Designing retail hardware packaging vs supermarket FMCG packaging

by | Jul 27, 2017 | Uncategorized

There’s a big differences between designing retail hardware packaging and a FMCG supermarket shelf


FMCG Decisions are made in a matter of seconds

We all know the famous statistic that reads you have 10 seconds to get your customers attention in the grocery aisle and have them choose your product. So, you design for this. With simple packs communicating the key pieces of information shoppers are seeking and in the right order (or at least, well designed packs do this).

Not so in retail hardware 

This is simply not the case in retail hardware. Think about it, most purchases in the home improvement market are a far more considered purchase (majority of the time).

DIY market shoppers are often seeking advice on what product to purchase but also how to use it. More often than not, DIY consumers will conduct research online and visit the store several times prior to making a purchase. Think about this in terms of your own experiences with DIY or a maybe a friends experience. I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t fit this pattern (unless of course you know a builder).

Job complexity = Decision complexity

By nature of the complexity of the job at hand, purchasing in hardware is often a more highly involved decision making process than an impulse/habit driven grocery shop. As a marketer you need to be aware of this.

The job of your packaging design is to support your consumer in their decision making process. Your packaging design  needs to assist them in their education and make them feel comfortable making their decision.

Features and benefits need to do the heavy lifting 

In the home improvement or retail hardware market consumers rely more heavily on your features and benefits. So it’s important you’ve considered these carefully, both in terms of language used and what you’re saying. Your packaging design for retail hardware needs to do far more heavy lifting.

Don’t go using a heap of industry jargon if your target market is an inexperienced DIY user. Talk to them using words they understand. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what questions they might have about the task they’re wanting to perform. Can questions be answered in your features and benefits?

Be conscious the terminology you’re using on pack isn’t common industry jargon. Alternatively if your aim is to sell to tradesman, make sure you use that terminology. Basically, think about who you’re selling to and then tailor the language on pack specifically for them.

Know your audience 

Of course this is marketing 101 knowing your target audience. In saying this, it’s amazing how often one can pick up a product with trade language packaging and yet the marketer expects it still to sell  in a retail environment. This is  a common pitfall. You need to be clear on whether you’re talking to a DIY (do it yourself) audience or a DIFM (do it for me), or indeed it could be a combination of both. Determine which is your primary audience?

It’s important to understand this as it will influence the way the packaging is designed from graphics all the way through to the copy.

An example: Designing retail hardware packaging

Let’s say you have a product that is currently sold in a specialist trade centre, well then it’s most likely that your packaging will probably be as cost effective as possible. Brown cardboard, one colour print, mandatory information only on pack etc. This is because this is all you really need. The people purchasing your product are well versed in the industry. They understand how to use it, where to use it and why you would purchase it over a competitor. Meaning your packaging isn’t actually the salesman, your brand’s reputation amongst the trade market and your relationship with trade stores does the selling for you.

That said, if you were to then take that product and put it straight in its current “trade pack” directly into a retail hardware store, like a Bunnings, and then expect a young couple with no renovation experience to select it for their new bathroom, your chances are slim. Your packaging needs to work harder in this instance. You pack needs to provide comfort to the prospective buyers. The pack needs to communicate what the product does, where you use it and why you would use it over a competitor.

This bears repeating:

When it comes to designing retail hardware the packaging MUST:

  • communicate what the product does,
  • where you use it and
  • why you would use it over a competitor.

Know your packaging form…

Quite often in home improvement stores the products are big… very big, or they’re an awkward shape, or they stack better if you lay them flat. You get the gist? This means that your front face might not always be your most important visual cue point.  Whilst it may well be so,  you still need to give some love and pay attention to a particular side of the pack because sometimes it get’s ranged that way on shelf.

It’s about understanding the form and recognising what are your most valuable areas then capitalising on that.

Have you considered your mandatories? 

Mandatories from a hardware standpoint are extensive – there’s a lot of them… fragile, this way up, weight statement, bar-code, hazard warnings. When it comes to packaging for hardware design, knowing this is the case means you design the mandatories into the pack and not stick them on as an afterthought. The more consideration you give to these mandatories in the beginning of the design phase, the more seamless your pack will look on shelf. You also have the added advantage of knowing that if you make certain things like bar-code position easy for the red shirts to find, they might just be more amenable to recommending your product.

Know your environment

Whilst large warehouse hardware retailers like Bunnings have done a fabulous job at making a Saturday trip to the hardware store a real destination experience, they’re not the ideal environment for showcasing your product. Red racks, concrete floors, harsh lighting etc- it really doesn’t show your best side. The solution is to design for the sales environment in mind. This means being mindful of colours that may clash with the racking or will be recessive on shelf in the lighting.

Always test. Actually take mock-ups into store and test them on pack to see if they meet your expectations. You might be very surprised at how a beautifully designed pack, printed on quality paper, really looks in the actual environment.

The price point factor 

We’ve mentioned earlier that for most products in a hardware environment it’s usually a highly considered purchase. This means that price will play a large role in consumer perception of your product. Especially in those large warehouse hardware retailers like Bunnings, whose main slogan is “great brands at everyday low prices”. The perception from a consumer’s point of view, is that if it’s stocked in say a Bunnings, it must be good value for money. Therefore, if you have a premium product, it’s an imperative that your packaging reflects the price tag.


When it comes to designing retail hardware packaging, both for the marketer and the designer, embellishments are typically subject to so many external factors, primarily budget. That said, embellishments can really add to an overall brand experience, however, they can be pricey, especially for large scale packaging items.

In saying this, if it is something that’s within scope for your brand it might prove  worth considering, as embellishments are not used nearly as freely in the home improvement packaging space as they are in FMCG. Embellishments are a great way to get your brand noticed and communicate a premium offering.

So much more to think about

In conclusion, there are a number of differences when designing retail hardware packaging versus a supermarket environment. Lighting, shelf-space, consumer expectations, pack education, pack form, shelf positioning, purchase investment consideration etc. All of these elements and the subtleties of the specific retailer you are going to display your products in, all need to be considered and built into your packaging design.