Evolving shopping habits of consumers has led to the steady rise in e-commerce. Over the last two years, however, as consumers who previously had little or no engagement with online shopping were forced into new behaviours, the adoption of e-commerce accelerated beyond all expectations, with many of those who have embraced online shopping not wishing to turn back.
This has been particularity notable for essential items across food and beverage, homecare, personal care and the beauty sectors, putting a spotlight back on the customer journey and questioning perhaps the traditional role of packaging as a direct means for brands to have the ‘all-important’ shelf presence and communicate their stories to consumers.
The way in which consumers search for items online has evolved too; from visual search commerce to voice command, and Direct to Consumer (D2C) email-enabled commerce. Brands are responding to this shift in consumer behaviour by enabling customers to access their products in multiple ways, with better omnichannel alignment and more joined-up brand experience.
Discoverability in online shopping
Despite the convenience and sheer variety that online shopping offers, consumers are losing the element of discovery – the experience of scouring the shelves for their usual product or brand, only to be enticed by the attractive packaging of another; or being persuaded to try something new through a strategically placed offer. E-commerce sites go some way in recreating an element discoverability, such as the ‘Before you go’ suggestions and even through some of the more unusual product substitutes offered in online supermarkets. However, the repetitious scrolling nature of online shopping means that consumers lose attention quicker than when being faced by a physical wall of products. Shopping is, after all, a three-dimensional, multisensory experience!
This poses an opportunity for e-commerce sites and brands selling direct to consumers to rethink the browsing experience for online shoppers. Could consumers select their ‘shopping mode’ based on their rational or emotional needs, for example: ‘convenience shopping’ (direct and fast) versus ‘browse shopping’ (serendipitous)?
Shifting role of primary packaging
If FMCG brands are potentially competing for customer’s attention through online means rather than on the shelves, is there an opportunity to redefine the role of primary packaging? What if brands in the supermarket no longer needed to consider labelling and size restrictions on packaging due to shelf height, and took a far more stripped-back approach to their primary packaging? What if they were to remove the bold, attention-grabbing colours and graphics they are known for, saving that for their online communication, and redirect their focus on packaging solutions that are minimal, more sustainable, and potentially more cost effective?
Conversely, what if the role of primary packaging for ecommerce was focused solely on protection, distribution, and low environmental impact? What would this mean for the customer experience if they received their McVitie’s biscuits or Fairy Liquid in unembellished packaging in their weekly food delivery? How could brands still retain a visual presence in their customers’ homes? There is certainly an opportunity for brands to explore a refill-offering that is optimised for e-commerce; balancing low-impact primary packaging solutions with branded reusable containers that hold meaning as well as longevity for customers.
Embracing the double unboxing experience
With more and more FMCG products being delivered to consumers doorsteps, premium brands should consider how they could make a lasting impression when selling direct to their consumers, by aligning the unboxing experience of secondary and primary packaging with their overall brand essence. While the functional needs of secondary packaging are paramount – strength, protection, lightweight, material reduction, easily recyclable, frustration-free – the inside of that packaging is valuable brand ‘real estate’, an opportunity to create little ‘wow’ moments for customers.
Customisation through e-commerce spans beyond the product itself and brands should also explore how the e-commerce personalisation experience can expand into physical touchpoints. Imagine a customer ordering their premium skincare products online and opening the brown cardboard postage box to discover a customised graphic or message to them on the inside. Or could brands take inspiration from AI-personalised shopping experiences online, and print bespoke product suggestions and promotions based on a customer’s purchasing and search history on the inside of the secondary packaging, to align physical touchpoints with the digital experience?
Discover, connect, conceive, deliver
So where should brands start? The most effective way to understand consumer behaviour and where it’s heading in the future is to take a ‘Zoom-in, Zoom-out’ approach to product and service development. Before going forward, brands must pause and really understand and analyse their current customer experience journey across various channels and customer touch points. What are the moments of delight for customers? What are the pain points? Crucially, where are the opportunities to align the digital and physical to create a more connected experience?
At PDD, our multidisciplinary team combines Human-Centred Design methodologies (Zoom-in) to gain a deep understanding of consumers, their unmet needs, desires, and challenges; along with Design Insight (Zoom-out), to uncover the broader consumer, market, design, and technology trends. By combining these deep and broad perspectives, we help consumer brands drive innovation from ideation through to product and service development, ensuring all decisions are grounded in real and tangible insights.
If you would like to know more about how we can help you create an even more compelling consumer experience, please get in touch!