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E-Comm Package Storytelling

Unlike retail packaging, e-commerce packages are first viewed after purchase, providing brand owners the opportunity to present a new insight or character of the brand with each shipment.

Dr. R. Andrew Hurley
Dr. R. Andrew Hurley

There have been a lot of changes in our lives recently. For me it’s been working from home, minimizing trips to the store, teaching online while also homeschooling my kids, and wearing face masks.

I knew it was impacting consumer goods and our industry, too, but it wasn’t until recently—one day while I was making my morning coffee—that I saw its impact on packaging. As I set the freshly-ground beans to brewing, I immediately noticed that the packaging of my favorite brand of e-commerce coffee was different. Instead of a beautifully printed full-color pack, it was a stock white coffee pouch with adhesive labels applied to the front and back panels.

Post-lockdown coffee package, backPost-lockdown coffee package, backThe front label looked identical to the old packaging, yet it was miniaturized to fit on the sticker. I turned it around and noticed a short, upbeat, and positive message on the back that stated:

  1. The packaging is different,
  2. It’s still the same product,
  3. They’ve temporarily closed their education centers, and
  4. I’m invited to their virtual training (with a URL to visit).

I contemplated this in deep thought as I made my 4½-second morning commute from the kitchen to my home office through a toy-strewn living room. Without mentioning the supply chain disruptions that created the need for this temporary packaging “fixer,” they spun the design change positively, and I learned a little more about the brand I pay each month for coffee.

I teach a course on human factors, studying psychological theories behind consumer interactions with packaging. One of the topics is Storytelling—using words or pictures (sometimes both) to describe events that engage a consumer and create an emotional connection. 

This subscription coffee company did a remarkable job leveraging all the attributes of a great story on a package:

  1. Short (no more than seven words per line)
  2. Acknowledged a shared dissonance
  3. Provided a solution and value

The brand had a choice: explain the change or explain what to do now. In choosing to explain what to do now, they strengthened brand equity and consumer confidence simultaneously.

Unlike retail packaging, which benefits from consistent messaging and branding, e-commerce packages are first viewed after purchase. Each delivery could provide a new insight or character of the brand. Look to the coffee; take a page out of their book when telling your stories and addressing changes. Do what you can to assure your consumers that you’re still producing the same quality product the way you’ve always been. Provide a way for them to interact with you. Stay positive. Be upbeat. But most of all, keep it simple.

Dr. R. Andrew Hurley is the founder of Package InSight and The Packaging School, and an Associate Professor at Clemson University. He can be reached at

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