How Can We Adapt Packaging for Cosmetics to E-commerce? Here Are Three Key Trends

25 Feb 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted e-commerce as the preferred shopping channel and accelerated the digitisation of the new cosmetics consumers. How can we reinvent packaging for cosmetics in the face of the e-commerce boom?

In this article we are going to look at the key trends that we have identified at Essentra after a year of dealing with disruptive changes in the cosmetic packaging industry.


The impact of e-commerce on the cosmetic industry

The rise of e-commerce is one of the realities that the beauty industry has been experiencing since the coronavirus spread globally in 2020. This trend had clearly been incubating for years, even when the physical shop continued to play a very important role in the customer’s decision-making process.

However, with shops closed or restricted due to the COVID-19 crisis, e-commerce penetration began to soar last year. According to the McKinsey’s The State of Beauty 2021 report, during the pre-Covid-19 period, e-commerce accounted for 20% of industry sales in the US and current estimates indicate that it will increase to 35% by 2021.

In fact, the rate penetration of e-commerce in cosmetics sales is well above that of other FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods), according to a global study by Kantar Media:

E-commerce share of sales in the cosmetics sector

Three key trends in cosmetics packaging design for e-commerce

We have highlighted features to consider when designing new packaging for cosmetics:

1. Beyond the folding carton

One of the symbols of e-commerce is the traditional folding carton that the user receives at home. Its versatility and efficiency have universalised its use in every sector imaginable, but how can we give it an original touch? 

The current design of packaging for cosmetics involves reinventing the unboxing experience to impact the consumer in a positive way. When lifting the flaps of the typical brown folding carton, we want the user to feel that they are opening the door to a new dimension, i.e. the brand's own dimension. The scent, the feel of the finishing touches and the colour aesthetics have to bring that special universe into the customer’s home.

2. Packaging that leaves its stamp

The current challenge in the cosmetics sector is to establish connections with customers in a contactless world. The direct relationship between the product and the user no longer takes place in the context of a shop, where its assistants can show the cosmetic and try it live. Now, it is the cosmetics packaging that fosters that bond through tactics such as:

- The inclusion of free gift samples to build customer loyalty and encourage them to learn about new products.

- The use of new technologies to make the customer feel supported by the brand. For example, the inclusion of hashtags and QR codes facilitates access to relevant information about product use and helps the customer to become part of an exclusive community.

3. The seal of sustainability, also present on packaging

If the COVID-19 pandemic has proven one thing, it’s that damage to natural ecosystems has very harmful consequences for humans. This is why sustainability is increasingly influencing the purchasing decisions of customers in the cosmetic industry.

Packaging is well aware of this trend, which is why environmental criteria must be present in the design of primary and secondary packaging in order to limit energy consumption and resource use. Investing in sustainable packaging is proof that this commitment is not solely limited to the product, but is in fact part of the brand’s corporate philosophy.


The unboxing of the carton is precisely the key moment in the customer’s relationship with the product, which is why brands must carefully study this first physical contact and take the utmost care of it. If you want us to help you achieve this, we encourage you to contact us.

Would you like to learn more about how we can apply this to your packaging? Contact us