Sight Unseen: Packaging for the Digital Consumer

When retail giant Amazon jumped into meal-kit delivery last summer, it was the clearest signal yet that consumer convenience is the new North Star for products and services across all categories. From consumer packaged goods (CPGs) going online to personal care brands and retailers exploring subscription models, the industry is now further investing in e-commerce by embracing a new “last mile” to reach consumers. So, if our first interaction with a product takes place on our front porch instead of in a store, how does that change how we choose brands and develop preferences?

One of the greatest challenges for emerging retail models is that consumers buy products without seeing them first. It’s crucial to consider what a leap of faith it is for a consumer to buy a product sight unseen. A retailer’s success is contingent on the notion of trust among the consumer, the brand and the retailer; yet trust is hard to build and easy to lose. In this new marketplace with so much upside and an equal amount of risk, how can brands establish sustainable competitive advantage?

It should come as no surprise that product design and functionality play a critical role, but our data show that when it comes to building trust and winning loyalty, packaging matters. Although many established brands have leveraged this key element of the marketing mix for years, it’s an important learning for e-commerce-based businesses, especially as the sector continues to grow.

After studying consumer satisfaction with packaging across categories and countries, through form and function, the research found that packaging emphasizing safety increases trust with consumers, while a recent Pulse survey uncovered critical data for two emerging sectors: subscription service and on-demand delivery.

The stakes are actually higher for these emerging enterprises. Consumers not only expect to be able to order a variety of products, they trust their products will arrive safely an undisturbed even when shipped in the same box. One thing is clear: The days of packaging as an afterthought are over.

Brands must understand that packaging affects more than product integrity—it impacts consumer trust and purchasing behavior. With the potential for converting and retaining customers, evidence shows that the best approach is smart and holistic packaging.
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