Insights, Dispensed

e-Commerce: The new rules of packaging and dispensing design

It’s no surprise that e-commerce has risen so sharply over the past decade. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were opting for the convenience of online shopping at increasingly higher numbers.

This shift has led many retailers to develop resources and strategies that elevate their businesses’ online shopping experience to the same level as their in-store experience.

What effect though has the rise in e-commerce had on product development – specifically packaging and dispensing design? The e-commerce model poses several important considerations for brands from a product design perspective. Damaged product, specifically its packaging, is a common reason people return online orders. Designing products that both are appealing online and durable enough to arrive intact is key.

We recently talked with Sara Falcon, Silgan Dispensing’s manager of design strategy, to get her thoughts on how e-commerce has impacted packaging and dispensing design and where things might be headed in the years to come. Sara Falcon, Manager, Design Strategy, Silgan Dispensing

How has the rise in e-commerce impacted dispensing and packaging design over recent years? 

An important aspect of e-commerce design is making sure the product gets to its destination in one piece. This is especially critical when it comes to liquid products. Leaks pose significant issues for everyone involved.

With packaging using pumps and sprayers, one of the biggest design challenges has been finding effective ways to mitigate breakage and leaking during the shipment process without making the packaging cost-prohibitive – or drastically changing the product’s look and function. This requires a lot of ingenuity from the development team, as they are often working with an already existing pump or sprayer with confined parameters.

What complicates this is that prototyping and testing designs is both time intensive and costly, particularly when you factor in any sort of real-world validation step. Fortunately, computer simulations often are an efficient way to test hypotheses around design features, which in turn, reduces cost and timing. I think we will see companies relying more heavily on this type of simulation to meet the needs of e-commerce packaging.

At the end of the day though, consumers shouldn’t be aware of any lengthy or involved design process. All they should see – and what they expect – is that the product will work as it’s designed to and won’t be damaged during the delivery process.

How do e-commerce design considerations compare and contrast to in-store design, where shelf differentiation traditionally has been such an important factor?

In many ways, product design is actually more important for e-commerce than for in-store. Through a virtual medium, the design needs to communicate that the product has all the qualities a consumer wants without being able to touch and feel the packaging itself. Does it look high quality? Will it be durable, effective? Will it be easy to use? These are questions consumers can tell in store by handling the product and inspecting it from multiple angles. Online, the design has to help answer these questions.

What have been some of the most important qualities regarding e-commerce design?  How do these factors differ across different geographies?  

Weight is arguably the biggest issue. The heavier the bottle, the more likely the pump or sprayer attached will be damaged if it’s dropped or slammed around in transit. Going back to the issue of leakages, liquid-filled goods like detergents or soaps generally are considerably denser and heavier from other products. They also are items people are ordering online more and more.

But how brands are able to package these products differ considerably across the globe. For example, most U.S. consumers still prefer bulk packaging, which inherently is heavier. Conversely, European and Asian customers are much more comfortable with compacted formulas and solutions where you add water at home. This allows for substantially smaller volume bottles, which not only are easier to ship – they also create less waste for disposal.

In your opinion, what trends should brands follow as the prominence of e-commerce continues to grow? 

As e-commerce continues to grow in the United States, particularly for home goods like detergent, it’ll be interesting to see if those consumers will be more open to the compacted-formula approach. It certainly is more sustainable, while also providing consumers with a positive usage experience.  With how important sustainability has become for consumers, this is a win-win situation for brands, so long as they can get over the initial hurdle of educating their customers about the benefits of compacted formulas.

Want to learn more about our product design process? Take a look at these related posts.

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