Four Packaging Design Strategies for the Digital Shelf

Four strategic areas are particularly crucial to digital product packaging: scannability, benefits over features, eye-catching power and immediate recognition. Image courtesy of MarketPlace Branding.

Online Grocery Shoppers Are Influencing Packaging Design

By Shelby White, Group Creative Director at MarketPlace Branding

The grocery shopping experience is ever-changing. When we think of the process — making lists, searching the aisles, putting things in your shopping cart — the very meaning of each has evolved. Mental images of notes apps and scrolling web pages and cart icons are called to mind nearly as often as their traditional counterparts. Today, grocers’ efforts to integrate and build out comprehensive, user-friendly digital platforms allow shoppers to fill their carts without ever setting foot in a store.

What does this evolving shopping experience mean for packaging design? How might these changes inform packaging design strategies for existing and emerging food, beverage and supplement brands?

Scroll-stopping brands offer visual clarity on what, exactly, the product is. Image courtesy of MarketPlace Branding.

Convenience Drives the Digital Shelf

While retailers are still navigating the online grocery shopping experience, usage cases are on the rise. PwC’s February 2023 Global Consumer Insights Survey of almost 10,000 shoppers showed 43% of consumers planned to increase their online shopping in the next six months. For online grocery shopping in particular, growth potential remains high. Chicory, a contextual commerce ad platform, conducted a 2023 Online Grocery Shopping Survey of over 5,000 recipe websites and 1,000 consumers. It showed a 34% year-over-year (YoY) increase in the average add-to-cart value and, notably, they didn’t see a single YoY percent drop in the number of consumers utilizing online grocery shopping.

By and large, convenience is the number one consumer driver for grocery shopping online. While convenience drives this consumer trend, food brands can find it quite inconvenient to manage a range of retail platforms.

Peruse a few large- and medium-sized online retailers and you’ll find a diverse approach to product imagery standards and information hierarchy. One consistent theme: category and product pages lead with packaging imagery. Paired with product titles, pricing, and reviews, clear and compelling packaging is integral to piquing consumer interest.

In a world of decision fatigue, a lack of information often turns into lost sales. This is particularly true for commodity products, innovative products, and brands focused on attracting new customers. If there is no room for introductions, how can brands cultivate point-of-sale interest and purchase intention in the digital space?

While the solutions to most forms of inconvenience are in the hands of retailers, brands can use packaging design strategies to close the information gap and make choosing their product much easier. But there’s only so much space, and only so much information and artwork that can work at thumbnail-scale.

So, where do we go from here? The best packaging design has always lived at the intersection of science and art, and despite the inherent clutter of the digital shelf, that still holds true. While there are many factors to consider, these four strategic areas are particularly crucial to digital product packaging: scannability, benefits over features, eye-catching power, and immediate recognition.

Online images are ‘scannable’ when elements like your logo, important product information, and points of differentiation stand out on the principal display panel (PDP). Image courtesy of MarketPlace Branding.


A big buzzword in the search engine optimization world, scannability refers to how information is displayed to highlight key points among the details. Callouts, icons, lists, and more are utilized on web pages to showcase important takeaways. When viewing a product thumbnail, this is even more important. Elements like your logo, important product information, and points of differentiation should all stand out on the principal display panel (PDP). Whether that’s in the form of text or imagery, the point is that it pops. This might mean designing a separate, digital-only version of the PDP that utilizes reduced copy count and enlarged copy and visuals.

Benefits Over Features

Let’s say you have two seconds to make a choice. One yogurt product PDP says, “Contains Live Probiotics,” and another one says, “Live Probiotics for Digestive Health.” Which one feels more beneficial? This can sometimes feel like it devolves into semantics, but the average consumer is now able to tie probiotics to digestive health thanks in large part to the yogurt industry’s efforts to inform with benefits. Benefits-focused messaging allows the shopper to fast-forward the consideration and evaluation stage and click straight through to checkout.

Eye-Catching Power

On store shelves, eye-catching products stop shoppers in their tracks. On the digital shelf, breakthrough brands stop users from scrolling past. In both cases, brands have to stand out among competitors. And on the digital shelf, the competition extends to all related products, sometimes across multiple platforms.

This isn’t just a beauty contest. Scroll-stopping brands offer visual clarity on what, exactly, the product is. Take pasta, for example. An oversized individual noodle showcased on the PDP catches attention and quickly communicates which pasta shape each box holds, even when scaled down for the digital shelf. Eye-catching packaging design has stopping power and can support shop-ability in stores and online.

Immediate Recognition

Oftentimes, packaging is required to convey a substantial amount of information — net weight, nutrition facts, cooking instructions, serving suggestions, manufacturing and distribution information, and more — all on one box, jar, can or pouch. In these instances, benefit messaging can be left with very limited real estate. Leaning on tried-and-true, instantly recognizable ideas and imagery, like illustrated ingredients or a symbol for gut health, can make the most of the space that remains. If your ready-to-drink smoothie claims “One Serving of Vegetables,” would you choose to visualize “one serving” or the vegetables themselves? When your billboard is limited to a glass bottle, the obvious answer is often the most effective path to communicating product benefits. It’s what your customers will most easily and quickly understand.

As more online shopping options become available for consumer packaged goods in the food, beverage, and supplement space, the shopping experience from in-store to online will continue to diverge. Some grocers are attracting shoppers to stores by making each trip an experience. Cooking classes on the second floor, a live band outside. While brands continue to enter the digital space, creating more competition and clutter, the online shopping experience remains more streamlined. Online retailers remain laser-focused on add-to-cart opportunities and minimizing cart abandonment — an issue more prevalent in digital storefronts.

With a consumer audience focused on convenience, packaging design that clearly and quickly communicates “what” and “why” can build trust, accelerate the consideration phase of the shopper’s journey, and provide the consumer what they need to make a purchase decision — regardless of the digital shelf it’s sitting on.

About the Author

As Group Creative Director at, Shelby White leads the creative development of strategic, award-winning packaging design for consumer products and services in the food, beverage, pet, and wellness industries — along with the B2B ingredients that go into them. With a decade of experience in successful e-commerce and brick-and-mortar CPG sales initiatives, Shelby’s expertise spans the product development process from start to shelf. Learn more at

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