Carry me home

The power of the retail paper bag extends well beyond its ability to transport goods from store to home. If designed with strategic flair, it can help to build a brand. Inspire turned to UK packaging specialist Keenpac and branding expert Ibrahim Ibrahim to find out how.

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THIS CONTENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN INSPIRE ISSUE 50

As the e-tailing phenomenon gathered force a few years ago, the paper carrier bag appeared as old-fashioned as the physical store itself. But retail experts agree that the traditional store needs to coexist with its virtual cousin, since it has the ability to flaunt a brand’s identity in ways that can’t be replicated online.

“The theatre of shopping” is currently a popular term for a brand-enhancing experience, and the paper bag is very much a part of it.

“The shopping bag helps to control brand image, and it should always be a subtle reminder of the experience the customer has had in the store,” says Ibrahim Ibrahim, branding expert and owner of London design agency Portland Design.

“It needs to speak about the brand when the customer leaves the store and, most importantly, when it makes its way into the customer’s home.”

Asked which bag design Ibrahim holds in high regard, the answer comes quickly: Ladies fashion store “& Other Stories” has managed to create an entire structure around their bags by using an organic visual identity of paint smears, changing the colours of the bag to fall in line with the palette of current collections,” he says.

“Even though the brand offers different variations that change each season, there is never any doubt where the bag is from – the identity is unmistakable.”

A carrier bag is a visual extension of the brand. If designed correctly, it will increase the brand’s desirability factor. “A bag should make consumers feel proud of the brand they’ve just bought into,” says Darren Seymour, head of creative at uk packaging specialist Keenpac.

“Many customers hang on to their bags, and some luxury versions are works of art in their own right. Hence it’s important that the feel of the bag matches that of the brand.”

Keenpac, whose roster of high-end clients includes Paul Smith, Penhaligon’s, Monsoon and Selfridges, custom-makes all of its hand-finished paper bags. As for materials currently in demand, Seymour has noticed a surge in paperboard. “I believe there is a swing back to paper bags, not only hand-finished ones favoured by luxury brands, but across the board,” he says. 

“The shopping­ bag should always be a subtle reminder of the experience the customer has had in the store.”

“The environmental legislative aspect is one reason behind this, but customers tend to feel they get more for their money if their purchases are placed in a beautiful paper bag as opposed to a more affordable plastic version.”

The variety of finishes applied to paperboard range from matt, satin and gloss lamination to hot-foil stamping, spot uv-varnish, blind embossing and debossing – or a combination of these. Handles are equally diverse in style – coloured stuffed cotton cord, twill, polypropylene cord, satin, leather and grosgrain ribbon are all used. How does the Keenpac team go about enhancing the brand identity in its work?

“The bag obviously needs to be functional and look good,” Seymour says, “but the design process involves other facets, too. How does it feel to hold in your hand? Is it tactile? And do the type and quality of paper reflect the brand well?”

As unstoppable as it seemed at one point, the world of online shopping has suffered a slowdown lately and has even seen a few casualties, such as the folding of fashion e-tailer My-Wardrobe. Part of the problem could lie in the packaging, or lack thereof. Chloé’s guipure lace skirt, priced at just under 2,000 British pounds (2,750 euros), would lose some of its magic if it arrived in a brown cardboard box with dented corners.

Since the parcel and associated trimmings replace the carrier bag, they are the customer’s only tangible association with the e-store.

“Online retailers need to start investing more in their packaging, as the customer isn’t leaving the shop with a carrier bag,” Ibrahim says. uk high-end e-tailer Net-a-Porter is one of the few contenders that has got it right, he says. Its orders are sent in a signature “little black box” fashioned from paperboard and wrapped in a decorative wide ribbon.

“Net-a-Porter’s packaging effectively carries on the shopping experience and its luxury approach, thus making sure their customers don’t lose out on the carrier bag element that is an integral part of physical shopping,” he says.
Darren Seymour is certain that the e-commerce community will start to take a closer look at its packaging solutions, drawing on developments seen in the traditional carrier bag arena.

“The emotional connection and the theatre of retail must apply to shops operating in the digital world as well on the high street,” he says. “As online shopping evolves, so do ideas relating to packaging – which type of box, ribbon, tissue paper and sticker to use – it all contributes to the customer experience.”

TEXT EMMA HOLMQVIST DEACON PHOTO GETTY IMAGES

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