What are the Differences Between Retail and eCommerce Packaging?

What are the Differences Between Retail and eCommerce Packaging?


The future is nigh. We live in a world dominated by ecommerce. In a 2018 report by Forbes Magazine, online retail sales grew by 16%, compared to the 3.8% growth seen by traditional retail. Forbes further remarked that ecommerce packaging was contributing to rapid deforestation and increased plastic waste; in layman’s, we are literally drowning in our own packaging waste. 

Packaging, generally is instrumental with respect to building brand identity, and awareness. It creates a natural platform for marketing, and maintaining brand loyalty.  

So what are the differences in ecommerce and retail packaging? And how can we reduce our environmental impact given the current trajectory of online sales? 

The Function and Purpose of Retail VS ECommerce Packaging  

Retail packaging plays a key role in differentiating products for the consumer once it hits store shelves. A product packaged and branded effectively can lead to increased sales in a competitive retail environment. The function of retail packaging can almost be narrowed down to aesthetic and impactful design. 

eCommerce packaging has a rather complex role to play within the market. While retail markets have more of a luxury when it comes to impulse buyers, eCommerce purchases are driven by consumer needs and wants. Further, eCommerce packaging must be travel-friendly; meaning they must transport well so as not to damage the product contained within. 

This leads to further considerations: the development of travel-friendly, sustainable packaging as well as the packaging for the product itself. 

With respect to design, eCommerce packaging is deeply entwined with the philosophy of ‘experiential unboxing’. Experiential unboxing posits that the receiving, and unwrapping of a purchase made via eCommerce is an experience unto itself. Think of the last iPhone or Macbook that you ‘unboxed’; the anticipation and excitement associated with receiving your purchase. The hype associated with the YouTube phenomenon of ‘unboxing videos’ adequately captures this sentiment. Essentially, you know what you bought, but man oh man, when it finally gets to you, you are like an 8 year old unwrapping their first Gameboy on Christmas morning circa 1993. 

When designing for ‘unboxing’, transport, and sustainability, consider creating packaging that is the ‘right size’ for your product. Meaning, minimizing on excesses. Does transport safety require extra packing nuts? Is the package the exact and appropriate size for the product? 

Remember that no matter how pleasurable an unboxing you design, consumers are now more than ever environmentally conscious. If you can emmesh the experience of unboxing with the message that you are environmentally focussed, your product is sure to build on your overall brand image and loyalty.  

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