Column Insights: Designing Folding Cartons for E-Commerce Might Be Easier Than You Think

By Ben Markens, President, Paperboard Packaging Council

E-commerce is so ubiquitous today that consumers are taking to Amazon and other e-retailers to buy even basic household goods. This means that even if most folding cartons aren’t specifically meant for e-commerce, consumers might still purchase them online—and carton converters may have to optimize their designs for this very possibility.

Luckily, there are simple ways to make any carton more e-commerce friendly, and you might not have to change a whole lot to do so.

The Digital Store Shelf

Have you heard of Amazon’s Prime Pantry? Here’s how they describe it:

“Prime members can shop for groceries and household products in everyday sizes, such as a single box of cereal, with Prime Pantry.”

A single box of cereal, online? Yup! People are making purchasing decisions based, in part, on an image of your folding carton. Here’s a screenshot of what a consumer might see.

So, as you begin the design process, you may want to consider how a carton will look on “the digital store shelf.” But wait! Isn’t the real store shelf more important? Perhaps. But this seems to be a case where good design is good design—no matter the context.

Esko’s recent blog, at, on 2018 packaging trends lists a few ways that brands can make e-friendly packaging. The top two suggestions? Remove detailed imagery that becomes illegible at thumbnail size and make the brand logo the main image. This isn’t too different from “good design” in general today, no? Consumers appreciate clean design with lots of simple but clear imagery. The granola box here does a great job on both fronts. The design is clean, the images large and crisp, and you can easily identify the brand as well as some of the supporting claims like “organic” and “5g fiber.” This carton would perform well online and at brick-and-mortar retail.

Deepening the Brand Experience at Home
Packaging takes on an additional purpose in the context of e-commerce. It should offer the consumer unique experiences or added features that reinforce the brand at home and ultimately lead to repurchasing.

If you can reasonably incorporate a feature that deepens the at-home experience, why not? At the very least, you may want to prepare for a customer to ask you to do so. Here are a few methods:

  • Print on the inside of the carton to give the consumer a surprise upon opening.
  • Ensure that re-closure mechanisms work well and optimize other aspects so that the carton can serve as a storage device. As it sits on the counter, it reinforces the brand.
  • Use augmented reality to allow consumers to use their smart phones to get additional online content like recipes.
  • Customize whenever possible. This creates an immediate connection with the brand.
  • Include a printed thank you note that appears to be hand written.
  • Encourage the consumer to use the box after the product is gone. For example, include instructions for making origami out of the empty box. Consumers will have fun, and they’ll share on social media.

There’s no need to go overboard adding additional features. One or two well-placed details can have a huge impact on the consumer’s experience once the package arrives at their doorstep.

There you have it. Optimizing for e-commerce might be easier than you think. What strategies has your company put in place?

Now in its 89th year, PPC is the North American association for converters of paperboard packaging and their suppliers. PPC works to grow, promote and protect the paperboard packaging industry while providing its members with resources and tools to compete successfully in the marketplace. For more information, visit

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