Consumer research for packaging mostly falls into research done in a lab or store environment, but we’ve been tasked with more and more e-commerce work over the past two years. Usually, we’re asked about the impact of e-commerce and how it affects retail packaging plans, how brands compete within and around Amazon, and how brands can maximize the opportunity of a more intimate connection with consumers inside their own homes. These are big questions for a big opportunity, and to tackle these complex problems, we find ourselves returning time and again to a core set of principles: People, Planet, Profits.


This is the consumer, the person generally at the end of the very complex and risk-filled marketing, production, and distribution cycle that makes up our economy. Consumers hold the keys to our success — they make judgments on value and quality that ultimately determine what is worth their hard-earned cash. With this in mind, it only makes sense that every product and package design process should keep the consumer perspective as a priority. Although the number one concern in parcel packaging should be protecting the product within, engaging the consumer in a positive way should always be a close second. We see this taking place in a number of ways, from efficient and effective dielines that allow someone to quickly hold and interact with their purchase (e.g., custom-sized book packaging with tear-strip access from Amazon), to the unexpected (e.g., Glade scent-filled air pillows), to the more robust and complex (e.g., high-quality graphics, softouch textures, and the well-known millimeter-tolerance packaging that creates a level of final anticipation for your latest Apple product). We’ve found a wide array of effective approaches here, but what matters most is that the consumer gets the feeling that you’ve considered them — even if it’s a simple thank you note within.


This is a real and mainstream topic. It’s part of the household conversation, whether we are talking about shareholder reports from Wall Street, global news headlines, local city infrastructures, or even mass-market movies. Packaging has always played a key role in this conversation, and the e-commerce industry absolutely makes decisions with the planet in mind, especially when it considers the post-consumer waste process. As we’ve discovered, there are some methods to accomplish both planet and people considerations in a very positive way.

Last year, we were tasked with investigating the impact tissue paper (decorative and unbranded) had on consumers’ e-commerce unboxing experiences when compared to other void-fill solutions. Tissue paper’s low carbon footprint and minimal impact in the post-consumer waste stream covers the planetary concern, but the material also makes a difference for people. We discovered that decorative tissue creates a much more positive experience for consumers during the box-opening event than more utilitarian dunnage, yet it still offers a measure of protection for your product.


Profits are the beginning and end of the above people/planet approach because in the end, our consumer economy is built on profits. If an initiative, process, or action can’t be tied to profit potential, it won’t survive the business equation. A few months ago, we were able to attend an e-commerce event for local businesses run by FedEx, where it was stated that returns are the number one profit impact for e-commerce-focused businesses. One role packaging plays here is in the protection of goods, keeping them safe in transit so they arrive functional and ready to meet or exceed consumer expectations. A strong argument can be made for investment in the consumer experience with packaging as well, both in the avoidance of negative, frustrating experiences and in thoughtful, engaging box-opening experiences.

A couple years ago, Pregis asked us to investigate how various dunnage materials factored into the equation of consumer perception. We concluded that packing peanuts may offer price efficiency, but the frustration they create with the consumer can still negatively impact your bottom line. Conversely, tied into the Seaman Paper experiment referenced previously, we found that branded decorative tissue paper had a strong long-term impact on consumers’ recollections of the event. During interviews 120 days after the initial box-opening, we even found several consumers had saved the decorative tissue for some unknown future use — a fantastic reuse of the core packaging material.

Essentially, there are several paths forward to e-commerce success, but maintaining a good balance with respect to people, planet, and profit is a great tool to evaluate the options available. In the end, remember that designing with the consumer in mind is a key to success.

Dr. R. Andrew Hurley is the founder of Package InSight and The Packaging School, and an Associate Professor at Clemson University. For more information, please visit or


Pregis / Package InSight White Paper - Void Fill

Pregis / Package InSight Infographic - Void Fill

Seaman Paper / Package InSight White Paper - Decorative Tissue in eCommerce

Seaman Paper / Package InSight Infographic - Decorative Tissue in eCommerce

This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2019 issue of PARCEL.