A Lesson in Package Design, Courtesy of Your Local Walmart

I was spending a pleasant evening at my local Walmart Superstore.  It was our ritual family outing, saved for those occasions when we needed to buy massive quantities of food and miscellaneous household products.  As usual, we foraged for all the food items before moving on to our shampoos, vitamins, and toilet paper.  While an unnamed family member was laboriously comparing the contents of two virtually identical vitamin brands, I wandered off, as I’ve always been prone to do, and found myself in the hair care aisle.  Two Walmart employees soon joined me in the aisle, and I quickly pretended to look intently at the shampoo bottle in front of me, as I found myself eavesdropping on their conversation.  It went something like this:


Employee A:  Should I stock up the shampoo?

Employee B: No, I already took care of that.  But look over here.  Everyone always stocks the [insert brand name here] shampoo in the wrong place.  This one is for Keratin, not Shea Butter.  Honestly, if people would just pay attention and read what was on the bottle.  

-rearranges the bottles, swapping the Shea Butter and Keratin bottles-


I don’t think people are the problem.  The design is the problem.  

If you look at the bottles, they look the exact same.  Same color, same shape, same images, same everything.  The only difference is in small print - one says Shea butter, the other says Keratin.  Magnifying glass to verify product label not included.   

I can remember the times when I accidentally bought two bottles of conditioner instead of one each of shampoo and conditioner, because the packaging was identical.  It’s always a shock when I realize the mistake and think, “I swore I grabbed one of each.  I read the labels and everything when I grabbed them!”  But maybe I didn’t read them, or maybe I just picked up the wrong one, since they’re right next to each other anyway.  

Here’s the thing about shopping.  You’re probably not paying as much attention to the task as you think.  You might be preoccupied with what you need to pick up next, or maybe you’re just trying to spend as little time in the store as possible.  Or maybe you’ve bought the product a dozen times before and are operating on autopilot.  The point is, if products are different from each other, they should look noticeably different too.  Alter the color, or give one a gradient effect, or if you’re talking about shampoo vs conditioner, modify the bottle shape.*   Do something so the packaging is distinguishable from a distance.  A lot of people get it right, but for whatever reason, haircare products seem to get it wrong more often.  


*Have you ever heard someone say they go through a bottle of shampoo much faster than a bottle of conditioner, when both are identical volumes? I’ve heard it before, and I’ve experienced it.  I buy my shampoo and conditioner at the same time and in the same quantity, so it’s always a nuisance when the shampoo is empty, but there’s still a half bottle of conditioner left.  One solution to the shampoo/conditioner dilemma is to have narrower packaging for the conditioner.  It could be shorter, but it would look better to have it be the same height as the shampoo, and people wouldn't feel "cheated" that the conditioner had less volume.  

Stop by your local Walmart to see what else you can learn through eavesdropping.