Packaging is the Search Engine Optimization of Retail

The package is often an under appreciated piece of the product marketing puzzle, especially in retail. Have you ever thought of the retailer as a search engine for products? Whether you are on Amazon or at the local Publix, your packaging is the last line of defense to grab a consumer’s attention. Brands must place more emphasis on optimizing the package for the search engine of retail.

SEO stands for search engine optimization. The term is widely used among Internet marketers as they continuously improve and optimize their online content. But, the same principles can be applied to packaging. When you think about the package at retail, it communicates your brand and product to the consumer at the First Moment of Truth.

The First Moment of Truth

• 70% of decisions are made in the store

• 28% of shoppers with a plan still leave brand decision to the store environment

• 10% of shoppers will switch brands in the store

• 20% of shoppers buy impulsively in categories they had no intention purchasing in

What does this all mean? That attention is critical. Unseen is unsold, and if your packaging does not grab and hold attention, the probability of a favorable decision to select your offering approaches zero. Imagine the last time you were in a retail store looking for a new product; how did you make the decision of what to purchase?

As a brand owner, you need to understand the subconscious decision processes going on in the consumer’s mind that ultimately lead to a final decision. The First Moment of Truth is when consumers are ready to buy and are zoomed in on your product category. How do you entice the subconscious of consumers to choose your product over competitors? The underutilized answer is packaging.

Package design is essential to communication with the subconscious. Through a multitude of consumer research studies, we have found that the First Moment of Truth in retail is influenced more by packaging than many brands had before thought possible. It’s critical for brands to fully understand the product category from a consumer standpoint to be able to optimize for the retail environment.

For example, if your product sits in an unfavorable position on the shelf, don’t sweat it. Did you know that good design can impact the time to find a package? You can employ a quantitative assessment of your packaging to learn how to drive attention your way. Some product categories are established as habitual purchases where consumers rarely change brands, but other categories are affected by small details that can influence purchase behavior. Your package, encompassing your choice of labeling, material, and branding, influences the subconscious of consumers at the shelf.


 Tracking consumer eye movements allows you to compare what consumers think they see with what they actually see.
Tracking consumer eye movements allows you to compare what consumers think they see with what they actually see.

Unseen is unsold

It’s obvious that unseen products are unsold, but the message can be applied at a much deeper level. We have conducted dozens of research studies on the effects of physical product disclosure, and the results overwhelmingly demonstrate that viewable products sell.  Consumers purchase packages that show the product inside more frequently than the same packaging without the benefit of product display. Product visibility is critical for package optimization in the

retail store. Are you more likely to buy a kitchen utensil after holding it? A suit after after trying it on for size? Think about the difference it makes when you get the chance to see desserts versus just reading the menu. As marketers, we tend to focus on market trends and on our competition more frequently than on the consumer and their need for attention and understanding.

Research, design, test, optimize, repeat

As you think about optimizing your package for retail, there are a couple things that you should think about:

1. Research→Design→Test→Redesign (Repeat)

It’s important for consumer research to be a focal point in the package design innovation process. You should engage your target market to provide real consumer data to your design teams. How else will you know if your products command attention?

2. The power of eye tracking

We use a variety of techniques for brainstorming and discovery with consumers, but we favor eye-tracking technology for evaluating package design. Eye tracking gives you the ability to observe consumers without being obtrusive in the process.

When considering this technology, ensure the following:

Use an unbiased resource, real consumers, and an in-context environment (an actual store with real products is better than a computer screen). Tracking consumer eye movements also gives you the advantage of comparing what consumers think they see with what they actually see. The technology is truly amazing, because it allows you to track a consumer’s eye 50 times per second in the actual retail environment and deliver comprehensive analysis in just a few days.

Embracing these methods and types of technology is not as time consuming or expensive as most companies might assume, but it does require some forethought and purposeful action. If you have questions on how to best approach the SEO process for your products or your company, we’d love to hear them.

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