Form follows function

Form follows function © pixabay.com

POS kompakt - Issue 04/2010

... or the causal relation between packaging design and (dis-)order at the POS. This designer wisdom is true also, and in particular, of the geometric and physical design of product packaging. This time we are not going to talk here about the importance of product packaging which often drives the decision to buy. For once, the focus is on the design of the product packaging.

Back to the title: “Form follows function”: Let’s take a look at what product packaging does: Primarily, it

a)Provides a secure cover for transportation (from the consumer’s point of view) of appropriate volumes of the product
b) Creates carrier surfaces for labels or prints for product identification and to show all aspects of the factual and emotional customer appeal
c) Creates positive awareness and triggers the impulse to buy on retail shelves.
d) Allows sturdy and space-saving temporary storage of the product by the consumer
e) Can be resealed following partial consumption
f) Supports portion sizing
g) Allows environmentally friendly and economic disposal

This list makes no claim to be complete!

Every packaging designer who is responsible for the appearance and shape of packaging should at least once follow the logical path ‘his’ product takes from packaging technology, via transport, interim storage, commissioning, shelf replenishment, daily shelf maintenance, being taken by the consumer to the POS, interim storage by the consumer (in the fridge?) and to the ‘points of use’ – perhaps at the breakfast table or in a ‘soap dish’ in the shower?! I am convinced that if designers took me up on this suggestion, many a product would have a different design!

As a preliminary study to the design, there needs to be logical consideration of where the product will have ‘stops’, whether it’s the design of the retail shelves, the racks and storage compartments in the fridge or the soap dish in the shower that holds a shower gel or shampoo! We have all seen a great new product on a retail shelf that is so tall, it is virtually propping up the shelf above!

I can still hear the complains of a cleaning products manufacturer who had to accept one of his products being delisted ‘just’ because the great new extra tall design of one of his products did not fit in the shelf spacing prescribed by the store! – But even without this ‘maximum penalty’, the consequences can be disastrous. A package that doesn’t fit in the fridge will surely not be bought a second time! It can get literally painful if a wonderfully designed shower gel with an elegant ‘slimline’ base will not stand up anywhere in the soap dish – and instead crashes painfully onto its user’s toe from a metre above! The cause? Ineptitude? Clumsiness??? – no: poor packaging design!

Let’s go back to the POS: What positive or negative impact can the shape of product packaging have here? At its most extreme, quality of the presentation swings between top or flop! Tidy shelf replenishment, where products are positioned on the shelf from the back to the front with the facing to the front, is – if the right care is taken – still possible. Imagine round products, such as hairspray cans for example. Careful shelf stacking means that every facing is turned to the front. Great care is taken during handling to ensure that products already on the shelf are not knocked over. – Accomplished Mikado sticks players are at a clear advantage here! Nevertheless: it worked the first time the shelves are stacked! But what happens during shelf maintenance, when any remaining products are brought to the front?

Let’s look the benefits of pushfeed systems in this situation. They solve the problem of pushing products forward. However even this method does not guarantee that a circular product will not twist when it is pushed forward. It is all too easy for a wonderfully designed facing to turn to the back, sending the chances of an impulse purchase to a low! The (beautiful) back is certainly not going to delight consumers! Yet more difficult is manually pushing products forward, possibly on trays with no shelf management system. When pushed from behind, these round products tend to twist to the right or left – or, triggering a chain reaction – topple over.

Advocates of logical (first in – first out) shelf maintenance may not want to know it, but a common practice means that ‘old’ products are left standing and (or) new products are stacked in front of them. It is much easier, although it is commercial nonsense! A solution does not have to mean foregoing circular packaging. Part of the product, for example the top fastener, could be square. This would place the direction of the facing to exactly to the front and make a ‘straight-lined’ pushfeed – automatically or manually – possible.

With oval basic shapes, minor modifications such as ‘taking in' a small, fat surface are often the key to solving the problem. Manufacturers of shrink-wrapped or skin-packaged products tend to be particularly masochistic when it comes to the technicalities of presentation. How otherwise can you explain them creating wedge-shaped packs (shaped from the bottom to the top, or even from one side to the other)? Or packages with a ‘belly’? Even with economical ‘space-users’, the biggest depth of the product dimensions determine how much space it needs, no matter how slim the package is in other places. It is important that the lower part of the pack has a flat contour the size of the product at its thickest. This means the pack can stand securely even on its own and it has a defined pushfeed behaviour in the goods stack. This packaging design is also recommended for products which are generally displayed ‘hanging’. This means of presentation also prevents uncontrolled twisting and allows products to be presented upright on a shelf.

Collision, not division

Products which, viewed from the front, spread themselves out from an initially narrow shelf surface, are also a handicap to presentation. Such products are often found in the bodycare section of drugstores. Hats off to the drugstores for regularly using shelf management systems – especially divider systems –to create the right technical set-up for well-ordered product presentation. As well as creating order and reserved places for products, this also ensures that products are pushed to front or pulled to the back.

But – what use is the greatest shelf management system - if certain products poke their way out of the inventory system and land in neighbouring compartments to the left and right? Either the pushfeed system isn’t an option, or the products in the neighbouring compartments are tipped over. If the product’s shape inherently swings to the side, its maximum width should not exceed 60mm! (Since this is generally the height of the shelf management systems installed.)

These few examples alone clearly demonstrate that a large part of presentation quality, and thus the intensity of impulse purchases, is down to the shape of a product! And as such, I want to ask the famous fairy for one more wish! And it is this: send every product or packaging designer on shelf maintenance in a specialist drugstore every day for at least two weeks! Do that, and a lot of products would look quite different as a result

Udo Vosshenrich, Managing Director POS TUNING

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