How to use packaging for e-commerce communication

WW Online Half price basket

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Snapshot : Packaging development can feel like the less glamorous side of marketing. But it’s a touchpoint for EVERY potential consumer. With e-commerce growing we review sample baskets of products in online grocery to see which designs work in packaging for e-Commerce . We outline why basic (CRAP) design principles can make a big difference. Checking how your packaging appears online should be a regular part of the packaging development process. 

Packaging isn’t glamorous but …

Here’s the type of prioritisation question anyone who is responsible for marketing in their business is faced with on a a regular basis.

Do I spend time on a part of the marketing mix that touches EVERY single potential consumer, that can be used to have an impact on the environment and allows consumers to physically, tangibly interact with my brand? 


Do I spend time on a part of my marketing mix that costs lots of money, is frequently ignored as unwanted and intrusive by my target audience and even when noticed is instantly forgotten?

Of course, we are talking about two important parts of the communication mix here in terms of packaging and advertising. Or content creation if you work in digital marketing. 

And you’d think the choice of where to spend your time would be obvious.

But obviously, it’s a loaded question. Because, we all know, that in reality, most marketers spend much more time on advertising than they ever do on packaging development.

Why’s that?

What if we really asked the question like this?

Do I spend time with supply chain people and print managers who will drone on about colour separations and cardboard thickness? And make me take a whole day out to go to some god forsaken print works / packaging factory in the back end of nowhere to look at noisy and grubby looking machinery and sign my name away on some random piece of paper?


Do I spend time with funky tattooed groovy agency creative and media people who will present flashy videos in Keynote on their shiny Apple Macs while bringing me fancy coffees and boosting my marketing ego that I’m creating a work of art that will win awards and change the world?

Now, maybe it’s clearer why advertising tends to dominate the time of your average marketers. Yes, advertising is a much more fun way to spend your day. But as we mentioned in our article on packaging, there is evidence that packaging can be the most important part of your communication mix. But evidently, it can often be neglected or overlooked.

Despite being an important part of your brand identity. And a fundamental start point to driving sales of your product online.

So let’s have a quick look at who is doing packaging well, and not so well online.

Packaging for e-Commerce

We originally intended to go down the (virtual) aisle of a couple of online stores and pick out some good and bad examples. But our first store (no names, but c’mon you’ll be able to work out who it was) was running two banner ads with product baskets on its front page, so let’s start there. 

WW Online Half price basket

So here’s where to start in working out what good in packaging for e-commerce looks like.

What stands out immediately in that basket?

It’s the big FAIRY logo right in the centre of short isn’t it?

Look at how the contrast of the red font on a white background stands out against the clutter of colours and ‘noise’ going on in this image. Proctor and Gamble get a big tick for this packaging. It stands out online and we’re sure also stands out in store. 

In our design principles for marketing guide, we refer to the CRAP principles for design you can read about in the book Design for Non-Designers* by Robin Williams. CRAP as in Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Fairy’s packaging designer does a very good job on all of those things. 

Look a bit closer at the other brands here.

Though less strong in terms of stand-out than Fairy, you’d pick out Mars, Bulla and Oral B as brand names easily here. So they get a pass from a brand recognition point of view. Ish.

However, look a bit more closely. In this basket, is it actually clear what Mars product it is? Looks like chocolate bars? Might be ice cream?

Look at Bulla. Excuse our ignorance, but what the fuck are “Splits” when they are at home? Some sort of ice lolly we’d guess, but unclear.

Oral-B, challenging because they have a lot less space to play with on the pack. But in this image, you can’t really tell what the product variant is.

Which brings us to the other three products in the basket.

Left to right, the Natural Cracker Company with sea salt and vinegar crackers. That’s quite a lot of words to get in to a small space. And that beige background behind the brand name? Not terrible. But also, not helping the contrast of the brand name on screen.

And there does appear to be quite a lot of other things going on with the pack. What are those green things? Asparagus tips? Wheat sheafs? Pretty certain neither sea salt nor vinegar so you have to question why they are there are at all.

Jump over to Kellogs. And while they are normally pretty good at such things, something has gone wrong here. Firstly, LCMs? No idea what those are. Don’t care, either. And that blue font with a yellow 3D shadow on a blue background? Doesn’t help stand-out and readability. There’s some product imagery there but it doesn’t help tell you what the product is in this image.

If you also look hard enough, and we missed it first time, there’s also a small tin of Greenseas, we think  Tuna. But because it’s green is similar to the Fairy green, it looks initially like it’s part of the Fairy packaging. Fail.

And finally, sadly, there’s what appears to be some Bond socks squeezed in side of the basket. Or maybe it’s pants? And we mean that in both sense of the word.

So, learnings about packaging for e-commerce?

Well, first off, making sure your logo, brand name and pack colours stand out and are readable on a small screen should be a given. 

We’re amazed how many companies and packaging design agencies fail to do this. Focus should also be given to conveying only relevant information and using the least amount of text to do so.

Good design has as little amount of detail as possible as Dieter Rams famously stated. And packaging should follow the principles of progressive disclosure, only telling the customer what they need to know. Not everything that the designer or brand manager wants them to know.

Let’s try another online basket

WW online Mothers Day - 300420

What stands out here?

Other than the slightly creepy bear with the heart? Scan your eyes left to right and what you pick out first is probably “Roses”.


Because again, contrast of the logo of a strong colour on a light background. At a push, you’d probably pick up Celebrations as well, but that logo is harder work given it’s vertical rather than horizontal. And most people, unless they are reading Chinese, Japanese or Korean read left to right. 

So Cadbury and Mars get a pass here. 

As for the other brands here, we get that ‘premium’ products will often want to use subtle, less ‘shout-y’ design cues. But Guylain and Lindt have little colour contrast and fussy fonts that are barely readable on a small screen.

If you squint hard enough, you can work out there’s some sort of L’Oreal product also sneaking in next to the Roses. But not which product it actually is.

And there’s something called Honey Bear in the background there. But unless you know what that is, the product placement shot is useless.


Maybe we’re being a little harsh?

These banner ads were clearly photoshopped together by someone at Wool,,, er, the online grocer we visited. And the brands themselves probably had little control over how their product would appear on screen.


We’re pretty certain that for those brands to appear in that shot in that basket, money will have have changed hands between the manufacturer and the retailer.

And of the 15 products shown in these two baskets, only two we would say are using their packaging for e-commerce to maximum effect.

Which is a pretty poor return.

What about on the shelf itself?

Coles online specials 300420

Well, on the shelf, you get more standard pack shots with no lifestyle clutter. A bog standard flat image of the product. And of course a lot of sales promotion activity. 

So let’s jump over to another online store and see how a more standard product range works. Let’s look at the specials on the front page.

Three of these products here would get a pass for the brand name being instantly easy to read.  Arnott’s, Sensodyne and Omo have good colour contrast on the names and large enough names to work on a small screen.

Interestingly, Pedigree, Steggies and Peters put the product variant name higher than the brand name at the expense of the branding.

We guess they are relying on the brand colour cues to do the parent branding job.

From a design point of view, we believe Peters Original is the strongest of the three with Dentastix and Chicken Fingers are a little too busy to work strongly online. 

And as for Luv a Duck?

Well now. That’s just a tough one to do packaging for. We probably don’t give a something that rhymes with duck about what they’ve done there to be honest. 

What’s the opportunity?

We were lucky to attend a conference a few years ago where one of the speakers was an e-commerce business leader at Ocado, the leading UK retailer.

His challenge to marketers was to think about what your packaging looks like on a six inch mobile phone screen struck as very perceptive at the time. He mercilessly pulled up a range  of products from the company sponsoring the event and ripped in to all those which were ‘fails’ when seen on a small screen.

And any time we got involved in packaging development since then, we’ve built the online check in to the process. Does the brand and product name stand out. Does it have good contrast? Is it readabe? Is it recognisable? Does it convey the right information that the online shopper needs?

Looking at all the brands above from many of Australia’s leading FMCG brands, it would seem to be a bit hit and miss whether that’s happening as standard with new packaging design.

So if you are a marketer, an e-Commerce lead or a packaging agency, it is really simple to add these sorts of questions in as a check to your design process.

A simple change in process can have a big impact on whether consumers even see your product online.

It may not be glamorous but it is an important an easy way to grow your online sales. 

That’s the big opportunity here.

*As an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases

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1 thought on “How to use packaging for e-commerce communication”

  1. Owing to the rising disposable income of people, a high level of convenience and the ease to shop anytime anywhere coupled with other factors such as wider options, speed of access and global reach the E-commerce market has completely modernized the buying experience of customers.

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