How to Design Packaging for Store Shelves and Online Stores

Laura Evans shares how products sold online are different from those in retail, and 4 ideas to maximize on-shelf appeal and screen appeal.

How to design packaging for store and online with Laura Evans

Products sold online and products sold in retail don't always require the exact same packaging design approach. My experience as a brand and packaging designer is mainly in retail. The big brand agencies I worked in before I founded Our Kind, taught me everyyyything I know about designing brands destined to live on a shelf.

Typically though, our kind of clients have the ambition of starting online, with the long term goal of moving into retail once capital is available to scale up production and increase distribution. Selling in store, once brands have built some brand loyalty is an efficient way to dominate the market and drive revenue on repeat and en-masse.

For this reason, I always design for shelf and for e-commerce, as this will give our brands the strongest position in store, should they end up there!

That being said, products sold online *are* a little different to those in retail:

  • They aren't competing on a shelf of similar products

  • They have a captive audience; looking only at your site at that moment for a specific reason

  • They are surrounded by a website that forms a bigger brand eco-system with styling, copy and imagery to support the experience

On the other hand, when browsing online, we're not always in the 'shopping' mindset, and can often find ourselves scrolling aimlessly, easily distracted by other things.

In store, context dictates that we're ⭐ ready ⭐ to buy.

With that in mind, when designing *any kind of packaging*, I always consider these 4 ideas to maximise on shelf appeal and screen appeal:

Physical Presence vs. Virtual Experience

On the shelf, packaging contributes to the overall in-store shopping experience. We design packaging to catch attention and make a fast first impression. In contrast, website packaging design contributes to a virtual shopping experience, where consumers rely on images and product descriptions to elevate the product. Either way, we need to capture product-first attention. ⭐

Materials and Finish

Packaging for a physical shelf shouts out for careful consideration of materials, printing techniques and finishes to make it sing IRL. For website packaging design, these material and finishing touches are not always so obvious on first sight but they add to the moment of magic when a customer touches the pack for the first time after it has been delivered. It's the extra IRL magic that drives repeat-purchase. ⭐

In-Store vs. Online Visibility

Packaging on the shelf relies on visual competition with other products on the same shelf. Competition is actually really useful, we can use it to our advantage on a shelf to create shelf-shout and to stand out - especially when we're working in the sea of same. For website packaging design, the focus is less so on standing out against the competition (at least at this point of purchase) but more so we need clear navigation and a seamless brand-to-product experience. ⭐

Messaging Hierarchy

On the shelf, the packaging messaging and hierarchy needs to be visible from different angles to guide consumer attention. We need to be able to read the main product descriptor from a far, and it needs not to be hidden by the shelf or SRP (shelf-ready packaging). In contrast, website packaging design can use scrolling, pop-ups, or tabs to present product information hierarchically on a single page. It’s the same same, but different. ⭐

Unified Storytelling

Brand identity based on the foundation of a strong story is essential for product-based brands and their packaging design. Leveraging storytelling through packaging design works as a standalone concept for products in store... we can tell a story quickly and emote on the aisle. But if we combine that with storytelling that extends to an online presence; we can help build emotional connections with customers and foster brand loyalty.

This is exactly how we designed for Despierta. We created a strong pack design that would work hard on shelf and is supported via it's own brand world online. Designing packaging for a website and designing for a physical shelf asks us as designers to consider the different user experiences for the context... but both aim to captivate consumers and showcase products as the stars of the show.

Each channel demands design thinking to optimise the experience, so it becomes less about selling a singular product, but more so about creating a brand world, that resonates and connects time after time. ⭐

Learn how to navigate packaging projects from start to finish without the overwhelm, scary-print-feels or guesswork. The Brand and Packaging Design Course is the original course created for Brand Designers, Creative Directors and Studio Founders. Laura teaches an end-to-end agency process across 7 in depth modules; whilst showing you how to think differently so that you can ENJOY packaging projects without the fear and really charge what they’re worth. This course is created to help brand designers like you feel confident AF when you’re selling and working on stand-out packaging projects.

If you're a student of ours in the Design Freedom on Shopify course, be sure to check out Laura's guest expert session on "5 Figure Packaging Principles" in the course replay library.

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