Shopper behavior has never changed as rapidly as it has over the past few months. As states moved through various shelter-in-place phases, and consumers worry about their health, COVID-19 has accelerated many shoppers’ move to online and app purchasing. According to a recent Kantar survey, 72% of consumers “plan to do more shopping online to ship directly to their homes.”

Consumers use many online shopping channels. For example, shoppers can fill a virtual cart on an app (like Walmart or Target). They make selections from the actual store inventory and pick up their order curbside. Alternatively, shoppers make purchases using a variety of online channels like Amazon, brand sites, and social media.

In consideration of these shopper behaviors, we spoke with a cross-functional team in sales, design, and operations about the future of packaging in a post-COVID world. With many shoppers moving to new channels, brands will have to reconsider many of their tactics across their supply chain and marketing programs.

How will brands need to change their retail packaging for sales beyond the retail shelf?

The Shift to E-Commerce

Photo by PhotoMIX Company from PexelsMany of the brand owners who partner with Rohrer use the same packaging for retail and online sales. Account Manager Dennis McCaffery described several customers with robust online sales who purchase the same package for retail and online. The single package is efficient in their procurement process. It also helps confirm product authenticity for shoppers.

Consistent packaging is a hint to consumers that they are buying the genuine product and not a knock-off facsimile. In those cases, Design Manager Kevin Booth suggests that brands consider including photos of product packaging to help consumers know what to expect.

As Strategic Account Manager Don Bubar points out, “We have all seen the brands that use streamlined, basic packaging for e-commerce. But for some products, there’s a call for a wow package for ‘unboxing’ their products. Beautiful packaging is a reminder to consumers that they bought a premium product.” Bubar shared some additional benefits of well-designed packaging for the retail shelf and online shopping. “Packaging is a critical part of product branding. When a consumer wants to reorder a product, we don’t want them to just look up a toothbrush. We want them to buy our brand of toothbrush. It’s so important to keep the brand in front of consumers.”

As online shopping becomes more prevalent, some brands consider a shift away from premium finishes like foil or textured coatings. However, those brands are likely to reallocate their budget to packaging with added protection. Julie Wanckett is the plant manager of Rohrer’s thermoforming center of excellence in Huntley, Illinois. She mentions that Rohrer specializes in many e-commerce packaging solutions, including different materials (ex. HDPE and HIPS) and packaging styles (ex. clamshells or trays). Rohrer’s e-commerce packaging solutions focus on product protection without adding bulk or extra weight in shipping.

In-store and Curbside Pick-up

alt textIn addition to product protection during shipping, Wanckett describes an increased need for packaging to help protect consumers from the virus. As an example she says, “At check-outs, there may be open cosmetics like lip gloss – no package, just a display. Packaging those goods creates a barrier, and can help protect consumers from the virus.”

Of course, there are other challenges for retail brands. Supply chain disruptions and social distancing in plants have made it difficult for many brands to manufacture and keep items on the shelf. In-store inventory challenges cause many shoppers to trial new brands. Shoppers have indicated they may stay with the new brand even if their previous brand is available again.

To prevent shoppers from trialing replacements and creating new loyalties, brands must ensure they have stock on the shelf to keep their current customer base. A brand’s packaging program will undoubtedly influence the supply chain, and a brand’s ability to put products on the shelf. Rohrer’s ezCombo program is the fastest gang run in the industry, with daily runs of most programs and a full-service package design team.

For those brands that have been successful in providing inventory, it is a prime time to increase market share. Brands that fill a gap for consumers may become the brand of choice in the future.

Other COVID-19 Effects

insert alt textRohrer’s Vice President of Operations Justin Antony explains, “Many brands put sustainability on hold during the crisis. We have seen single-use plastic packaging come to the forefront.” When brands can return to their sustainability goals, Antony believes the new solutions will not only include materials but also more focus on design. “We believe brands will include shipper-friendly design in their sustainability initiatives going forward. A truly sustainable package will consider the impact of the materials used, the lifecycle of the package, and streamlined design to reduce waste and move products more efficiently.”

Design Manager Dave Kats agrees, indicating that he and his team are exploring new ways to help design packages that protect products and make shipping easier.

For brands who suspended their sustainable packaging initiatives, there has never been a better time to revisit the options. Rohrer rolled out ecoCombo™, the industry’s first post-consumer recycled content combo packaging program earlier this year. Rohrer can also provide paper blister options, and a variety of other custom packaging programs.

Some shopping behavior has started to return to normal. But with so many dramatic changes in the past three months, other changes are here to stay. A Florida reporter talked with a local storeowner who pointed out that people are not “just browsing” anymore. Some grocery stores have reduced or limited shelf space for products to make more room for essentials.

While some changes are here to stay, brick and mortar shopping is not dead – merely delayed. “Many people like to shop – It’s a hobby for some people. Don’t forget: visual packaging drives impulse buying,” says Strategic Account Manager Kevin Smith. More than ever, brand owners who are thinking about launching a new product will need their packaging to shout louder than ever to attract new buyers.