Getting physical

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | October 18, 2013
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The box or wrapper used to encase a product ordered by an online shopper is the only tangible consumer touch-point for e-commerce players and online marketplaces. What makes it a crucial branding zone and how can e-tailers optimise it?

Don't judge a book by its cover, goes the age old truism. Alas, the learning can't be extended to e-commerce brands and online marketplaces (third party sellers who don't have access to branded wrapping paper notwithstanding), for whom the wrapper becomes almost as important as the goodies inside. After all, e-commerce players - that house and deliver the world's brands at your doorstep - are also brands in themselves and thus need to convey that to their patrons. And sure enough, this breed of 'intangible brands' does take its own branding seriously; every other ad on TV today is that of a website! But as far as actual physical touch-and-feel goes, the only point of contact is when the package is delivered to the customer.

Jabong box

Myntra delivery gear

Sachin Arora

Praveen Sinha

Marcel Gort

Therefore, for e-commerce players, the only point of physical contact with their consumers is when the package is delivered. What lives on beyond that point is the wrapper - a seemingly unimportant yet extremely crucial touch-point, from a branding perspective. In fact, some experts go as far as to term this 'the only physical evidence of the brand'. So, for e-tail players, besides getting the product, punctuality and advertising right, another important aspect is the package branding and wrapper design. And many brands have begun to realise this.

Recently, Flipkart India roped in Brand Dialogue (a Dutch brand consultancy headquartered in Amsterdam and Mumbai) to handle its brand packaging in India, particularly for its own label, DigiFlip, offering items like camera bags, pen-drives, headphones and computer accessories.

"Packaging is the only real contact left with your customer apart from the site itself. The package is 'the silent salesman'," says Marcel Gort, the spokesperson at Yellow Dress Retail, Brand Dialogue's specialised partner agency that will lend its expertise to Flipkart's package design in the days ahead.

The Purpose

So what exactly is it that makes the package design, and branding therein, so important? After all, it's the goodies that matter, not the wrapper. "We believe packaging is an integral part of the 'customer experience'; it does not end with receiving the package. It's really the beginning of that final moment of customer delight," says Meenu Handa, company spokesperson, Amazon India.

According to Sachin Arora, chief customer experience officer,, the moment when the product lands in the hand of the customer, is "the moment of truth" for e-commerce brands. Myntra works with design experts like Foley Design (by Michael Foley) for its package branding.

In fact, the branding zone goes beyond the box and wrapper; it extends to other 'spaces' that lend themselves to similar branding opportunities. "We've worked extensively on the 'packaging' of our delivery staff," says Arora, "Recently we launched a revamped uniform and delivery bag for them. We don't have a physical store so our 'store' is the moment when the package lands in the hands of the customer and the person whom he/she interacts with at that time." Even the mode of transport the delivery man uses while at work provides branding opportunities for e-tailers.

Unlike regular brands with physical stores and consequently, ample branding opportunities, e-commerce players have to make do with limited spaces for their own branding. "We have a very neatly laid out structure including several elements that, in combination, bring out the overall branding effort," adds Arora, about his brand, referring to Myntra's delivery boxes that prominently display the brand logo, the company's customer service numbers/other contact details and basic brand promises.

Praveen Sinha, co-founder,, points out that prominent 'box branding' serves yet another purpose: In an office space, or any other 'public' area like a residential society, prominent branding on the delivery box helps create what he calls "pull for other potential customers" who see the package while it's on its way to its final recipient. "To my mind, that's the best utilisation of this branding space," says Sinha, about the external box.

An in-house team with packaging expertise looks after this element of branding for Jabong. However, in the initial stages of operations, the founders did brainstorm with other industry experts with knowledge in the area of design and packaging.

Speaking about the other reasons that make package branding essential, Sinha goes on, "It's like a 'first impression' the company makes on its customers. Just based on the 'feeling' the packaging gives the customer, he/she mentally makes many calculations about the company. Moreover, as a customer, if I get a package from Jabong with no 'Jabong' written on it prominently, will I remember that experience as 'a Jabong experience'? I doubt it." According to him, the branding on the box makes the whole shopping process category-agnostic and gives the e-commerce brand in question a certain universal appeal across the range of products it offers.
Interestingly, Sinha doesn't feel short changed, in comparison to other 'regular' brands, about not having enough physical touch-points for his own branding. "I agree that the package space is a crucial touch-point for branding but it is not the only one," he says. Not referring to TV -- the big, bad leveller -- he reminds us about offline branding zones for brands like his, such as billboards and other shops willing to display e-commerce logos. Also, when you go to an offline retailer and buy something, they give you a packet/bag with their own branding on it - so this 'carrying property', as Sinha terms it, is a space which can be utilised creatively to generate brand awareness, not just by online players but by those with physical retail presence as well.

Rules of Thumb

We also asked our respondents to share certain 'dos and don'ts' that can help e-tailers optimise these touch-points for their own branding purposes. As it turns out, the brand logo is the key connection. Consistency of logo branding across the e-commerce website and other media platforms -- including TV, print and the physical elements (box/wrapper) - is very important. Notice how Jabong prominently focuses on its heavily branded delivery boxes in its TVCs? That's no coincidence. It is a conscious attempt to close the connectivity loop. Experts say it's important to follow some basic guidelines that are flexible enough to accommodate different aspects of branding but strict enough not to dilute it. For instance, the size or colours of the logo ought not to be too different when used on the site and on the wrapper.

Moreover, the context of the delivery also matters. Sometimes customers don't want anyone to know what they have received so there's no branding at all - it's just a brown packet. Or if the item is meant for religious purposes then the design should not be crafted in a way that is considered non-religious. And of course, there's the gifting element; if the package is a gift for say, a wedding, then requests for the use of only red font on the package, are not uncommon. Some, but not all, e-tailers offer such customised packaging.

Karan Rawat

Roy Thomas, director, private labels, Flipkart India, shares some rules: The design should be relevant to the target audience, it must be easy to implement and the cost of reproducing the design is also a factor to be taken under consideration. The Yellow Dress Retail team adds to the list with some more pointers: There must be just one hero on the pack; don't mess around with hierarchy. Keep the design quiet and clear. Be consistent -- tell the customer what to expect when opening the package. And the pack must act as 'physical reassurance' after buying online.

Lastly, we wonder whether the branding rules that restaurant delivery personnel follow can be applied to e-commerce brands as well. Though the two are not comparable on the 'availability of retail space' front, both stand to benefit by leveraging what is loosely termed 'the delivery time zone' for their own branding.

"Yes," answers Karan Rawat, president and executive creative director, Umbrella Design, "In fact, to me, even a person's forehead is a medium of advertising; it's like a moving hoarding. So yes, whether it's a restaurant delivery or e-commerce delivery, it's a branding touch-point that shouldn't be missed out on."

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