Packaging, Brand and E-Commerce: The Changing Role of Customer Experience
We used to walk down the long aisle in a large retail store choosing what to buy based on our interaction with the shape, color and messages of packaging. In this old, pre-digital world, this was one of the only ways consumers made shopping choices. In today’s world, however, even the traditional in-person shopping experience is enhanced with on-the-spot mobile research, and “one-touch buying” online is common.
Brand owners continue to learn and adapt to the reality of how e-commerce is changing the retail experience forever. Companies that thought they would never sell product through online stores or mobile devices are scrambling to find the best channel to reach consumers. Packaging has long served as a major champion and differentiator for brand marketing on the shelf. As shopping habits change, packaging continues to be crucial to customer experience. However, its role is changing as marketers adapt to this new digital-based shopping experience.
Adapting to Digital Marketing
Early on, as it became clear that e-commerce wasn't a fad but a game-changing new normal, the majority of brand owners used one of two strategies to adapt their packaging for the new supply chain. They either one, used the packaging’s current shape, style, structure (form) and brand message that had worked for them in retail or, two, created a generic version of their brand packaging and messaging for e-commerce as a way to contain costs. After all, they had interacted with their consumer online and the purchase was won. Why overspend on the packaging?
This may have worked in the early years of the transition to a digital marketplace, but forward-thinking brands soon saw an opportunity and started thinking about e-commerce transactions differently.
Risks and Costs of ‘Old World’ Packaging Models
The risks to using the existing packaging form and brand message intended for in-store shelves, or the current packaging form with a more generic branding message, are similar. The packaging form a brand uses for on-the-shelf is based both on how the packaging is filled with product as well as the retailer's go-to-market supply chain model. It doesn't take into account warehouse pick-and-pull strategy or online shopping carts that deliver multiple items to consumers in one brown box or black bag.
Packaging elements such as crushing and print rub must be tested differently to hold up to the unique demands of online order processing and shipping. When a product is delivered to a customer at their home, the packaging is when your customer has a first physical interaction with the product. If this interaction is negative due to a packaging shortcoming, it can reduce the opportunity for repeat sales.
New World, New Packaging Strategy
Brands slowly realized they needed to differentiate between e-commerce and retail sales packaging, and thus rethink their R&D process for online packaging. Initially, this need to reassess was considered a negative because it was an additional cost to develop two forms of packaging for each product. Brands had already increased their investment simply to interact with consumers online and through mobile devices. They had hoped that e-commerce packaging might reduce costs, or at least be cost-neutral. Once again, they had to reassess a changing world.
It soon became clear to some savvy brand marketers that this new packaging could serve as a positive and differentiate their brand with a unique customer engagement. They started to see the brown box or black bag as that secret present under the tree on Christmas morning. They could capture their customers’ excitement for their brand in an entirely new way by creating new packaging forms and brand messaging that jumped out of the mailed package.
Imagine opening a box or package that you receive in the mail and looking for what you know you ordered online. What if you were met with an even more positive experience than the online product photography? Forward-thinking brand managers understand how important this customer interaction is and are capitalizing on it.
Designing Unforgettable Moments
Before digital shopping, the purchase decision often came down to A.G. Lafley’s classic Moment of Truth, when a customer first interacted with the physical product and its packaging on the shelf. Today, the purchase takes place prior to this interaction, at Google’s Zero Moment of Truth, when a customer begins to research a product online. Actual interaction with the product is pushed back to when the purchase is delivered.
The result of this shift in process is a new 1.5 Moment of Truth for the brand: customers have researched the product and purchased it. At the 1.5 moment, they have their first physical interaction with the packaging before using the product itself.
This is an entirely new opportunity to provide a customer experience with the brand. Smart marketers are seizing it as a moment to make the experience of engaging the product’s packaging and opening the product for the first time unforgettable.
Paul Nowak is the senior director of sales strategy and business development at QuadPackaging, a provider of collaborative end-to-end packaging solutions.
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