It was not that long ago that Clemson University decided to try a test. They were curious about how much difference the packaging of a product made to those who saw it. They chose some items that were otherwise identical and packed half of them in made in USA clamshells and the other half in a traditional paper box. The colors and stylings on the outside of the packages were as identical as possible considering the differences between cardboard and clamshell packaging. The point of the study was to see how packaging affects the bottom line of any business throughconsumer behavior.
What Do We Know Already?
Studies have shown that packaging is important to consumers. A study done by West Rock Consumer Insights in 2016 found that 26% of people said product packaging is extremely important to their satisfaction with the product. That same study found that only 14% of buyers believed that brands were actively trying to satisfy the needs of their consumers by improving packaging. That study also revealed that 66% of buyers tried a new product because the packaging caught their eye. Clearly packaging is crucially important to a consumer’s intention to buy; the question for Clemson was whether made in USA clamshells would outperform paper box packaging. Or would it be the opposite? Or would there be no difference at all?
How They Did It
The identical items, in two very different types of packaging, were placed on a shelf in a store. Then 68 participants were asked to walk in and pick out items on the shopping list. The participants wore special glasses that tracked their eye movements. Again, the packaging was identical in color and graphic design. The only difference was in whether it used paper or clam packaging.
What happened was stunning. Consumers bought items enclosed in made in USA clamshells or other types of clamshell packaging solutions 400% more often than items in paper boxes. In fact, there really was no competition. It wasn’t even close.
What Else Did They Learn?
The point of the study was not just to find out whether consumers prefer thermoformed clamshells over paper boxes. Part of the study’s purpose was to find out why the made in USA clamshells were outselling items in paper boxes. That’s where the eyewear came in.
- How long consumers looked. The eyewear allowed researchers to see how long the consumers looked at the two different types of packaging. With an air freshener, for example, the average participant looked at the item and its clamshell packaging for 2.78 seconds. They looked at the cardboard box only 0.91 seconds. The same held true for all the items, so that overall the total amount of time that a participant spent looking at all the clamshell packaging was 7.61 seconds, while the total amount of time they spent looking at the paper packaging was 2.49 seconds.
- How often did they look? The next metric being measured by the glasses was how often a participant would look at a specific point on the product in clamshell packaging and the product in the box packaging. On average, participants looked at things in made in USA clamshells 675% more often than they looked at the box.
- How long till they noticed? The final important measurement was how long it took from the time the participant entered the store to the moment he or she first noticed the items. With the air freshener, it took 0.18 seconds for the average consumer to notice it. It took a 0.24 seconds for them to notice things in paper boxes.
What Does it Mean?
The study has some interesting implications for retail packaging. It shows that we have a strong preference for clamshell packaging, presumably either because we can see the item within it or because it has the power to attract our attention; and attention has a strong correlation with purchasing. For the average retailer, this means that packaging can make all the difference and made in USA clamshells are clearly the superior choice.