Making sure your brand stands out on the digital shelf is very different from the supermarket shelf.
Not long ago, the online shopping experience was a true reflection of the offline shopping experience. Therefore, ‘hero’ e-commerce images were initially just photos of the physical product packaging consumers could pick up in-store.
However, over the past few years, the online shopping experience has become more sophisticated and brands have become more strategic. They have realised that they can make much better use of the stamp-size space they have to showcase their product. This is how ‘optimised’ pack images began to appear, helping brands increase conversion rates. This may seem like a mechanical process, but it requires great skill and sensitivity to successfully optimise a brand.
There is no question that more people than ever before are indeed doing their grocery shopping online, primarily from mobile devices. Interestingly, according to a Forbes report, a year ago, 19% of consumers bought groceries online, “but during the pandemic, nearly 79% of shoppers have ordered online.” Promisingly, Mastercard also states that online grocery sales will keep 70-80% of its pandemic-related growth.
Interestingly, in many categories, sales via mobile and app have overtaken desktop devices. Therefore, it has never been more crucial to make sure your brand's packaging stands out from competitor products available.
Often, getting an online listing for brands is easier than getting a listing on a physical supermarket shelf. However, the massive variety of choices available online can make it significantly more difficult for brands to have a strong presence via differentiation.
Online shoppers typically rapidly scroll through products rather than browse, and images are often viewed on a small phone screen, making the task even more challenging for brands. The skill involved for optimisation should not be underrated.
With all this being the case, it is a real challenge for designers.
P&W are currently assisting a global retailer in a comprehensive project to optimise all of their online imagery, so we thought it may be of interest to our readers to divulge some of our insights regarding creating optimised imagery for e-commerce.
Adrian Whitefoord, P&W Partner comments: “It is clear that the ‘less is more’ approach works best for ’hero’ product images. Inevitably, creating appealing packaging online means sacrificing superfluous pack elements.”
The ‘hero’ image (as it is often termed) is this product image that features in category and search results. The image is a brand’s first opportunity to showcase its product and grab the attention of online shoppers.
Whitefoord continues, “Packs online need a lot less information on them as elements such as nutritional traffic lights, promotional flashes, and sub-copy descriptions can be explained on drop-down tabs that accompany the roughly 2.5cm image, instead of on the pack itself. The work P&W has been engaged with is all about simplification and amplification. Simplification of pack information via succinct and clear brand messaging is key, and amplification of the product title and photography as well as the brand logo."
It is clear that the key elements of a pack's design need to be retained and the type needs to provide clarity for consumers who are flicking through hundreds of images of packs online, probably from their mobile phone.
Ben Owen, Senior Designer at P&W for over a decade has been assisting on the recent optimisation project. He remarks: “Interestingly, subtle textures and finishes like foil blocking, embossing, and detailed patterns are completely lost in the digital shopping environment. These are essential elements in the traditional retail space and can help products appeal to shoppers. I find it amazing how different the "optimised" approach has to be versus the creative approach to the original pack, particularly for premium products."
Elements which provide a sense of quality in the hands of consumers become unnecessary noise and create confusion in the digital arena. The loss of tactile communication needs to be compensated for by lucidity.
Victoria Murray, Senior Account Manager and Designer at P&W for over 11 years, comments: “The current project we’re working on is very much about impact and clarity. It’s essential the product is still recognisable but it needs to grab the consumer’s attention whilst also clearly communicating product size. Shoppers don’t want a lasagne for one to arrive when they’re expecting it to feed their whole family! Our job is to ensure that consumers don’t fall into the errors of scale that are a great frustration for many online shoppers”.
For established brands, it’s about emphasising their recognisable visual assets to grab consumer’s attention, including increasing their identifiable logo to take up a large amount of space on the pack. For challenger brands, use of colour could be key to helping draw consumers eyes, whether this is via strong, stand-out blocks of colour to add drama or going for a decisively different colour palette than that used by the big players in their field. In the future all brands must consider this from the outset, not retrospectively.
But by stripping a huge amount of information off, is product messaging getting lost on optimised packaging?
Simon Pemberton, P&W’s co-founder heading the current optimisation project at P&W comments: “Brands mustn’t forget they have the opportunity to utilise multiple product image. Yes, nailing the ‘hero’ image is key but once a product is clicked on, grocery shoppers are taken to a dedicated product page, so why not use this opportunity purposefully? Where appropriate, brands could use evocative 'foody' product photography, use this space to communicate notable nutritional information, such as if the product is vegan, organic, or low in fat, or add product descriptors or consumer reviews to help establish trust in potential buyers.”
This additional space provides a unique opportunity to truly bring a brand to life and is undeniably vital to the online shopping experience. Shrewd brands will harness this opportunity to communicate why the product is better than its competitors. Video clips that link to advertising campaigns could also be used to encourage consumers to buy.
Here are some examples of non-optimised vs optimised packaging from two notable brands:
1. Cadbury Dairy Milk Orange 180G
The iconic Cadbury brand logo has been enlarged, as well as the product title which has also had its orange segment replaced with an “a”, for simplicity. The recognisable image of the milk glasses and the chocolate square photography have also been enlarged and are the only other elements on the packaging.
The “new” flash is gone, the “infused with real orange oil” sub-copy has been removed and the pack icons and nutritional information have also been eliminated. A subtle difference is that the background illustrations have also been taken off too; they are hardly visible in the non-optimised shot anyway. The instantly familiar Cadbury purple is true to its original colour in the optimised image. Cadbury's have made confident and decisive moves to provide clarity for online shoppers.
2. Magnum Mint Ice Cream 4 X 100Ml
Walls have been astute with their optimised Magnum packaging.The pack itself has been stripped of photography, enabling the flavour descriptor to be more than double the size. The pack shape has been “squared off” and the Magnum logo now absolutely dominates. As long as the optimised pack is clear regarding content (i.e.: 4 Magnums), there is nothing wrong with well-judged adjustments to pack proportions. The tiny ‘4’ in the bottom right corner, along with the certifications and nutritional information have been stripped off.Instead, a single ice cream sits in front of the pack, clearly communicating to consumers exactly what the product will look like and how many ice creams they will receive. A frozen icon sits top left for extra lucidity for consumers.
Walls’ approach results in a very different looking pack, but there is no doubt the practical changes help clarify any questions consumers may have previously had regarding the flavour and how many ice creams they may receive in their order!
So, what are the retailers doing? With thousands of products available, optimising images for own-label packaging is a monumental but essential task.
For example, take a look at the difference between Sainsbury’s Multiseed Farmhouse loaf (non-optimised) vs Waitrose’s Multiseeded Farmhouse loaf of the same size (optimised). Waitrose has confidently and successfully retained the key pieces of information, highlighted the weight of the loaf, and removed pack ‘clutter’ which is difficult to decipher from a thumbnail image.
NON-OPTIMISED: Sainsbury's Multiseed Farmhouse loaf
OPTIMISED: Waitrose Farmhouse Batch Multiseed loaf 800g
Some product searches bring up literally hundreds of options for online shoppers, it is worth brands being tactical about incorporating keywords into their product descriptors.
In fact, shoppers will be virtually unable to discover new products online if the product pages do not include keywords, so this is crucial element to getting products noticed online.
Online success today requires that businesses bridge the gap between virtual and physical shopping but this cannot be achieved with alike-for-like approach. Unless a “best of both worlds” methodology has been considered from the start.
Excitement, clarity and value still all need to be provided, but in a very different way to a physical shopping experience.
By dedicating resource to optimise and customise the approach to their packaging, brands may discover they have much better stand-out on the digital shelf, resulting in a healthy return on their investment.
In the future, brand optimisation should be less reactive and more proactive, in other words, a brand consultant and brand manager should have hard-wired into the brand principles that the brand must work as hard online as in store, without the sense of touch.
To learn about the 5 Surprising Way Covid-19 has Impacted Retail Shopping and what ‘The New Normal’ is for Packaging DesignStrategies, click on these links to read our blogs.
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