Packaging May Vary: How to Keep Your Customers When You Keep Changing

Unsurprisingly, people have always liked “new.” In fact, 69% of consumers say it’s important or very important to see new merchandise each time they visit a store or online retailer. And so, without fail, the CPG industry has responded gloriously with an average of 30,000 new product launches each year. Yes, 30,000! That’s enough to fill the average brick-and-mortar grocery store footprint.

But that shocking statistic only includes net new product innovations and line extensions. What about product renovations such as reformulations and packaging updates? I’m glad you asked… Let’s talk about packaging for a little bit.

Packaging changes are a constant dynamic in the CPG industry. And if we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that short-term career advancement has played a role in driving the number of packaging updates in-market. From first-hand experience, I know that it’s only natural for brand managers trying to favorably navigate 18- to 24-month career rotation schedules to pursue packaging as one of a few quick and visible levers they can pull to leave their mark on the brand and prime themselves for promotion. At the end of the day, we are what we measure.

Thankfully, however, the primary drivers for packaging changes have evolved to be much more consumer-centric. Today, 90% of brand owners say that packaging is important to their brand’s success, and 75% anticipate an increase in packaging investment in the coming years as they lead their brands to respond more strategically to consumer demand for more premium, healthier products and environmentally sustainable packaging, as well as to the operational needs brought on by the historical and now COVID-19-accelerated shift toward e-commerce and omnichannel.

Packaging changes aren’t new. So what’s the big deal?

From an in-store standpoint, it’s not that big of a deal. Whether a soft transition or a hard cut-over, the process and outcome work the same way they always did on the physical shelf with thoughtful planning and management. As your new packaging arrives on-site at a retail store, it ultimately is stocked alongside the old packaging until depleted. Your position and share of shelf don’t change, and as long as the new packaging better attracts new shoppers and doesn’t confuse or offend your current shoppers, your SKU velocity should increase and your standing with that retail partner should become more favorable.

Where it’s a big deal is online. On the digital shelf, shoppers do not see old and new packaging stocked together like in brick-and-mortar, but instead see one nationally visible presentation of the final product the brand is promising to deliver. Therefore, packaging updates in e-commerce pose a significant challenge for retailers and brands alike because there isn’t clear, real-time visibility into when and where the transition is beginning and ending. This can result in a reverse flywheel effect, driving poor shopper experience, lower ratings and reviews, decreased sales, and ultimately reduced search visibility on the digital shelf.

In summary, the very lever intended to grow the brand may actually cause it to shrink in the #1 growth “channel” if not communicated strategically to the omnichannel shopper.

Okay, I buy that. Now what should a brand do?

In addition to all the internal operations and external retailer communication and coordination that’s crucial to successful packaging transitions in-market, brands are now responsible for more proactive digital shelf communication of their planned packaging changes directly to the shoppers throughout the entire process.

Leverage All of Your Digital Shelf Real Estate

For most retailers, there are multiple places on the product detail page to communicate a packaging update:

  1. Product Title: The title is a critical place to include a “Packaging May Vary” callout, as it is seen both in the product search results as a first impression (and disclaimer), as well as a second impression (and reminder) once the shopper has clicked into the product detail page.
  2. Gallery Image #2: A picture is always worth a thousand words. Period. Making the new packaging a gallery image directly after the hero image spotlights the change and helps familiarize the shopper with the two different versions so that no matter what they receive, their experience is positive and favorable. Designating the new packaging as the second gallery image is also important from a mobile perspective, as Amazon displays fewer gallery images on mobile devices, for example.
  3. Feature Bullets: Including a “Packaging May Vary” callout in the feature bullets section further ensures that the shopper does not miss this important communication.

From a quick digital store walk, it’s clear many brands only leverage one of the above places to communicate their transitions, and some don’t communicate their transitions at all. Their confused and unsatisfied customer reviews do it for them – and that’s not what brands want!

Thank you, Optimum Nutrition, for the fantastic job above that leverages every content touchpoint to communicate your new look and for demonstrating what consumer-centric brand leadership is all about!

How You Should Be Packaging Your Packaging

While they’re visual, gallery images are limited in count, size and space and therefore force brands to be very strategic and creative about what message(s) they aim to communicate in each one.

When it comes to packaging updates and gallery images, there is a range of executions worth referencing here as an effort to help all brands continuously push the boundaries with the latest best practices.

GOOD: At a minimum, a brand should display the new packaging with a direct “New Look” callout to familiarize shoppers with what they’ll ultimately receive.

BETTER: Taking it one step further, brands should show the old and the new packaging side-by-side. In addition, whether solely a packaging update or both a packaging update and an improved formula, adding the reassurance of “Same Quality” and “Same Great Taste” or the superiority claims of “Optimized Formula” and “4 Benefits in 1 vs. 2 Benefits in 1” build on that base communication to establish trust with the shopper amidst a change.

EVEN BETTER: Showing both old and new packaging side-by-side and calling out the new look and complimentary performance claims are important for the brand proposition; however, those communications don’t explain that there is a transition in progress and that shoppers may receive either packaging. The next opportunity for brands is to explicitly call out to shoppers that “You may receive either package during this transition” just to be proactive and transparent and to avoid confusion or dissatisfaction upon delivery.

BEST: In the spirit of Simon Sinek, best-selling author of “Start With Why,” the best brand executions maximize their credibility among shoppers by communicating not just that they have a new look, but why they have new packaging. Claim fair credit for all the R&D, resources and investment your organization continuously pours into your brand to deliver the best product experience possible with every purchase.

In summary, CPG packaging is ever-changing and will keep changing. In order to keep its customers with such changes and to drive transparency, satisfaction, trust and longer-term loyalty, be sure your organization both understands the dynamics of the digital shelf and activates the best practices for communicating these changes to your shoppers throughout each and every new packaging transition.

You’ve got this. Have some Shelf Confidence!

Unlike the physical retail shelf, which remains fixed between annual line reviews and planogram resets, the digital shelf is a living, breathing, constantly evolving curation that must be mastered and remastered with constant vigilance and dedication.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to do this alone. We’re here to help.

Check out the latest insights from our new Shelf Confidence report, and contact us today to see firsthand how OneSpace can help you bring your brands to life at scale across the digital marketplace.

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