E-Coming – virtually, everything is changing!

Our fundamental design mantra is ‘Real. Real. Real.’ Real people, in real situations, using real things. But when seismic shifts are in play, fundamental thinking is challenged and tested.

Not so long ago, ‘sustainability’ pushed its way into our vocabulary. As businesses adapted to this emergent and very real constraint, we witnessed a significant increase in the number of briefs with sustainability not just as a footnote to be considered, but as the lead driver for initiating entire development programs.

We still have a long way to go with sustainability, and please don’t think me complacent if I park it there. But there’s a new buzzword seeking the attention of all briefs and self-respecting brand, innovation and R&D teams, ‘E-Com’.

You may argue that this is not news; on-line shopping has been with us for a long time. Existing as an interesting growth channel that siphons off a share of manufactured FMCG volumes; most of the innovation occurring around, distribution, web design and social media.

In the world of designing packaging it feels like the category of E-Com has been sitting on the starting grid with its wheels spinning and squealing! But now, we’re starting to feel the traction, the rules are changing.

So how does E-Com change things?

Firstly, the conventional FMCG channel typically has a complex supply chain in front of product manufacture with a relatively simple route for the finished product to customer via the retailer and a supermarket shelf. Increasingly, in E-Com, the finished product’s route to the customer can look as complex and arduous as those of raw materials in the supply chain.

There is an array of distribution methods each driving different requirements and considerations for how packaging can be defined: SIOC (ship in own containers); Sort (auto warehousing); Non Sort (manual warehousing); Vendor Flex (‘through the wall’ distribution); Cross-Dock (reloading without storage) and Drop-Ship (direct from manufacturer to consumer).

We’ve honed and built our packaging approaches based on the bricks & mortar of the supermarket. Crafting all elements in response to the competitive environment of the supermarket shelf: facings, efficiency, standout, and size impression. E-Com smashes this paradigm; products no longer have to gain attention at shelf, they fight for attention from pages and listings scanned at speed. Limited pixels and size making recognition so difficult that brands now employ ‘banners’ that float in front of pack images.

Moments of Truth

This is not an elimination or redundancy of the role of the pack, but a tectonic shift of emphasis and an opportunity. Brands have been unsurprisingly obsessed by ‘the first moment of truth’, which is the moment we simultaneously, see, understand and buy into a product’s promise in store. However, we have long been proponents of ‘the second and third moments of truth’.

The usage and experience of the pack, sometimes over extended periods of time, provides the second moment of truth, and the final act of disposal, the third. In the ‘real world’ of buying in-store, these three moments are connected in a seamless ‘experiential journey’. The 2nd and 3rd moments have far greater influence on our perceptions of brands and subsequent purchase decisions, but designing for them can sometimes be at odds with the demands of the ‘first moment’ at shelf.

E-Com enables us to uncouple the first moment of truth and spend more energy on the experience. We also have the ‘new moment of truth’ and an emergent phenomenon and YouTube trend -‘unboxing’. (View https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OHMqdMpsj8, and our own attempt here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPRAQ8U4vp8). This is the moment you receive and open your order and is becoming a key moment for brands to connect with their consumers through packaging.

It’s all about the consumer experience, not about the shelf

In E-Com, the packaging no longer splits its attention between shopper and consumer. Away from the noise and insecurity of competing at shelf, we can develop much more personal relationships with, and focus on our consumers. The holy grail of E-Com is D2C (direct to consumer). In this environment of subscribers and committed consumers we have greater freedom to explore premium and personalisation. Finally for those ‘experience’ seekers, the gloves are off!

E-Com opens a Pandora’s box where the boundaries between products, services and experiences are blurred and purchase decisions are not hooked up to a trip to the shops. That said, as the FMCG world transitions from real to virtual shopping, we need not lose sight of our fundamental design approach, we just need to ask the questions, what are real people doing, what are the situations, what are the things that they need and how do they afford the best brand experience?

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