Crucial Differences in E-Commerce vs. Brick-&- Mortar Packaging

E-Commerce vs. Brick-and-Mortar

What grabs consumers' attention in stores and online is not always the same? Learn key differences between packaging to sell online versus in store, PLUS fresh tips to help make your product stand out and gain more new and returning customers.



Credit: The Madelaine Chocolate Company
Digital mock-ups

The first thing a shopper notices online is not the packaging or the product, but the image of the packaging or product. In that sense, you must focus on the quality of your online images to convert sales.

Pay for a professional photographer to not only take the photo, but touch it up so the lighting and realism is clear. Or consider hiring a graphic designer to professionally brighten, sharpen and enhance the images you already have.

The primary product photo includes the exterior packaging with examples of the interior product fully visible on a plain white or grey background to optimize contrast. Shadows should also be minimized or eliminated. Secondary photos should include close-ups of your treats, also on a minimal background, making it clear what's included in a purchase. If you have the budget, the next set of photos should include “lifestyle” perspectives of the chocolates or candies opened or being enjoyed.

Center your product in the photo and make it as large as it can safely fit in the dimensions required for your shopping site. The closer to the edge, the larger it will appear in the search results on your site, making it more likely to be clicked.


When consumers shop, they often use the search bar to find what they want. Imagine the search results page to be a retail store shelf. You want to be sure your packaging design and product images help your products stand out among the competition online.

Before you embark on a packaging redesign, enter search terms into a shopping platform and look at what the consumer will see when they quickly scan search results. The human eye notices color, shape, symbols and text, in that order. Both the packaging structure and artwork should utilize high-contrast colors and shapes should be bold and unique.

If you only sell products on your website, consider how each item looks on your own site as customers browse or search. Are product flavors or callouts clear enough that a consumer is able to distinguish differences between each of the items listed?

If you sell on other e-commerce sites the same is true—if all chocolate boxes in the category are white and brown, how can you stand out so consumers notice and evaluate your product over the competition? Choose bold colors and unique shapes—adding a bow or incorporating a photo with a different placement of your chocolates will draw the eye.


Oftentimes online purchases are decided based on the product images on your website. After an order is placed, your brand may go unthought of until that lovely unboxing moment, when the customer opens the package upon arrival. Additional packaging is a billboard for advertising your other products, telling your brand story or inviting them to engage with your larger community of fans online.

Consider secondary packaging

Printed inserts can provide a quick reminder to get customers back to your website and to engage on your social media pages. Custom tape on the outside of the box reminds them of the inspiring story of your brand or product.

Although there is extra cost involved to print secondary packaging elements, these elements can increase sales volume and help you capture repeat sales. Consider secondary packaging as a marketing expense instead of a packaging expense to keep existing customers coming back for more.


Higher margins and customer loyalty is about defining your business as different and valuable among the competition through your product and the visual cues in stores and on packaging that help a customer identify you.

It’s important to utilize a brand guide, so every year and season your packaging stays within the visual guidelines. A brand guide will also make your brand recognizable over time and build brand equity. Don’t design in a vacuum on a computer without considering the existing line-up, and don’t design a single product alone. If you do, you may not realize its compromise on your brand image or store aesthetic.

Brand value comes when customers recognize

Brand value comes when customers recognize you quickly through visuals, so you must be consistent to increase your value. Consistent color pallets in a store are soothing and attractive to the eye, yet contrast attracts attention. It’s a delicate art form, best advised on by a talented brand director to set the tone. Ask your art director to create a brand guide for all packaging design and store merchandising to follow. Then your whole team will be clear how to keep consistent in their independent projects.


When selecting packaging, consider how it will all display in store before you buy. People buy gifts for themselves or others to feel special—packaging adds to their “special” experience. Take customers on a journey by curating the in-store display with themed colors and shapes. When consumers are in your store, contrasting colors grab more attention than you realize, so even contrasting colors must be in harmony within a similar color family.

Take the time before you embark on a new design and consider what is working in your store. What items sell out? What do your employees say your customers are always asking for? Design with customer requests in mind.

Pick complimentary and contrasting colors to use across your entire product line to create consistency. Display products to create visual variety, with a focus on unique shapes or colors, for giftable items to result in higher perceived value and acceptable price.


You want every first-time buyer to not only love your product, but also buy from you again. Make it easy for them to find you by including your website and exact social media handles on your packaging (don’t just use the social media icons, this creates opportunities for spelling errors). Focus on a maximum of two or three social media platforms for customers to engage with you. They can learn more on your website.

Including your website and exact social media

Recapturing existing customers is always less expensive than acquiring new ones. Offer a coupon code to first-time buyers to encourage return online orders, allow them to familiarize themselves with your products and memorize their favorites. One sale can easily turn into two with very little investment.

Curate your e-commerce and social media experiences

Be sure to curate your e-commerce and social media experiences, so the brand story continues to impact their minds and hearts. You don’t need to post a lot, but it should be professional. The easiest and least expensive way to curate great content is to re-post fan content on social media. Encourage high-quality photo sharing by giving a discount code or free product to fans with the best photos. Or send free samples to influencers with an already clear fan following in your region, in exchange for a set number of high-quality photos you can use to get the best both diversity and social proof.


Selling your amazing confections is an art form—and there are unique elements of the shopping experience in retail and online commerce that influence best practices in packaging design. With a little extra planning, you can make a difference in how consumers view and engage with your products, allowing you to achieve even better sales.

Want to watch a video about how to designing candy packaging? Click to watch:




Whether it’s packaging, product development, brand design, marketing, manufacturing, distribution, or operations and logistics, you’ll get the in-depth, relevant and actionable advice and resources you need, here at the Start to Sold Blog OR YOUTUBE CHANNEL:


Emily is CEO of Pearl Resourcing and has managed and launched multiple 7-figure brands in Costco, Williams-Sonoma, Kroger, and Amazon. She’s bringing you the expertise, resources, and mentors you need so that you can develop products and make them sell. /

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