The Covid-19 pandemic has driven a surge in personalised and premium packaging as consumers seek to replace the personal touch they previously experienced in shops via home shopping. Jessie Paige talks to retailers about their experience and looks at whether the trend will continue through the coming year.

Premium and personalised packaging has been a key trend in the packaging industry this year, with the Covid-19 pandemic calling even more attention to its benefits. Luxury retail, an industry known for using personalised packaging, has seen a marked difference in what products are the most in demand and how to connect with new and existing consumers.

Luxury retailers Fenton and Cornelia James share their experience as retailers, and Tiny Box Company, which manufactures premium and personalised packaging, explains the packaging industry’s experience of the trend.

The rise of personalised and premium packaging

Founder and managing director of UK-based manufacturing packaging company Tiny Box Company Rachel Watkyn says that the trend could be attributed to people looking for meaningful gifts, in order to feel an emotional connection.

“What do you buy the person who has everything?” asks Watkyn. “People need meaning, and I think personalised packaging can fill this gap and make people feel special. It’s one thing to buy a gift for someone, it’s another to have it come in a personalised box. Consumers’ perception of a product is affected by the packaging, so it’s really important.”

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments have implemented social distancing rules and other laws to keep people apart to prevent the spread of infection. Personalised packaging has been an important way in which a consumer can remind a gift recipient that they are in their thoughts; to close the physical divide.

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Examples of premium and personalised packaging

Fenton is a London-based luxury jewellery retailer which holds personalisation at the core of its differentiation strategy.

“At Fenton, 75% of our sales are digital, so packaging will be the first physical touchpoint most customers will have with us,” says Fenton COO Jérôme Brustlein. “With each Fenton order, our customers will receive their own, premium leather ring box embossed with their initials, as well as a protective box for the leather box and ribbon.”

UK-based glovemaker Cornelia James is another luxury retailer that uses premium packaging with the option of adding a handwritten note to add personalisation.

Every one of our gloves goes out in a purpose-made gift box,” says Cornelia James managing director Andrew Lawson. “It was important to us that the box would be more than just ‘transit packaging’ and would be something to be kept and valued in its own right.

“We ended up with a very robust box of the sort that, in days gone by, love letters would have been kept in. We took a lot of trouble to select a colour for the box – ‘light cockpit green’ – that would be recognisably ‘ours’. For us, it symbolises Britishness, quality, practicality and longevity – essential brand values.”

The effect of packaging choices for customers

“Our purchases are so emotional, and we believe customers are now expecting to be able to customise their experience beyond the physical product only,” says Brustlein. “This includes the pre-sale – virtual appointments with our concierge – as well as the after-sale. We also regularly see our packaging mentioned in reviews, so we believe it is an important building block of an all-round amazing customer experience.”

“We are very keen to make connections and build relationships with our customers,” says Lawson. “The box plays a key part in reinforcing the idea that we care about our customers. We always put a handwritten note in the box which addresses the customer by name, and we feel that this helps the connection. We get a lot of repeat customers and lots of customers mention the quality of the box.”

Premium and personalised packaging increased customer loyalty for brands and retailers, however, Watkyn says that it does not create loyalty for B2B packaging manufacturers in the same way.

“For us, as we are B2B packaging, it doesn’t create customer loyalty.” She explains. “B2B packaging is non-emotional; it’s based on a non-emotive purchasing decision. At Tiny Box, we try to break that mould by creating an emotional attachment through our name, our brand, everything.”

Covid-19’s impact on packaging offerings

“The pandemic has challenged us to rethink our customer experience,” says Brustlein. “We are a brand that is bringing transparency and accountability to the jewellery industry. Due to the nature of our products, many people would hypothesise that jewellery needs to be experienced or felt before someone will make a buying decision. However, interestingly, virtual appointments broke that barrier to conversion.”

Speaking about whether personalised packaging affected sales figures during the pandemic in 2020, Brustlein says: “I wouldn’t say our packaging has directly impacted our sales during the pandemic but it certainly plays a key role in creating the all-round customer experience we strive for.

“Delivering a positive product experience for first-time customers in the form of packaging that is recognisable, distinct, and genuinely delights is imperative in driving repeat purchases which in turn increases customer lifetime value.

“We want every customer who purchases a Fenton product to feel special, and the initial experience they have when unboxing one of our products is core to that first impression.”

Lawson says that Cornelia James has noticed a change in product demand. “The pandemic has brought a shift away from ‘occasion’ gloves but a real increase in ‘everyday’ glove-wearing. We feel that customers shop in a more considered, less impulsive way and this may favour those luxury goods which offer true value.”

Watkyn adds that Tiny Box Company, as a packaging manufacturer, has also been “massively affected” by the pandemic and that the change in consumer behaviour has made her realise the value in personalised packaging.

“It’s been a polarisation where people want a personal touch; they want to make their loved ones feel special,” she explains. “Personalised packaging has been a way to reach out to someone you can’t see and tell them you love them, especially with the older generation. It’s a way of creating an emotional bond.”

Can we expect continued growth?

Brustlein believes that the personalised and premium packaging trend is just beginning. “I believe we are at the very early stages of personalised packaging,” he says, “and over the next five years as more brands begin to focus on creating personalised customer experiences the trend will continue to grow.”

Lawson also agrees that premium packaging will only see increased demand over the next year, especially that which reinforces a brand message. “It must complement, not overshadow the product,” he says. “There will be a growing demand for packaging which not only does this but which can be reused or repurposed and still reinforce the original brand message.”

Watkyn believes that there is no choice but for personalised packaging to grow as a trend, as the pandemic has highlighted. “Life isn’t going to go back to how it was before Covid-19,” she says. “Even if the virus suddenly disappeared, people have been too affected; there won’t be a societal shift back to how it was pre-pandemic. Because of this, trends that were big this year are going to continue into next year.”

Watkyn notes, however, that though the trend will continue to grow next year, the technology surrounding personalised packaging manufacturing will need to improve to keep up with consumer demand.“The technology still isn’t there,” she explains. “At Tiny Box Company, we do digital printing, we have DTS printers going 24/7, but they’re still so slow and inaccessible to consumers.”
Watkyn adds that the personalised and premium packaging industry also needs to become more accessible to consumers. “The real trend next year is going to focus on having personalised packaging become less of a B2B industry and more of a B2C industry,” she says. “There’s a gap in the market for this, which is why we’ve launched a new website called Indiki where consumers can choose their own boxes with a custom design to provide personalisation.”
Personalised and premium packaging has grown exponentially in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a growing consumer need for feelings of closeness and personalness, and demand for something more than “just a product”.Heading into 2021, the continuing presence of Covid-19 means that consumers will still feel a need for that personal touch, and so the personalised and premium packaging industry is only set to grow further next year.