How User-Friendly is Your Packaging?

Focusing on the consumer is the key to a better packaging experience.


“User-friendly” is typically understood in the context of how easy something is to use or operate. Although this definition has significant implications for packaging designers and engineers, the best examples of user-friendly packaging go beyond ergonomics and consider what consumers ultimately want in packaging. In this sense, user-friendly packaging could also be called “consumer-centric packaging,” or packaging that is designed around the needs, wants and wishes of end users.

With this other definition in mind, the key to designing user-friendly or consumer-centric packaging lies in understanding what consumers want and creating a packaging system that checks the most important boxes. In-demand packaging needs, wants and wishes include:

  • Minimal impact on the environment
  • Keeps products safe and secure
  • Easy to open and easy to return
  • A beneficial second (or third) use
  • Communicates the contents of the package

With these in mind, answer the following questions to determine how user-friendly your packaging is.

Is your packaging eco-friendly?

Packaging is one of the most visible and recognizable parts of your organisation’s identity; if it’s not helping your brand tell a strong sustainability story, you could be missing out on the growing number of consumers who are increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment. As the first point of contact for many consumers, your packaging has the opportunity to make a positive and lasting impression on today’s eco-conscious consumers if it is designed with sustainability in mind. Sustainable packaging solutions that are created minimise waste with sustainably-sourced materials will draw consumers’ attention and may help build customer loyalty.

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A 2017 study of 20,000 adults from five countries by Unilever found 33% of consumers choose to buy from brands they believe are doing environmental good, while market research company GlobalWebIndex reports that 42% of US and UK consumers seek out products that are recyclable or that use sustainable materials when making day-to-day purchases. Not only are consumers more likely to buy from a company whose products use sustainable packaging, but they are also willing to reward companies that focus on minimising the impact their packaging has on the environment. The Billerud Consumer Panel found that 64% of respondents indicated that they may change a product/brand for another if it clearly provides a more sustainable choice, and that 72% of respondents were willing to pay more for a product that is packaged in a sustainable way.

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Concerning the “user-friendliness” of sustainable packaging, the Billerud Consumer Panel found that the number one dream result of packaging among consumers in megacities around the world is to make packaging fun and easy to recycle. User-friendly sustainable packaging should include recycling information (e.g., How2Recycle label) and be designed for easy breakdown.

Is your packaging designed, engineered and optimised to protect?

Damage prevention is a key function of any packaging system, as well as one of the pillars of user-friendly packaging. According to the 2021 Home Delivery Report, 39% of UK consumers consider inappropriate packaging as the reason for a damaged product. Poor packaging design features and sub-par packaging materials can produce an awful end user experience if they do not protect the contents inside from transportation hazards such as shock, vibration and mishandling.

Packaging optimised for the supply chain lowers the risk that products will be damaged in transit from factories in Southeast Asia to retailers and homes around the world. Not only will this effort yield happier customers, but companies also stand to reap significant financial benefits from optimised packaging. According to the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, replacing a damaged product can cost up to 17 times more than the original cost to ship.  

In addition to packaging designs and materials better suited to protect the products inside, smart packaging features can also be used to enhance user-friendliness with respect to product integrity. For example, a temperature-monitoring label could indicate whether the package and its contents have been exposed to dangerously high or low temperatures in transit, enabling quicker decision making at the point of sale and providing greater confidence for consumers who have sensitive or perishable items shipped directly to their homes. Packaging designed to maintain product integrity and security was one of the top responses to the question of “dream packaging” in the Billerud Consumer Panel, with respondents saying they wished packaging could assure them that the product isn’t fake and that the packaging and/or its contents have not been tampered with.

Is your packaging easy to open and easy to return?

Any discussion of user-friendly design must obviously include ease of use. There are two primary ways consumers “use” packaging (i.e., how they interact with packaging): opening it and returning it. The first experience, unboxing, is a critical moment. In one survey, 62% of consumers said that packaging that is difficult to open could negatively impact their chances of shopping with that company again. Packaging designed for an easy opening experience help create a more pleasant first impression and reflect how important the end user’s total satisfaction is to the brand.

The second user experience is mostly important within the e-commerce world. According to the 2018 Omni-Channel Retail Report, shoppers expect to return up to 25% of the goods they buy online. E-commerce requires purchasing products without being able to physically interact with them, which can result in a higher level of dissatisfaction or disappointment and therefore a higher return rate than with traditional retail stores. An important consideration for e-commerce brands is whether the packaging helps or hinders the return process for shoppers who anticipate returns as part of the online shopping experience. For example, 62% of ecommerce customers want a return label in the box or an easy-to-print label.

Is your packaging designed with a second life in mind?

When asked about their ideal results from packaging development, consumers in North America, Europe and Asia indicated that “a beneficial second (and third) use of packaging” was very important. A panel of fashion bloggers and brand ambassadors at Luxe Pack New York also cited reusability as a key factor social media influencers look for in packaging. Packaging that is highly functional, beautifully constructed or extremely practical can easily have a second, third or even fourth life that supersedes the life of the original product inside. For example, the home textiles company Moyha ships products in cartons and boxes that have minimal exterior branding so they can be reused as boxes for various household or office essentials. Inside, under the lid, Moyha encourages customers to reuse the boxes however they’d like, and even include a special gift tag so they can be reused as gift boxes later.


Delight your customers with user-friendly packaging

Billerud is staffed with materials experts, packaging designers and research and development professionals that can help you create user-friendly packaging your customers will love. For more than 20 years, Billerud has helped global brands increase customer loyalty through smarter packaging. Contact us today to learn more about our packaging services and solutions.

Additional Resources

Why You Should Develop Retail Packaging and Transport Packaging Together

Treating packaging as an afterthought can lead to supply chain inefficiencies. Learn the benefits of developing retail packaging and transport...

How to Make a Business Case for Eco-Friendly Packaging

Find out how to make the business case for eco-friendly packaging in our in-depth eBook

Addressing Rising Freight Costs With Better Packaging [INFOGRAPHIC]

As ocean freight rates continue to rise, how can brands mitigate these costs? By optimising their packaging to eliminate unused space and...

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