Aishwarya Ramesh
Points of View

Do e-commerce brands under-leverage their packaging real estate?

Of late, there has been a smattering of innovative packaging - from Amazon, Flipkart - but the space is largely bland. Are e-commerce brands missing a trick?

It’s a familiar tale for many of us. Sometimes, a solitary lipstick comes wrapped in five layers of bubble wrap in a big cardboard box. The box is plain, brown and non-descriptive, apart from carrying the name of the website you ordered it from.

Packaging from beauty and personal care e-tailer Nykaa
Packaging from beauty and personal care e-tailer Nykaa

All too often, people eagerly tear away the layers to get to the product. It isn’t exactly the best experience because the e-commerce platform itself does not get a lot of recall in this process.

There have been some innovations here and there in the packaging space. E-commerce giant Amazon ran a campaign, where it printed the names and faces of the sellers of the product on the box. Scanning a QR code would allow the user to read their story.

Also Read: Amazon takes to delivery box storytelling

Flipkart recently introduced transparent packaging on its products. Take a look at some of these indie brands which are putting their own innovative spin on packaging.

Blur makeup's packaging
Blur makeup's packaging
Photo Credit: LBB Delhi
Parcel packaging from Indian brand Vilvah
Parcel packaging from Indian brand Vilvah
Flipkart's transparent packaging
Flipkart's transparent packaging

But what can companies put on the packets/boxes beyond QR codes? How can they further the brand's story in a customer's mind using packaging? Can packaging play a role in building the relationship between the brand and the consumer?

We spoke to a few design and strategy experts to find out…

Edited excerpts:

Sharon Borgoyary, founder and account director, Animal (an independent design agency)

An e-commerce company can use the packaging more innovatively by teaching its customers how to reuse the packaging. The best kind of packaging will extend the communication and experience of the brand long after its core function of delivering the product is fulfilled.

Sharon Borgoyary
Sharon Borgoyary

Can it convert itself into something purposeful, like a board game, a stool or a chair or a litter box for cats? Can multiple pieces be returned to the brand in exchange for discount on the next order? These are the things that go a long way in reducing a brand's carbon footprint and communicating its intent to the customer, which in turn affects its (brand) value.

What companies can potentially put on the packaging, in terms of innovation, depends on what the brand wants to convey. A packaging has a lot of real estate to play on and bring the brand's essence to life. A simple cardboard box with sustainable material means that the brand wants to stand for sustainability and can promote love for the planet.

Eco-friendly packaging will soon be the norm. It's no longer a fraction of a brand's annual budget to invest in sustainable ways of doing business. Today, there's very little that you can't do when it comes to making eco-friendly packaging for your products.

Apart from using 3D printing, animal waste and technologies, like organic soy ink for printing - you can set up an entire business around the idea of manufacturing new and innovative packaging material and solutions.

Look at Amazon’s example, the QR codes packaging on its boxes work because it has a solid idea. The packaging is the last mile to build the narrative for the brand. But can it also be a segue to the next purchase?

How about including a target image on the pack that, when scanned using an AR filter, gives you a discount on your next purchase? And if you share a screenshot of it on social media, we pay a percentage of the bill to your favourite charity. This way, you can interact with the consumers in a way that goes beyond a transaction.

The information or the attributes that any consumer is looking for in a product’s packaging are:

The ways to use the product,

How it’s made, and what it’s made from,

Do they (the consumers) love the packaging to keep it, after using up the product itself?

Any packaging can easily hit the first two points, but the last one will hit the nail for the consumers' love for the brand. Bottles from Keventers, and tins from IndiGo Airlines are great examples of products with a second life. One that may last a lifetime.

Animal's work for Keventer's bottles
Animal's work for Keventer's bottles

In the case of Keventers, the value for the bottle comes from legacy. For IndiGo, it's the use of the material and its usability - coupled with the research that indicates that the customers of a budget airline are more likely to use a tin for purposes other than just eating peanuts from. These ideas are everywhere, it's about drawing a cross-section between what's in line with the brand's positioning and its core customer base.

Indigo's snack tin
Indigo's snack tin

Kurnal Rawat, creative director, Landor & Fitch

E-commerce packaging can do more by utilising the space for advertising. This will also absorb the packaging cost. Self-promotion is also a great way, like the Amazon example...

Krunal Rawat
Krunal Rawat

The truth is that the packaging and the packets are a great touch point to build brand love. It depends on the e-retailers brand vision and larger purpose or the role they want to play in people’s lives beyond transactions.

The packaging is the first gratification point in a transaction. Believe me, it’s been proven that people do judge the book by its cover. Secondary packaging is a great touch point to build one's brand narrative more cognitively.

And finally, the unboxing experience has never been more important than now. We all are currently in the experience economy. Hence, packaging, in a way, is the gateway to capturing that mind space and create brand love.

Using secondary packaging (such as tissue paper inside the package) by e-retailers results in double the amount of packaging an item needs. It's also possible to reduce the need for secondary packaging by introducing an authentic hologram or a tamper-proof sealed tag.

Toru Jhaveri, strategy head, DDB Mudra West

The fact that e-commerce companies are not leveraging this space is almost a disservice to marketing. They’re also doing a disservice to the brands that sell on their platforms because very few packaging of items I’ve received are eco-friendly and that also impacts how the brand is perceived. There’s so much tissue, plastic and other unnecessary elements used.

Toru Jhaveri
Toru Jhaveri

There are, however, some smaller boutique brands that use good packaging. Clothing and accessories brands Nicobar and Motherland are few of them. These brands have a really nice packaging that is fun to open and comes with a personalised postcard, etc.

Nicobar's eco friendly packaging
Nicobar's eco friendly packaging

As of now, I don’t know what can be done with the e-commerce boxes or packages because there is still a lingering fear of contamination because of the Coronavirus. However, the wrapping paper and tissues used inside can serve as real estate for the brands to communicate. A brand can add a QR code, or a discount coupon, at this touch point.

The tags and wrapping paper are another under-leveraged area of real estate, when it comes to e-commerce. Similarly, even the tape that sticks the boxes together can carry a brand message.

Photo Credit: Startyourboutique.com
Photo Credit: Startyourboutique.com

Brands like OnePlus and Apple created a cultural phenomenon by making the unboxing experience a fun one. The packaging, in this case, basically becomes a part of the product story. The brands still have to think beyond the surface elements on their packaging to create a deeper impact in the minds of the consumers.