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.