Insiders' View of Beauty Product Packaging

What seems like a lifetime ago, I worked behind the counters of an upscale department store, selling cosmetics. In hindsight, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to watch the consumers first hand as they walked around the area, sniffing and searching for the perfect cosmetics. All of the girls had been trained by their own lines on what to say, how to stock their shelves, and how to basically ‘move’ their products. Not just because it was our job, but hey, we were on commission. The cosmetic packaging was created by the best of the best, at costs that far exceeded any budget of the small companies that I work with today in the all-natural beauty field.

On a daily basis I sold gorgeous glossy boxes filled with fancy frosted glass bottles embossed with gold ink, or other such expensive packaging. The customers arrived with the anticipation of looking like the supermodels that they saw in the cosmetic ads. We made sure to give them free samples, tell them about the latest products in our lines, and place their new treasures into high gloss paper shopping bags that looked more like pieces of art. This was all done in an elegant room with plush carpet, chandeliers and pristine glass counters, while all of us were dolled up like mannequins. What I’m trying to say is that the hype was not wasted on these shoppers. They ate it up and would come back for more, lots more! But in the end, here’s the problem that I eventually realized… most of those products were made up of cheap synthetic ingredients, while most of the money was spent on advertising, store space, training of the line reps, and alas… the all-important… packaging.

The companies that I work with today are mostly small operations that have tiny budgets in comparison. Yet their products far exceed the quality of the products that I was selling before. The question becomes ‘What is a company to do to bring customers to their products?’ Besides offering effective natural products, employing smart advertising decisions, and having a sterling reputation, the ‘packaging’ of your products is one of the biggest considerations in the selling of your products. “Remember, your packaging not only has to contain your product, it is the first thing the customer usually sees, and first impressions usually make lasting impressions. Make sure you deliver a strong message and a good first impression with your packaging. You will be sure to stay ahead of the pack this way.” says Lisa “Brooksie” Bardsley, Private Label Project Manager at Essential Labs. “Packaging can be a major factor in the success of your product. I think it is important to have an appealing and unique look. The name of the game is to stand apart from everybody else on the shelves and to develop ‘brand awareness’. Your goal is to have people look at your product and know immediately that it is your brand. I would suggest taking a window shopping trip and checking out what the competition is doing. Once you see what they are doing do not duplicate it but use what you see for inspiration. Speaking of inspiration, think about the things that inspire you; it may be nature, antiques, modern technology, fashion or Art Deco (just to name a few). The things that inspire you usually inspire others; these things could help you when it comes to thinking up some creative ideas to make your product packaging unique.”

Of course packaging is not the whole story; but it’s at least half the story, according to a poll we recently conducted at the All Natural Beauty Forum. We set out to see how big of a role packaging has on our visitors decisions when purchasing products. The question was “What percentage of importance would you give the ‘packaging’ of an all-natural beauty product from a store shelf?” At the end of the poll, the results were exactly 50%. This is coming from a group that searches out all-natural products whenever possible. So my guess is that those that are not as selective about their ingredients might even vote higher for pretty packaging. But when asked if they had ever bought an all-natural beauty product based solely on attractive packaging, the overwhelming answer was ‘NO’ by 10 to 2.

Our forum participants shared their views about the importance of using recyclable materials, good ingredients, and the reputation of the companies. When it came to pretty packaging, one visitor summed up her feelings by saying, “I LIKE packaging! I like it to be non wasteful, but I LOVE packaging. I like the ‘extra touches’ that some places provide in their packaging. I like attractive packaging….. makes me feel good. I am very much aware that what’s INSIDE the product is more important than the packaging…. but doesn’t matter…… I’m a sucker for cute and pretty elegant and feminine, crispy little colored papers/bows, hand written notes…. LOVELY packaging! 🙂 Packaging impresses me as much as product……… I agree, it shouldn’t….but it does! 🙂 I like the visual as well as the performance of a product. If I receive something wrapped in newspaper with scotch tape, or in a mailer stuffed with shredded paper…….. I’m not as impressed as one that arrives in beautiful tinted tissue tied with a little colored string or ribbon and a little added floral sticker…. well packed. That shows me the company cares about the presentation and cares about the customer. Otherwise I feel they just slapped it in a box. The product itself I very much like in containers that are suitable for that product… i.e. dark glass bottles.. etc etc……. but all this said, yes, I do look at packaging.” I think that this visitor sums up what most of us feel when it comes to nice packaging… like someone cares enough about us to wrap up our products like gifts. I’m not sure if men would agree with this or not, but I think us ladies enjoy the ‘gift’ factor. Of course I’m just speaking from my own feelings, based on my years of working with mostly female spa clients.

When it comes to an all-natural product making it onto retail shelves, it’s not all about the products packaging though. Ingredients should be the priority. Retailers are definitely feeling the heat when explaining the purity of their products today (yay!). Maia Toll, owner of Herbiary in Philadelphia, PA, makes sure that before she buys from a manufacturer, she has an in depth conversation with them about not only what ingredients are used, but how they are grown. She makes sure that they were grown ethically as well as organically or wild crafted. Maia says “When it comes to packaging, it must be recyclable and visually appealing. I may have 3 similar products. Different visuals will attract different customers. But crappy visuals attract no one.” She often hears suppliers say that they are offering a ‘quality’ product; therefore it doesn’t need good packaging. But she feels this is not true. “It doesn’t even necessarily have to be expensive to be appealing. Good packaging is about understanding human nature. You can create evocative packaging that is not expensive. Play on people’s nostalgia. Speaking to that gives you very simple, elegant packaging. Handwriting on butcher block paper can be charming, as long as it’s well done“.

Dennis Gibson, President & CEO of Sunburst Bottle Company in CA, makes a good point when he says, “After a customer makes the purchase the packaging then takes a back seat to the effectiveness of the actual product. A customer will buy again only because of the product. The packaging may still please the new customer but its’ primary purpose will have been completed.” So what does make a consumer gravitate towards one product and not another? Dennis poses these questions, “When you look at a shelf of products, what seems to jump out at you? What grabs your attention? Color is an important part of visual attraction. Color however can be good or bad. A bright red for instance may not be the best color for a product that offers a calming affect. Perhaps a softer and tranquil color would be more appropriate. Red however may work nicely with an energy drink. You need to carefully consider what you are trying to project when selecting colors. If you have a logo or some other branding technique you can apply these to your labels so they are in prominent view of the customer. If your logo or label attracts the gaze then you should consider using this to your advantage.”

Dennis advises “If you are searching for ideas you should go into a few stores and spend some time just looking at products. Pay close attention to which products command your attention. Then take notes on why particular products attract you. Look at color schemes, logos, label design, size etc. Don’t hesitate to be simple in design, color and appearance. Some products shout “look at me” through simplicity and delicacy. There is something beautiful in a ballet dancer as well as an offensive lineman. They are both beautiful but in different ways. You need to decide what image you are trying to project.”

Branding is something that is very important when it comes to selling your products. This also plays into the importance of a strong company image and reputation. This aspect of the packaging should not be minimized or taken lightly. Before your products ever go to market, your company identity needs to be established. Many companies fall short in this area, as they feel that they can do it themselves. Your image can be felt by your customers as either ‘amateurish’, or as a professional company with high standards in an instant through your branding practices. A company must not only look at their image today, but where they are heading in the future. This is where a good graphic designer can play an important role early on in the development of the company and its products. SharAmbrosia offers the services of Vinaya, a very talented and established illustrator/graphic designer. When asked about the role of a graphic designer in branding a company’s image and producing effective packaging, she tells us “A graphic designer helps a client create a unique and effective packaging by providing design services, including logo, artwork, layout, typography and print work. An effective packaging design can help to create, promote, and strengthen a company’s brand identity in the market place. It helps differentiate a product from similar competing products. A designer ensures brand integrity and helps create a package that is innovative, adds value, and leaves a positive influence on a consumer.”

As Dennis Gibson of Sunburst Bottle Co. says, “You need to project “command presence” in your product. You need to direct the thinking of your customer. If you can do this your product sales will sky rocket. Don’t hesitate to ask your customers what attracts them to products. Not only will you receive great feedback but your customers will appreciate your attention to their wants and desires. Remember it is all about THEM not YOU.”

Another consideration when it comes to packaging, besides its marketability and aesthetic value, is it’s compatibility with the intended product. Lisa “Brooksie” Bardsley of Essential Labs tells us that, “One of the mistakes that manufacturers make when packaging their products is this: If they are using a product with pure essential oils as opposed to fragrance oils the proper packaging must be used. Not all materials can be used. Certain types of plastics and acrylic should not be used with products that contain essential oils because the essential oils will literally eat right through the material and you will end up with a gloppy mess. PET plastic, PETE plastic and glass can be used. However please note that glass is not always the best because it is heavy to ship and of course the obvious; it is highly breakable. The other thing to take in consideration, this is for the people that are using ready made bulk products from companies that offer them, before it comes time to fill the product into containers make sure your product will come out of the lid, pump or opening that has been chosen. I would suggest getting a hold of some packaging samples and experiment to make sure your product is not too thick to come out of the opening.”

So you see, packaging is not just about what’s in the package, and what’s outside the package. There are many factors that make up the consumers decision to buy a product. The ingredients that make up the product is important. The company’s reputation and image is important. Likewise, the effectiveness of both the product and its packaging are important, including it’s ‘prettiness’ factor. It all comes together though, after a lot of thought and attention is given by the manufacturer to each of these areas. As a consumer, I feel fortunate to know that things are changing in the beauty/cosmetics field. I’m thrilled that ingredients are playing a larger role in the minds of today’s manufacturers, rather than just the packaging and shopping experience. What a great time to be a consumer!

Many thanks to the following individuals that provided their expertise for this article:

Lisa “Brooksie” Bardsley, Essential Labs Private Label Project Manager, Licensed Cosmetologist –
Our Labs division specializes in natural and organic alternatives for custom formulations, contract packaging and private labeling for all size businesses with the lowest minimums in the industry. and

Maia Toll, Owner of Herbiary – An old-fashioned apothecary located in historic Philadelphia, offering herbal products, organic beauty and bath products, gifts and more. Many interesting classes are offered. Consultations are available as well.

Dennis Gibson, President & CEO of Sunburst Bottle Company – Sunburst Bottle Company distributes glass and plastic containers and accessories. We cater to customers in the following categories: bath and body, aromatherapy, massage, homeopathic, natural foods, olive oils, cosmetics, etc.

Vinaya, Illustrator/Graphic Designer

Sharon Houghton Contributor

Sharon is an author & licensed esthetician living in Pennsylvania. She has merged her love of natural beauty and wellness into a web enterprise, inspiring others to go the all-natural way whenever possible.

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Sharon Houghton Contributor

Sharon is an author & licensed esthetician living in Pennsylvania. She has merged her love of natural beauty and wellness into a web enterprise, inspiring others to go the all-natural way whenever possible.

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