Pittsburgh — Packaging for consumer products used to have one main goal: Attract the shopper's attention on the store shelf.
But growing e-commerce business has made life much more complex for brand owners, according to Becky Donner, senior vice president of design and engineering for TricorBraun Inc.
By 2022, 17 percent of all retail sales will come online, up from about 12 percent now, Donner said. "The growth of e-commerce is exploding," she said.
"It's not about a single solution. You have to take a holistic approach to how you think about packaging and packaging development," Donner said in a keynote speech at the Annual Blow Molding Conference.
Donner works out of Chicago for TricorBraun, a major provider and developer of packaging and inventory management. Her background includes work in France, Asia and Latin America.
At the Pittsburgh blow molding conference, she talked about nuts-and-bolts demands of packaging for e-commerce. It has to survive the "Amazon journey" to the consumer's house. That means features like dual seals to maintain integrity and prevent leaks — a huge bummer when you order a bunch of products online that come to your door in one box. That's one reason plastic, including flexible packaging, is making more inroads against glass, she said.
Donner said brand owners need to work closely with the plastics processor and the filler to make sure the package works. In an e-commerce world, where a bad consumer experience gets reported online, a robust package is mandatory to have a chance to be "share-worthy," Donner said.
Younger people spend hours a day on their smartphones. But Donner said people of all ages now are researching products and companies online before they buy. As they retire to fixed incomes, baby boomers look for good deals, and home delivery is attractive if they have limited mobility.
Donner said that Generation X, from ages 38 to 53, value time and like a big product selection. Millennials, ages 22-37, appreciate brand authenticity and like peer reviews. The same goes for Generation Z, people 21 and younger, she said.
For millennials and Gen Z, she said, 90 percent of them do research online before they buy — even everyday purchases under $10.
"They want absolute open communication and transparency via social media," Donner said. "They grow up with brands that are born on online, and that's appealing to them."
At the same time, since most sales are still at traditional brick-and-mortar stores, brand owners want a piece of the e-commerce pie, but they want a minimal investment, she said.
But e-commerce packaging is different.
In traditional retail, Donner said, the first "moment of truth" is when the consumer selects the product off the shelf. The second moment of truth happens at home: Does the product work? Does the sprayer leak? If a product fails the second moment of truth, the consumer will never buy it again.
But for millennials and Gen Z members, Donner called their online research the "zero moment of truth," when the sale may be lost. The second moment of truth comes when the product gets shipped to the door and the consumer has the all-important unboxing experience, like Christmas morning.
If you're old enough to think that's weird, Donner had some advice: "Just type in 'unboxing videos' and you're going to be amazed at how excited people are to share their experiences of engaging with a product."
Then comes what she called the "ultimate" moment of truth: Telling everybody online if they liked the product or hated it.
"The ultimate moment of truth can influence a brand's success," Donner said.
She admits all this change can be "all a little overwhelming" for brand owners. But they have to take e-commerce packaging challenges seriously.
"The benefit is you improve integrity of all your packaging that's going to brick and mortar as well," Donner said.