It’s no secret that 2020 has been a year like no other. As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, Americans had to adjust to a new reality: wearing masks, social distancing and staying home as much as possible. One inevitable result of this behavioral shift has been the increase in online shopping; according to ROI Revolution, since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, 36% of consumers shop online weekly, up from 28% before the pandemic. As the end of this tumultuous year is fast approaching, so are the holidays, and the packaging industry is already gearing up for a potentially record-breaking year. The United States Postal Services has historically delivered more than 28 million packages per day between December 16 and December 21, and it will be interesting to see how that number could explode in 2020. Ecommerce purchases will be a key revenue driver for businesses during the holiday season and beyond.
Packaging Design Strategy
However, what can retailers do to ensure they are fostering customer relationships and retention with the increased move to online purchasing? Without the in-store experience, customers are not privy to the overall experience a brand can offer — i.e., the aesthetics of the store, the attentiveness of the staff, the smell and music that all play a role in creating consumer perception of a brand. This means that packaging and the unboxing experience becomes critically important for brands looking to foster customer preference and loyalty.
Brands may struggle to stand out amongst a mass of brown packages on customers’ doorsteps, so retailers need to be smart in their packaging design to meet customer demand and unlock the potential of their ecommerce strategy. To make online shopping a meaningful interaction with the brand, retailers need to consult packaging experts who can design impactful and beautiful packages, advise on the best materials and share the ever-changing packaging trends.
Fortunately, packaging material is a blank canvas that can be reimagined and creatively interpreted to foster rich consumer engagement. Packaging design is now just as important to a brand strategy as a logo. Smart packaging designers analyze all components of a company’s brand to ensure the packaging conveys those elements. Colors, textures and personalized materials not only stand out among other packages, but these details prove that the brand cares about its customers. Fortunately, the rise of digital printing makes it easy and affordable for companies to customize its packages to fit the holiday season. The human eye is drawn to colorful, interesting patterns, so a package that employs digital printing will immediately stand out among the rest. A 2013 study, “Neural Correlates of Impulsive Buying Tendencies during Perception of Product Packaging” (Hubert et al), that researched neural responses to packaging noted that beautiful packaging activates the parts of the brain associated with reward, meaning that investing in talented packaging designers who can help convey a brand will pay off in developing strong positive feelings with customers.
Choosing Materials for Holiday Packaging
While the aesthetic is a crucial factor in creating a brand touchpoint with the consumer, another important component of packaging design is protecting its contents. The retailer is ultimately responsible for packages that get damaged in transit, so protecting against harm reduces costs, increases profit and makes a solid first impression. Experienced packaging engineers can analyze the product category — such as food, electronics or cosmetics, for example — and determine the best way to package the product to minimize damage. Rigid materials, such as corrugated and hard plastics, have long been the standard for durable ecommerce packaging; however, recent improvements in flexible packaging are making it increasingly affordable. Flexible materials are softer and more pliable, meaning they can absorb shock and impact while cushioning the product inside. Generally, flexible packaging is less expensive to manufacture and more compact during shipping, therefore further reducing costs for retailers.
Weighing the benefits of rigid and flexible packaging is just one consideration when it comes to choosing the best materials for holiday packaging. As consumers become increasingly concerned about the environment, they care more about sustainable packaging materials. Millennials are more likely to support companies that are eco-conscious, and, as Caitlin Mullen reports in Bizwomen, in 2020 these consumers in their 20s and 30s will be the highest spending generation. Digital Commerce 360 shares that in 2019, millennials also made 60% of their purchases online, so it will undoubtedly pay off for companies to invest in sustainable packaging materials. New packaging technologies in ocean-bound plastics, molded fiber and molded felt are making it easier for brands to choose materials that are protective and eco-friendly. Retailers that want to cash in on this opportunity should look for packaging partners that are “material neutral,” or able to design packages from any material.
Looking beyond the 2020 holiday season, ecommerce shows no signs of slowing down. Finances Online projects that online sales will hit $4.5 trillion in 2021, so brands need to rely on packaging partners who can forecast and stay on top of trends. We are currently living in a “now” society that drives packaging waste; unfortunately, using a package that isn’t the right size for the product leads to wasted resources and money. This presents a fantastic opportunity for companies in the future: While the current structure isn’t set up to be eco-friendly, companies have a chance to invest in equipment to make ecommerce right-sized. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that the “now” society isn’t going away, so companies should commit to end-of-line automation and pivot from large brick-and-mortar stores to ecommerce.
This holiday season and into the new year, ecommerce will remain an important part of life in America. This creates opportunity for brands to reimagine their packaging strategy and employ smart, durable and sustainable solutions that will make a powerful brand impression.