The future of interactive packaging


Interactive packaging has become something of a buzzword of late.  Find out our predictions for the future of the interactive pack.


Interactive packaging has become something of a buzzword of late. From the conferences we’ve attended, the blog posts we’ve read, and our conversations with clients, it’s clear the implications of digital technologies are a real hotbed of discussion.

Although technology continues to transform the places that we shop, the way we’re hardwired remains reassuringly constant. It’s the reason some innovations succeed where others fail. It’s the difference between a piece of technology that captures our imagination and fits seamlessly into our lives as if it’s always been there, and something that fails to understand our drives and motivations and therefore feels redundant.

Understanding human psychology is something that gives pioneers confidence to forge ahead despite unfamiliar territory, introducing the world to entirely new concepts. Ultimately it’s this knowledge, that’s the make-or-break of technology adoption. As our director John writes in Packaging News, current attempts at interactive packaging demand far too much of consumers. The future of interactive packaging is in those forms that most closely complement our shopping behaviours – usually a tendency to opt for the easier, instinctive, autopilot decisions. What Daniel Kahneman calls ‘system 1’ thinking.

So what are the technologies that look set to transform our relationship with packaging? Read on for our predictions.



[columns][column span=”4″ title=”Augmented Reality (AR)”]In its current guise, AR is accessed primarily through a mobile phone or tablet. Applications such as Blippar are used to recognise products held up to the phone’s camera and overlay further content such as games or recipes.

Whilst the current process of accessing via an app is a little cumbersome, the content is dynamic and signals where wearable tech might be headed. You can imagine a product such as Google Glass offering a much more seamless way of accessing AR content as we go about our day-to-day life.

Rather than diverting our attention like QR codes, AR overlays additional information on the physical world. In a way, it becomes part of the POS – albeit a digital manifestation.[/column]

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[columns][column span=”4″ title=”Near Field Communication / Radio Frequency Identification”]NFC and RFID technologies allow short-range communication between devices. Already used in banking and travel cards, the advantages of NFC and RFID are still to be realised when it comes to interactive packaging. That might take the form of touchpoints in supermarkets, for instance offering recipes suggestions that can be loaded directly on to a mobile or as in the example here, a DVD with a chip that sends the shopper to a trailer.

Something that has surprised technology commentators has been Apple’s reluctance to embrace the technology, so we can expect greater development in retail when it eventually hits their mobile devices.[/column]

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[columns][column span=”4″ title=”Wireless power”]Such an innovation comes with lots of possibilities. A great example was Bombay Sapphire’s photoluminescent retail pack which scooped a number of awards earlier this year. Beyond the obvious visual tricks that can be implemented on pack, self warming products are amongst the other ideas mooted.[/column]

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[columns][column span=”4″ title=”Flexible screens”]As displays become more malleable, we can expect greater integration with packs and POS, particularly on higher value items. The use of screens will enable more dynamic pack illustration and with it, the ability to change content on-shelf.[/column]

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[columns][column span=”4″ title=”Eye tracking / Motion tracking”]These technologies, currently used in research, might well find their way into the supermarket aisles. With the advantages that a digital pack brings, the necessity for more immediate shopper feedback will become key. These technologies might be used at-shelf to better understand how people shop, what aspects of a pack/POS are effective at driving a purchase and offer immediate triggers for at-shelf proposition changes.[/column]

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Greater opportunities to change the pack and proposition at-shelf

Huge amounts of research are involved in bringing packs to shelf. It’s understandable when you consider what’s at stake. Once a product has hit the shelf, changes to the retail proposition are fairly limited – POS, price and promotion changes can help spark latent interest, but a pack that bombs can be slow to rectify.

Advances in digital tech will offer new opportunities to vary the proposition. Not only will it allow for shelf-sitting packs to be changed, but it will also accelerate the speed at which other aspects of the retail environment can be manipulated. Just as supermarkets capitalise on good weather by bringing disposable BBQs and icecreams to the front of the store, retailers and brands will be in a better position to make more frequent, varied and faster changes to the packs and POS supporting their offering.


New ways of measuring shopper/consumer engagement

The flexibility that new technologies will offer at-shelf will result in a demand for a greater frequency of shopper/consumer insight. As well as enabling packs to transform and change at shelf, consumer interaction will provide retailers and brand owners with new types of data with which to understand effectiveness of various aspects of the retail proposition. The feedback loop will become more immediate, detailed and frequent.


The importance of the role of the interactive pack at home

The proliferation of online retail channels will prompt a reassessment of the role of pack at home. The absence of the physical retail proposition will mean brands and retailers need to develop consumer loyalty through other touchpoints. Consumers will vote with their feet (or fingers), and brands will need to establish a greater emotional connection with their consumers at home to drive repeat purchase. The seconds between unpacking the contents of your internet shop and moving it to the cupboard will need to be explored, as does the experience of opening and using the product.




A decent understanding of basic human psychology will help brands to navigate the huge range of technologies available; identifying the most effective proposition and forging a meaningful, emotional connection between brands and consumers. To create truly engaging interactive packs that work beyond the superficial, novel or gimmicky; design thinking will need to interrogate how such innovations can be used to appeal directly to our basic human instincts – particularly in the context of other changes in the retail proposition.

The complexities associated with interactive packs are likely to drive up production costs, though will be a vital aspect of differentiation between rival brands. Although technology advances will make post-launch pack optimisations quicker and more frequent, the expense of innovation is likely to push brands to invest heavily in consumer research and establish a set of principles that identify the right types of interactivity for each brand.