Social Packaging Design: Building Strong Shelf Impact and Better Relationships

by First name Last name on 08/03/2010 | 5 Minute Read

Editorial photographBy Vickie VanHurley, Ph.D., Packaging Design Director, Meijer


It is estimated that between 73 and 85% of purchase decisions are made at the point of sale and that packaging design plays a key role because it is often the only factor that differentiates two products. The packaging is what separates a product from its competitor.

With a heightened reliance on packaging design to persuade consumers at the shelf, it is important for packaging designs to be studied among competitors. In the cluttered supermarket aisle it is the packaging’s shelf impact that gets the product noticed by the consumer and into the home. The shelf impact of packaging is powerful and continuous. Although packaging does not reach audiences of over a million consumers simultaneously, it does reach them for longer periods of time in a more intimate way. Each time the consumer uses or removes the product from the packaging a relationship is developing as well as influence for future purchase. Packaging design should not be considered mere decoration but a powerful, persuasive force for developing a relationship with the consumer and establishing a successful brand.

During the design process painstaking efforts are taken to make sure all elements of the design (typeface, images, styling, colors, design architecture) convey the story of the brand and product. Although the packaging design is approved by CPG marketers do not disregard the consumer. Will consumers accept the new design? Designers must be honest, after all is said and done, it is all about the consumer. If the previous statement breeds skepticism, simply refer to the Tropicana redesign.

Provisions must be made to garner consumer reaction and feedback regarding new packaging designs as well as packaging redesigns to evaluate shelf impact and purchase intent. Consumer reaction and feedback may provide necessary revisions to the design that have the potential to bolster an increase in sales. With design being predominantly subjective coupled with irrational shopping behavior a focus group is often the research method of suggestion. However, some marketers and designers believe that testing packaging in a focus group is a poor indicator of purchase intent because participants are not in a shopping mode and one participant’s opinion may influence the entire focus group. Although focus groups are relevant to the product development process (determine if product will be used, price consumers will pay) they are not as relevant to the packaging design process.

A Simulated Shopping Experience Lab


A better method of obtaining consumer reaction and feedback to new packaging designs (and redesigns) is to create a simple simulated shopping experience built around the specific product the new design is being created for. A large expense is not required to create the simple shopping experience, although there are resources available that conduct large elaborate shopping lab experiments. Any packaging design (new or redesign) evaluation process should include packaging from competitors. Elevate this step a bit further. Acquire multiples of each competitor’s packaging and include several mock-ups of the new packaging designs under consideration. Locate one or two bookshelves in the office or studio and remove all contents. Arrange the new packaging mock-ups on the shelves with the competitor’s packaging as it would appear in a retail environment. Take photographs of the current retail environment where the new or redesign packaging will appear and refer to the photographs when building the simple shopping experience.

Anyone is a consumer. Request coworkers, especially those not affiliated with the redesign to participate.  If everyone in the office or studio are affiliated with the packaging design then request neighboring business employees to participate. To foster reaction and feedback to the packaging misdirect the purpose of the participation. Misdirection is necessary to avoid the focus group effect (participants behaving as art directors). For example, invite coworkers to evaluate the new layout of the product sample room. Record the comments to align with the misdirection then shortly after send an email to all participants casually asking which products were on the product room shelves. Use the comments regarding which products the participants remember as feedback for possible revisions to the packaging design. Another simulated shopping experience may be required to address specific shelf impact concerns or shopper demographics. Incorporating the simple simulated shopping experience into the packaging design process will provide a glimpse into the shelf impact of packaging design and its ability to compete in the retail environment.

Social Packaging Design and Shelf Impact


One can assume that every consumer is not a professional designer. When evaluating consumer reaction and feedback regarding packaging design, revisions must not be made solely on consumer opinion particularly when the opinion is driven by the like or dislike of the packaging design. However, do not quickly dismiss consumer feedback. Revisions must be entertained if consumers do not notice the packaging, the packaging design does not convey the brand message or benefits. In the cluttered supermarket aisle it is the packaging’s shelf impact that gets the product noticed by the consumer and into the home. After all, this is the principal goal of every packaging design. Packaging designs should always evolve with the understanding that packaging often connects to the emotional needs of the consumer and many consumer purchases are driven by emotion. Social marketing is cultivating relationships between consumers and their brands and consumers now expect a relationship with their brands and products. The emergence of mobile marketing is cultivating relationships with the consumer absent from the retail environment. Further strengthening and building relationships between consumers and brands. Want strong shelf impact and better consumer relationships? Get social and start inviting your consumer into your packaging design process.



Vickie L. VanHurley, Ph.D. is presently a packaging design director for Meijer, a major mid-western mass merchandise retailer. 

Prior to accepting her position as a packaging design director in 2007, Vickie was an instructor of advertising layout & design at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI from 2004 to 2007. Prior to arriving at Michigan State University Vickie was an assistant professor and Program Director of Graphic Design in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY from 1998 to 2000. Vickie was also an instructor in the Department of Commercial Graphics-Design in the College of Technical Careers at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Carbondale, IL from 1994 to 1998. 

Vickie previously taught courses in the Department of Advertising and School of Journalism before her full time appointment at Michigan State University where she earned her Ph.D. in Mass Media with a packaging design and advertising deign emphasis in 2007. 

Vickie has always been a patron and participant of the arts. She has been a graphic designer and illustrator for over 25 years, which includes 9 years of corporate design. She has been cultivating the artistic talent of others for more than 18 years. More specifically, she has been a college professor for nine years.



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