Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our daily lives in an unprecedented way. The broad impact of lock downs and social distancing forces businesses, including retailers — big and small, to innovate at a rapid phase in order to minimize the disruption by the virus and in some cases to reverse the negative impact into more sustainable and profitable solutions.
Some of the pandemic-resistant solutions at brick and mortar retail has been developed prior to the pandemic. They were done mainly as an E-commerce packaging designs that demonstrated functional advantages during the lock down and the social-distancing with many people switching to or increasing their online shopping significantly. But with the uncertainty of lock-down duration, the solutions mentioned above can be further redesigned to address pandemic specific needs beyond their e-commerce related use.
Here I will discuss some ideas and approaches to achieve a better design, broken down into three goals:
1. Minimizing the number of physical touches when shopping in a physical retail store
To command customer’s attention, temporary displays equally leverage their structural performance and aesthetic features — both relying heavily on effective utilization and manipulation of surface area. With graphics, it is about strategic positioning and maximization of visual elements to elevate the product’s or brand’s appearance. Structurally, it is about smart balance between rigidity and durability of its surface area and its supporting features.
Although surface area optimization is very important during lock-down and social distancing, it needs some additional features that will allow consumers to find what they are looking for at the physical store and explore the information on the packaging with minimum touches. The display also has to optimize space utility — although this is normally the default — it is more about how correlated products can be packaged together with a unifying theme rather than the usual goal of “how many products can it fits” approach. It is more about thoughtful curation in addition to smart placement.
Smart curation of related products with unifying theme, if done well, will help customers significantly reduce the amount of distance they need to cover in the store. And in the case of E-commerce, this will reduce the number of web pages, tabs and shopping-cart icon clicks that a customer needs to go through.
2. Multi purpose design to bridge physical and E-commerce packaging.
Over the last 5–10 years, there have been many innovations around creating packaging solutions that can transcend the gaps between the physical store and E-commerce consumption. Most of these innovations primarily focus on manufacturing and fulfillment supply chain optimization and not on customer experience who often oscillated from physical store to online store and back. I think there are many new opportunities for advancement here, especially when we shift our attention to customer experience. These can be achieved structurally and graphically.
Structurally, the spatial consideration for the finished form and dimensions can be optimized to allow cross-utilization — both for physical and digital channels. From the supply chain and the brand owner standpoint, harmonization with fulfillment and manufacturing still needs to be addressed. Finally, when the package is on the customer hands, we want them to immediately know what they received as the package’s visual content is consistent to what they previously saw on her device.
Bridging physical and digital experience is a new wonderful frontier, especially when we start thinking about artificial intelligence (AI), an immersive digital medium such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). I will discuss this in the future as the richness of this topic deserves its own blog.
3.Turn secondary packaging into a standard format promotional display vehicle (Tertiary Packaging) effortlessly at physical retail.
Think about a generic yet iconic Lego brick. A modular unit that can be transformed into any imaginable forms. Ultimately, retail displays complying to retail specifications are “varieties of forms” with dimensional restrictions to optimize retailer’s real estate utilization on the floor or on shelf. I am aware that it is way more than that. Still, this abstraction helps illustrate that a display can be created by creatively constructing, laying-out, stacking, and decorating smaller secondary packaging as long as the result complies with the formal and dimensional limitations of the retailer specification.
Actually, this is not a new idea. We often see beverage packaging being stacked and organized to build a wall of display. Imagine if we did this intentionally, early in the development of the design with the goal of gaining flexibility to achieve a full range of retail-driven specifications starting from smallest to largest format such as full pallet display. They are all done with minimizing touches and smart thematic curation to help customers do a ”one stop shop” at physical retail.
Conclusion & Solution : Hood Smart Pack
After months of living with the coronavirus pandemic, we still don’t know how long it will last. We also don’t know what the post-pandemic retail environment will look like. We know that minimizing touches can help slow down the spread so conscious design that takes this into consideration is needed. We also know that E-commerce misses some of the nuanced experiences that we get while shopping in a brick and mortar store. Using all of these design ideas, Hood Container Corporation created the Hood Smart Pack to enable brands to secure strong positions both at physical and digital retailers while helping them protect their customers during the pandemic and beyond.
As technology has been reshaping our online retail experience, it makes sense to take an earnest look at how manufacturers utilize these new advances in the retail display industry as well. It wasn’t long ago that the digital team at Hood Container did just that, and launched the revolutionary Hood Platform — The platform designed to make workflow and collaboration between clients and internal associates easier than ever.
It was this initiative that led the digital team at Hood Container to envision how to improve content management and workflow even though there was no clear roadmap for the display industry. Of course, nobody could have imagined back in 2016, how the world would change with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, even back then, the digital team wanted to pursue access to work from any computer platform, home or office and insisted on doing away with outdated workflow.
Once the platform was launched, it opened new doors to what was possible. Customers liked the new accessibility it opened up and gave the team great feedback on how to grow. Because a ‘platform’ is a structure that can be built upon, there were many novel ideas on how to make the design process more functional and collaborative. One technical field that has been quickly making advancements, is the realm of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.
VR and AR had once been exclusively relegated to video gaming with its unwieldy hardware and expensive software. In the last few years however, it has become much more affordable and accessible. Large tech companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon have all recently launched extensive hardware or software projects (often both), giving VR and AR a serious future outside of gaming.
The design engineers at Hood Container, regularly work with CAD files for their designs. The digital team saw the opportunity with modern software that could open the door to allowing all of these designs an extra dimension in the design process. Could this be a new technological milestone in the display design industry?
Historically in the display industry, pen and ink drawings were used to make concepts, along with hand-cut prototypes. Then 3D software allowed the ability to virtually ‘photograph’ designs as renderings. What if designers, customers, and sales could all get ‘hands on’ with concepts before they’re manufactured — Could such a platform be implemented? If so, the team knew that this technology would save time, money and waste by improving communication and reducing the time it takes to share concepts.
So the developers on the digital team got to work, and the new Hood Platform is currently testing this vision, with the Hood VR Planogram Tool and Hood Omni Visualizer Augmented Reality tool. Together these additions to the platform are light years ahead of anything ever before seen in the marketplace.
With the Hood VR Planogram tool, customers have the ability to virtually stand in front of their life-sized display design — Accurately modeled down to the precise millimeter in 3D from designer CAD files. The customer can view and ‘walk around’ the display, using hand motions to reach out and touch the display, and with a swipe, change out any number of graphic artwork treatments. This is a traditional way to reuse the same display structure and change the artwork to fit a new program or seasonal campaign. The ability to upload artwork and see it applied to a display will help avoid errors as well as help visualize all the opportunities available.
The planogram portion of the tool begins with a turn of the wrist. This gives access to the customer database of 3D product models. Product can be virtually ‘grabbed’ off of this menu and placed on the display in any combination. To ensure accuracy, the product is unable to defy physics or collide with the display structure, thereby ensuring that the maximum product count cannot be exceeded. As a helpful reminder, the planogram tool implements an artificial assistant who can speak to the user, letting them know if counts are exceeded. The user can also speak to the assistant in plain English and ask for more or less product to be loaded to the display.
In addition to this, product SKUs and inventory can be changed with a swipe of a finger as well, even after it’s been placed on the display. The Hood VR Planogram Tool has been designed to be easily picked up without training. Within minutes a user feels comfortable walking around the display, swapping product and artwork, taking pictures of their own renderings and starting over, as many times as needed. By putting this process in the hands of the customer (or sales team, or other designers), rendering tasks are streamlined and new combinations and opportunities can be visualized, all much quicker than by passing these tasks to multiple parties to achieve.
Another new tool, the Hood Omni Visualizer is the latest Augmented Reality tool added to the Platforms suite of capabilities. Typically users of the Hood Platform are able to view 3D models in their browser. These are visual models that can be rotated and viewed at all angles by moving the mouse around on the picture. With the Hood Omni Visualizer, the user can do much more.
Augmented Reality, requires the use of a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet. The effect of AR, is where the device superimposes the image within the camera of the device, thereby creating an illusion of a real display in the world viewed by the camera phone. Many people have seen this technology before with marketing promotional applications. The barrier to entry with these applications are that they require the user to ‘join’ or sign up for an app, register, make an account, and maintain and update the app on their device. Most people have ‘app fatigue’ and simply don’t want to install and update another app.
With the Hood Omni Visualizer, the app is already installed in the cloud and the user simply presses the ‘View AR’ button within the platform — That’s it, nothing to install or sign up for. Special added features are a ‘screen capture’ button to take virtual photos of the display in the retail environment or hold down the photo button to take a walkaround video of the display. These 3D representations of the designs on the Platform are based on actual CAD files from the designers and uploaded to the cloud. On the Hood side, no extra programming is needed to deliver the experience, and if the customer asks for a change, it is simply uploaded and instantly viewable on the Visualizer, no hassle.
As you can imagine, everyone who’s had a chance to view these new VR and AR features in the Hood Platform are excited about the future in retail display design. Truly, this is something that harnesses the uncertain future and brings all parties together in an interactive way, no matter where they are. The Hood Container digital team continues to look forward to the opportunities that continue to expand, even in todays challenging retail environment.