In a multipart series during 2014 our team will examine key product attributes and marketing tactics from two different perspectives — the consumer/shopper and the retail buyer. Our hope is that retail and wholesale buyers and product manufacturers will benefit from an objective picture of the viewpoints that contribute to a product’s success at retail.
In this first column, we will explore issues and perceptions related to product packaging.
1. Size and shape of the package is of paramount importance to retailers, but does it matter to consumers?
Shopper Viewpoint: Cognizant of environmental issues centered on wasteful packaging practices, some consumers will actually avoid purchasing items with packaging that appears unnecessarily elaborate. A common example is products sold in tubes that are packaged inside oversize boxes. Similarly, cost-conscious shoppers weigh the value of “wasteful” packaging that seems to drive costs up for certain products (e.g., packaging for small items that have inordinate amounts of exterior real estate and/or bottles not filled to an acceptable level).
Buyer Vantage Point: When items are reviewed for potential placement at retail, optimal utilization of shelf space and category management strategies play a major role in the buying decision. Manufacturers must take these two factors into consideration, for failing to “think like a buyer” may spell rejection for their stockkeeping unit (SKU).
Certainly some retail organizations have become more restrictive regarding product orientation (e.g., vertical versus horizontal positioning) and environmental standards directing product decisions made by suppliers. Shelf-ready packaging has also come of age for many retailers — and the de facto standard for some. Another element to consider is the probability of theft. If the item is enticing — especially if it is premium priced — making the package too small may be ill-advised. Finally, if the product can more economically be placed on shelf, it may earn higher marks.
Bottom Line: Simply put, package size matters to both shoppers and buyers. Similarly, maintaining an appropriate level of perceived environmental friendliness — as long as costs and prices do not become too high — is shared by both groups. Consumers are more likely to dismiss a product if the perceived value proposition is overshadowed by wasteful packaging practices.
2. The colors used on the packaging can have a dramatic effect on the item’s likelihood for success on shelf.
Shopper Viewpoint: Psychologically, shoppers are drawn to certain colors on the shelf. The introduction of a new or unexpected color into an otherwise familiar shelf assortment has worked for some (Kimberly-Clark’s U by Kotex is a wonderful example) but spelled disaster for others when shoppers rejected the innovation. Products aimed toward men are more often packaged in rich, dark colors, while softer hues are more common among women-focused items. For example, Secret is packaged in baby blue and pink tubing, while Right Guard appears in shades of black, gray and bright green or blue.
Buyer Vantage Point: As buyers consider the color of a product, they are imagining how it will look on-shelf, calculating whether an image of the product can be effectively reproduced for various advertising vehicles and considering supply chain efficiencies (e.g., scanability).
Bottom Line: Attention to the hue of a product is important to both segments — for different reasons. Certain subconscious emotions may be evoked by certain colors, but ultimately shoppers like familiarity and consistency. Buyers are much more focused on operational considerations.
3. Do package graphics and iconography mean different things to buyers and shoppers?
Shopper Viewpoint: Imagery and symbols on a package are among the first things noticed by shoppers. If a package grabs a shopper’s attention through its graphics and it succinctly communicates something of value, shoppers generally react favorably. They respond to instructive, purposeful graphics.
Buyer Vantage Point: Among the many questions buyers will consider when evaluating a product, package differentiation and clarity are among the most important. If the product is a newcomer to the category and has little competition, quickly connecting with shoppers is pivotal. If it’s a replacement within an established category, how will it add incremental sales and stand apart from its predecessor?
Bottom Line: Graphics need to be easily understood, vivid and purposeful. Art for art’s sake seldom resonates or is effective with either shoppers or buyers.
4. Messaging is one of the most important criteria to consider. What do consumers expect from the principal display panel and other product information on the package?
Shopper Viewpoint: Truthful statements that are easy to understand and free of jargon are on a shopper’s wish list. They do not want to decipher volumes of copy in difficult-to-read typeface on a small panel. The message must quickly communicate what the product is for, what makes it unique, and why it meets their need. QR codes, testimonials, before-and-after photos, and other ancillary detail are secondary to the key message on the principal display panel.
Buyer Vantage Point: As with the shoppers, truthful messaging is most important. In addition, congruency with the subcategory placement and differentiation from other products on the shelf is important to buyers. They may also look to ensure that pertinent detail is included for purposes of promotion, staff education and categorization.
Bottom Line: The importance of the message cannot be overemphasized. Certainly it is among the decision criteria evaluated by shoppers when selecting a product for their use, but it is also quite relevant to buyers as they look for products to grow category sales and boost profitability.
So, as the expression goes, there are two sides to every coin. Engaging retail buyers and shoppers at the shelf typically begins with the most visual element of a product: the packaging.
DAVE WENDLAND is vice president of Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a research, marketing and category management firm specializing in consumer health care at retail.