E-commerce & Internet Retail

How to Design CPG Packaging for E-commerce

  • August 2, 2018
  • Joshua Schall
  • 6 minutes

CPG brands are currently dealing with a significant transition away from a world in which packages primarily sit on store shelves waiting to entice potential buyers to one in which packages sit on warehouse shelves waiting to be picked, packed and shipped to customers.

This new reality in retail requires a different type of packaging design to meet e-commerce needs – and it involves more than simply adding the item to a corrugated cardboard box for shipping. Though tackling the supply chain differences is paramount, brands must also account for the fact that customers cannot touch, look at or smell products at the time of purchase.

According to Shopify, the e-commerce market share is expected to increase to 11.9% in 2018. With every passing day, e-commerce is taking up more of the retail market. If CPG brands wish to flourish, they will need to master the e-commerce channel and its differences, one of the most important of which is packaging.

Stand out from the crowd.

Imagine having a candy craving and heading to the closest mass retailer to purchase several newly launched items. When you get there, you are astonished that the candy aisle looks like it’s miles long. If the customer is shopping for CPG products online, this is the current reality. A quick search for “candy” on Amazon yields over 40,000 results. Therefore, when it comes to e-commerce, it’s even more important to design packaging that stands out from competitors.

The first thing a potential customer is going to see when searching for products online is a photo or digital render of the front of the packaging on a white background. Though the white background might seem sterile, it actually provides a benefit for CPG brands that leverage creative and colorful packaging design, as this packaging stands out more online compared to on crowded retail shelves. The main goal is to get that potential customer to visit the product page. To achieve that, a CPG brand could also highlight important functional benefits on the front of the package, or, if it’s in a consumable category, show the actual product.

Simulate the in-store experience.

Once a customer clicks on a product page to learn more, it is the equivalent of them picking up a product off the shelves in stores to read the packaging. Since the customer can’t physically pick up a product online, CPG brands need to replicate this vital experience through creative assets like photography and graphic design. They should use high-quality photography to ensure readability of the packaging from all sides, including:

  • Front of the package
  • Back of the package
  • Ingredient label
  • Usage instructions

Supplement with product page content.

One of the greatest things about e-commerce is that shoppers aren’t limited to only the information on a product’s package. The additional real estate on product pages is a breath of fresh air for CPG marketers that have struggled for decades with fitting enough information on the packaging without sacrificing the overall design aesthetics. Because of this change in available marketing real estate, digitally-native brands like RXbars have started to create a clean label trend.

A product page should use a mixture of short bullet points, longer product descriptions, and graphically enhanced content to expand upon features and benefits and tell your brand’s story. This approach to varied product content not only helps consumers get the information they need to make a purchasing decision, but it is also crucial in helping products achieve a top placement in search results. Don’t forget that e-commerce retailers and marketplaces are essentially search engines that need proper SEO strategies.

Finally, product pages should include additional high-quality photography, videography and/or graphic design that showcase:

  • Products outside of the package
  • Products in normal lifestyle use
  • Cross-selling opportunities with related products

Survive the final mile.

Many conventional packaging formats, designed for brick-and-mortar retail, fail to survive in the e-commerce distribution chain. Most CPG packaging is designed with the assumption that individual units will be packed in master cases and those master cases will be assembled on pallets to be shipped to retailers. In e-commerce, the individual unit can be shipped a variety of ways, including being boxed with other products that are heavy or sharp. Additionally, individual items that were designed to be shipped in one direction now face a high probability of being turned upside down, shipped on their side and shaken. CPG brands that usually ship products in rigid formats with fragile packaging should consider changing to a more flexible package that can better sustain damages. Brands can use the International Safe Transit Association’s performance tests to determine “the viability of a packaged product to survive normal shipment.”

Don’t neglect the customer experience.

Getting a customer to purchase a CPG product online and having it arrive undamaged at their home is only part of the battle. Once it arrives, shoppers need a pleasant unboxing experience to consider further re-purchases. Additionally, this experience could also lead to organic social media impressions, as many Generation Z and Millennial buyers naturally share their unboxing experiences online.

With the digital commerce shift, it’s important to consider variables such as unwrapping difficulty or oversized packaging designed to stand out on a traditional retail shelf. It’s also important to think about using recyclable or compostable materials. Consumer demand for environmentally-friendly packaging is expanding rapidly. According to the 2017 Sustainable Packaging Study, 92% of respondents believe sustainability in packaging is important. Finally, CPG brands can look to design packaging to be reusable. This gives the brand an opportunity to have their products showcased in a customer’s home after the product itself has been consumed.


Joshua Schall, MBA has an 11-year background in the emerging and intersecting CPG/FMCG categories of functional food and beverage and nutritional products.

He currently is the owner of J. Schall Consulting, an Austin, TX-based boutique management consulting company that focuses on digital growth strategies for CPG/FMCG brands that range from pre-launch to portfolio companies with $500M in yearly revenue.

Joshua enjoys an active healthy lifestyle but still finds himself spending way too much time scanning social media and digital grocery aisles for new consumable brands.

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