information.

What Else Do Millennials Want?

It’s no secret that younger generations in particular are vocal about their concern for the environment. The recent global walk-out from schools and universities was just one manifestation, while millennials and teens are ready and willing to put their consumer dollars behind the brands who are demonstrating accountability. In fact, according to Nielsen, three out of four millennials (73%) are willing to pay extra for sustainable goods.

In the world of packaging, this means following a waste hierarchy and responsibility on the part of producers and designers to operate within constraints, i.e. ensuring all members involved in the production of goods and packaging keep a sustainability mindset which underpins the manufacturing and packaging process from start to finish.

The integration of new and innovative packaging materials, triggering a shift away from our industry’s reliance on petroleum-based plastics, is essential for long-term competitiveness. While bio-plastics and compostable plastics with comparable functionality to petroleum-based plastics are on the rise, there is still enormous work and significant investment needed before they become the norm.

Consumers, however, are hungry for change now. Designers can help private brands by leading the discussion around bio-plastics and by paying heed to an established waste protocol. More specifically, they can do this by reducing the amount of wasted air space, using non-toxic inks and demanding FSC-certified paper and card.

One recent trend is the inclusion of the product or the product packaging’s environmental credentials being displayed on the package front or as part of the marketing. The recycled material content of the PET bottle, or a note about reduced packaging waste goes a long way to inform consumers that a particular brand is making strides towards better sustainability.

The bottom line is that for packaging to appeal to the millennial generation, it needs to communicate abundant information, integrate well into e-commerce and an app-friendly model of instore shopping, all while utilizing fewer materials.

If it sounds like a big demand for producers and designers, here’s one thought that may soften the blow: Creativity works all the better when placed in a set of constraints. So, while designers have a narrow brief and millennial criteria to satisfy, designing ground-breaking packaging is a challenge worth taking head on.



Equator Design Equator Design is a design-to-shelf, packaging design and branding agency with studios in Manchester, Chicago, Cincinnati, Nottingham and Dublin.