The online retail boom has been happening for many years now but the COVID-19 pandemic and the tough restrictions on the way we live (and shop) have accelerated this shift, explains Rich Quelch of Lifestyle Packaging.
For brands and retailers poised ready for the influx of online and click and collect orders, the gains have been substantial – both reputational and financial. But those who have traditionally relied on physical stores and customer touchpoints, at the expense of their delivery options and how their products are packaged, are now at risk of being left behind.
Since COVID-19 arrived on our shores, 96 percent of UK residents have ordered products online that have arrived via home parcel delivery. And this behavioural trend isn’t going to reverse once we’ve learned how to live peacefully alongside the Coronavirus.
So, brands can’t afford to have poor packaging any longer. Ecommerce and home delivery are the new normal, and as a result, packaging is now a vital brand-building tool.
Is unboxing still “a thing”?
The short answer is yes. Rather than just being the cult trend it once was on YouTube in the early 2010s, unboxing videos are a growing phenomenon across all social media platforms, particularly video and image-led apps like Instagram and TikTok.
Today, almost half of consumers said they would share an image of a new product on their social media if it was uniquely packaged. So, having shareability in mind as part of the packaging design process is now essential.
As a product’s packaging is the first consumer touchpoint and how every unboxing video starts, both secondary and primary packaging should be viewed as an extension to the marketing process and designed in a way that captures attention and shows off your brand USPs as much as possible.
The COVID-pandemic forced us all to stop, take a step back and evaluate ourselves – what really matters and how our decisions impact others.
As part of this process, more of us gained a stronger sense of how our individual actions positively or negatively affect other people and the planet. It also gave us the space to try new things and develop better habits.
“Support Local” was a major retail initiative to take off during the pandemic, encouraging people to spend their money with local small businesses where possible, boycotting larger retailers like Amazon who greatly profited off the closure of the high street.
However, the smaller a business is, the less likely it will have a large budget set aside for packaging and delivering its products. Many local businesses have been forced to pivot and up their presence online and on social media, offering delivery or click and collect services for the first time.
This rapid shift will have left some with less than desirable packaging choices, but as we leave the emergency phase of the pandemic these, businesses can now take the time to get up to speed and create a customer experience through packaging that will benefit them moving forwards.
The differences when ordering from large and small businesses can be vast. Often, when people order from large online retailers, convenience and speed are prioritised, whereas small businesses can create much more personalised and unique unboxing experiences, helping them to stand out from the crowd.
Another large-scale shift we’re seeing, spurred on by the pandemic changing our outlooks and giving us more time than we’ve ever had before, is towards more sustainable choices.
Every year there are more and more eco-alternatives on the market, from bamboo toilet paper, reusable makeup remover pads and beeswax clingfilm to name but a few.
Even if a brand doesn’t sell eco-friendly products, it’s important that businesses put in the effort to make their packaging look good but not at the expense of the environment.
Consumers are already starting to kick back against brands that don’t do this. So much so, there’s a growing trend for social media users to share bad examples of packaging they’ve received from online orders – whether the outer packaging is unnecessarily large for the items contained within, it’s full of plastic or polystyrene, or the product is ruined before it reaches the doorstep and needs replacing. This can ruin reputations overnight.
Consistency is key
A customer should recognise and understand your brand across all touchpoints – both virtual and physical. Therefore, if your brand values and USPs aren’t translated into your packaging for delivery, you’re missing a trick.
When undergoing a packaging design or redesign project, it can be tempting to throw everything at it to feel like you’ve got a good return on investment. However, it’s easy to lose your brand when faced with a seemingly infinite number of choices over materials, aesthetics and functionality.
Aesthetics is the most likely reason why someone will post an unboxing experience. After all, that’s what video-first social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are all about.
Designing packaging with bold decorative styling and textures is a good way to build an instantly recognisable, and importantly, sharable product, particularly in luxury markets. Packaging designs can be enhanced for greater effect with techniques such as etching, metallisation, hot stamping, screen printing, and anodising, which can all help to introduce your brand identity and values directly onto your product.
In some markets, particularly beauty and food, deliveries containing samples from other product lines your brand offers can also be a great conversation starter and introduce customers to a wider variety of your products – in a similar way as they would explore if in-store.
But if your company preaches a ‘no fuss, no frills’ message, a simple packaging design could be the best option for building your brand and this can be equally as powerful. Glossier, a beauty brand favoured by Millennials and Gen Z, is a great example of sleek, clean and minimal packaging design which consists of whitespace with simple black typography.
Editor of Touchpoints magazine, writer for Packaging Europe magazine and design enthusiast!