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The primary function of packaging is to protect the goods enclosed when they are in transit and storage so that they are received by the consumer in perfect condition. However, packaging also presents an excellent range of opportunities for marketing.

Functions of Packaging

The role of packaging, then, can be categorised into these two functions: primary and secondary.

Primary Functions

Protective function – packaging serves an important role protecting goods during handling, transit and storage from the effects of the environment. Its role is to ensure the goods arrive with the customer in the same condition they left the manufacturer and are protected from damage, loss and theft. Conversely, the packaging also protects the environment from potential contamination by the goods if there is the danger of a spill or leakage.

Fotolia 60170978 XSDuring the transition from producer to end user, goods will pass through a variety of environmental conditions with variations in temperature, humidity and air pressure. The packaging the manufacturer or distributor uses will be designed to provide protection in a variety of conditions. Similarly, it offers protection against damage by impact, pressure or vibration.

Storage function – when goods are moved from the manufacturer to the end user the process inevitably involves them being stored in a variety of locations. The packaging used needs to be able to perform the function it is designed for in a range of different storage locations.

Loading and transport function – transport and handling costs take a significant slice from the margin earned by the manufacturer. It is, therefore, important that the packaging used allows the most efficient handling and transportation in order to control costs. Packaging which allows the ‘cubing out’ of shipping containers, for instance, is essential when transporting goods in bulk.

Secondary Functions

Sales function – packaging also plays a crucial role in promoting product sales.

Promotional function – the promotional role of packaging is to attract the customer’s attention and influence his or her buying decision by presenting the product in a positive light. This involves giving careful attention to logos, branding, colour and design.

Service function – well-designed packaging can help the consumer by providing vital information about the product. This can include dosage advice on medicines and nutritional information on food products.

Guarantee function – part of the producer’s guarantee is that the goods should be received by the customer in perfect condition, without any deterioration or damage caused in transit or storage. Suitable packaging will ensure that this guarantee is honoured.

Other Functions

Natural deterioration – suitably designed packaging offers the product protection against a range of agents which would otherwise cause it to deteriorate. These include the actions of bacteria, mould, heat, cold, rodents, insects and contaminants

Safety – packaging has a key role to play in cases where the product is potentially hazardous. It offers protection to those handling and transporting toxic, inflammable or other types of hazardous material and makes such items less accessible to the vulnerable, and in particular the packaging restricts access by children. A good example of the latter is the fitting of medicine bottles with child-proof caps.

How Does Packaging Influence Consumers’ Purchase Decisions?

Fotolia 64244990 XSThere are some purchases, higher-value, long-lasting household items, that most consumers spend a lot of time researching before making a decision about what to buy. This kind of careful research tends to be the norm with, for instance, white goods. Other purchases, particularly of lower-cost and more disposable items, are often selected at the point of sale. Items of this type are referred to as ‘fast-moving consumer goods’ (FMCG) or ‘consumer packaged goods’ (CPG).

For this type of item, the packaging used plays an important part in the purchase decision in accordance with the following criteria:





Identification – at a conscious and at a sub-conscious level most consumers tend to identify with particular brands. Purchase decisions are often made on the basis of the consumer opting for a brand they regard as familiar and trusted. Thus, particular logos, font styles and packaging shape help the consumer to identify a brand they are comfortable with. Colour too can help in this process of identification: we all associate a particular shade of purple with a well-known chocolate manufacturer or a strong shade of orange with a certain budget airline.

Attention – when a consumer visits a retail outlet he or she is faced with a myriad of different brands to choose from. It is, therefore, vital that the supplier selects a form of packaging that attracts the consumer’s attention and conveys the intended messages about the product. The use of colour and images is important in this process, particularly for new or less well-known brands.

Communication – the most successful suppliers and brands are invariably those whose products offer innovative, cutting-edge design. They will try to reflect the brand’s key messages in the design of their packaging. Whilst a particular image or design on the packaging may not in itself sell a product, the positive image that carefully-designed packaging can promote does exercise an influence on sales.

Impact on attitudes – this process of communication has a more fundamental aim, however. Brands, by their very nature, are seeking to build up longer-term reputation and customer loyalty, not just one-off sales.

What is Consumer Buying Behaviour?

Fotolia 76456215 XSThe decision to buy a particular product is a complex, multi-faceted process involving a range of psychological and social factors. Studies have suggested that there are six stages to the consumer buying process:

Problem recognition – before a purchase can even be considered, the consumer needs to recognise that he or she has a need or a desire that is currently not being fulfilled. Needs and desires, of course, are not necessarily the same thing. For instance, we all have needs which are responses to basic physiological processes: when we’re hungry we need to buy food, for example. Some of our desires, on the other hand, we may not immediately recognise, but they can be stimulated by the supplier sharing information about desirable products through the marketing process.

Information search – once the consumer recognises that he or she has a problem, a need or desire that needs to be fulfilled, the process of searching for the product which will solve that problem can begin. At an internal level we all initially search our own memory banks for information from previous searches or purchases. If that does not prove decisive we then move on to making an external search: speaking to others, using social media or searching the internet.

Evaluation of alternatives – having conducted an information search, the consumer then goes on to compare the alternatives. The internet makes this process far easier than in previous times. But even when one supplier clearly seems to have the most attractive product on the market, most consumers will still want make their evaluation to be sure there are no suppliers with better prices or alternative products which are of better quality.

Purchase decision – the purchase decision is not the same as making the purchase; if the consumer is unhappy with the sales experience when they are engaging with a retail outlet or website, he or she may still opt to abandon the purchase.

Purchase – the final step in the purchase process is the point where the customer completes the purchase.

Post purchase evaluation – however, completing the purchase is not quite the final stage: a supplier’s after sales service and attitude to post-purchase queries and returns will influence whether or not the customer will return to that supplier in the future and whether he or she will recommend the supplier to others. In fact, social media and review websites have dramatically increased the importance of customer feedback as a marketing tool.

Four Types of Consumer Buying Behaviour

As discussed above, the decision to buy a product involves a complex behavioural process. Studies have shown that there are four main types of buying behaviour. Whilst each of these four behaviours can be said to reflect a particular personality trait, humans are a little more complicated than that and most of us will engage in any one of these buying behaviours at different times depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The four types of buying behaviour are:

Routine response behaviour – routine response behaviour describes the type of buying behaviour that comes into play with tasks like our routine supermarket shop. Generally speaking, we conduct little or no product research, make few comparisons and purchase the things we habitually buy.
Limited decision making – consumers engage in limited decision making when they buy items, such as clothing, which are only bought occasionally. This sometimes involves a degree of research and evaluation.

Extensive decision making – extensive decision making buying behaviour occurs when the consumer if making a significant purchase such as a home or a car. With this type of purchase the consumer not only invests a significant amount of time in gathering information, but works through all six stages of the buying process.

Impulse buying – impulse buying refers to unplanned purchases, usually of low-cost items. The consumer is not so much concerned with the long-term utility of such items, but with short-term pleasure and gratification. Given that such purchases are made on impulse, eye-catching packaging can play an important role in the decision to buy.

Factors Influencing Consumer Behaviour

These include a range of internal factors and external influences.

Internal Factors

Fotolia 64441513 XSPerception – perception is about the way we make sense of the world by absorbing the sensory inputs around us and interpreting them in our mind. Given that we cannot possibly know about everything, we base our perception of what we see and experience on our previous knowledge and experience. A typical shopping trip can sometimes end up in sensory overload: surveys suggest that shoppers are exposed to some twenty thousand different products in a typical half hour shopping trip.

Knowledge – new information can change the way we view a product and the buying decisions that we make, which is why advertisers and marketing specialists try to identify and present the key features and benefits of any product.

Attitudes – attitudes are formed by feelings and beliefs. It is important to note that once a consumer forms a negative belief about a particular product, it is very difficult to overcome that view.

Personality – each of us has our own personality, our collection of behaviours and traits. Although much of this personality is unique and individual, many of our attitudes and personality traits are shared by others in our particular demographic group. Marketers clearly need to understand the prevailing attitudes in particular target groups when they are devising a marketing strategy.

Lifestyle – lifestyle choices are a growing factor in the way people choose to spend their time and money. People who have opted for a more eco-conscious lifestyle, for instance, are the key factor behind the growth of green products.

Motivation – the consumer is always looking for a particular outcome when he or she contemplates making a purchase. The extent to which he or she desires that outcome will influence how much effort they put into making their purchase decision.

External Influences

Culture – the key external factor in our purchasing decisions is the influence of the society in which we live: the people around us and the common values we share.

How Product Packaging Affects Your Buying Decision

Fotolia 64441513 XSMarketing and advertising may create the desire for a product in the mind of the consumer, but the decision to make a purchase comes later; it is estimated that some sixty to seventy percent of buying decisions are made by the customer when in the store. Packaging, therefore, is an important way for a product or brand to communicate directly with a potential customer and help him or her to make a quick decision.

Subconscious - of course very few of us will admit that we bought a product because it had attractive packaging. However, packaging exerts a very powerful subconscious influence; carefully chosen colours, images and text will attract our attention when we are browsing the retail store shelves.

Convenience - according to the Business Insider news website, a product’s packaging will form an impression of the product it contains in no more than seven seconds. Further studies at California Institute of Technology and the University of Miami have also emphasised packaging’s key role in consumer decision-making. A key facet of this is brand-recognition; consumers find it convenient to be able to spot a familiar brand on the retail outlet shelves without having to make too much effort.

Icons – icons, or brand logos, exercise a powerful influence on the perceptions of the consumer. Though invariably simple in design, the icons of the major brands will elicit global recognition amongst consumers. The presence of a recognisable icon on a product’s packaging instantly conveys a whole set of messages about that branded product that comes from the consumer’s experience and his or her exposure to previous marketing.

Emotions – when a consumer recognises a brand by its packaging the effect is not just a perceptual one, but he or she experiences an emotional response.
Aesthetics – research suggests that consumers spend more time examining products with packaging that is attractively designed than that which is not.

Typography – a font that is clear and easy to read will encourage the consumer to spend time examining the product. Font styles can also be used to suggest particular moods or emotions.
Colour – the use of colour can unify a particular brand across a range of products and marketing channels. Colour can also be used to emphasise a particular mood associated with the product: red for vibrancy, green for eco-friendly products, and so on.

Ripple Effect

The marketing impact of packaging goes far beyond the point of sale. This is known as the ripple effect. According to MarketingProfs, the leading US marketing association:

  • Around 52 percent of customers would buy a particular brand again if they received the product in premium packaging
  • Some 90 percent of consumers reuse their product packaging after purchase
  • Businesses who have invested in carefully designing their packaging report an increase in sales of up to 30 percent.

Fotolia 71563821 XSAlthough the ripple effect as a theory has been known to marketing professionals for many years, it has really come into its own with the advent of social media. Research suggests that young adults frequently share news of their online purchases with friends through social media and some ninety percent of those who do include a picture of the product in its packaging. Amongst all age-groups, up to forty percent of people will share a picture online if they buy something in packaging which they find interesting or well-designed.

Certain products can create a real buzz on social media; one small ripple creates more, then spreads and develops a momentum of its own. This is why tech-savvy companies will go out of their way to engage with potential customers on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media channels.

But this type of marketing is rarely of the direct ‘buy me’ variety. Modern marketing, particularly when it is channelled through social media, is as much about the image of the product as its functionality, and packaging is an integral part of that strategy.

Further Resources on Packaging's Role in Marketing:

Packaging Companies in the UK you might want to try

EbroColor | Packaging Supplies
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Packaging Supplies Ltd | Packaging Products
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The Box Store | Cardboard boxes
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W. MacCarthy & Sons Ltd | Presentation Box and cardboard packaging
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Teakcroft Ltd | Corrugated Cardboard Box Manufacturers
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Caps Cases | Corrugated cardboard packaging for UK industry
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Rendac Packaging Solutions | Packaging Design and Packaging Suppliers - Bristol
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Fiske Packaging | Sh-Fiske Packaging
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R and R Corrugated Packaging | Your single source for corrugated Packaging
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Nuttal Packaging | Cardboard Boxes Manufacturers
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Eurobox | Eurobox Packaging Supplies in Manchester
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Direct Packaging Solutions | Packaging Suppliers Manchester
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Grosvenor Packaging | Designers and Manufacturers of Corrugated Cases
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Palpak Corrugated | Palpak Corrugated Packaging
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AOML Packaging
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Raja Pack | One of Europe's Top Packaging Companies
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Card works | Printed Packaging Company
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The Bag N Box Man | Packaging and Rubber Stamps
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Print and Packaging Suppliers | Plastic, Paper, Cotton Bag Printing
Print and Packaging  are a UK Printed Carrier Bag Supplier, Printing Plastic, Paper, Cotton, Canvas, Jute Bags + More. 100% Customer Satisfaction, Fast Delivery & A Money Back Guarantee!

Transpack | Packaging suppliers
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Kilby Packaging | Packing supplies and packaging materials
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LINPAC Packaging | Fresh Thinking
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Golden Box Ltd | UK Manufacturers of Cardboard Boxes
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Packaging 365 | Cardboard boxes and packaging online
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Saxon Packaging | Cardboard Packaging Manufacturers UK
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Asc Direct | The Online Packaging Company
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W H Skinner | Cardboard Packaging Companies and Display Manufacturers
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Printed Boxes | Manufacturers of Plain and Printed Cardboard Boxes
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Holmes Mann | Packaging Manufacturers
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Greyhound | Box Packaging for UK businesses
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Card Masters Cardboard Engineering | Presentation packaging boxes
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Lightning | Packaging Supplies
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Argolin | Specialist Packaging
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Innpac | Custom Cardboard Packaging
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Crusader Packaging | Packaging Materials and Packaging Design
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Challenge | Packaging Online
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Complete Packaging Solutions | Cardboard Box Suppliers
POS packaging specialist supplier, design, manufacture, supply and deliver to many POS businesses as well as many other packaging companies within Leicestershire, the midlands and UK wide.

Fencor Packaging | Intelligent Corrugated Packaging
One of the UK’s leading independent manufacturers of corrugated and display packaging, Fencor Packaging Group can help you to achieve your objectives.

Zetland | Boxes and Packaging suppliers
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Ace Packaging | Corrugated boxes  and box manufacture
The South West's bespoke packaging makers - ACE Packaging is a South West provider of bespoke packaging with emphasis on value, speed of turnaround, competitiveness and excellent customer service.

Downlands Packaging | Corrugated Cartons
Downlands Packaging - bespoke designers of corrugated cartons, FEFCO coded cartons, die cut cartons, foam inserts and heavy duty cases and crates. West Sussex.
Ebro Color GmbH with 5,0 out of 5 based on 116 reviews

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Ebro Color GmbH
Ehestetter Weg 10
72458 Albstadt
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