How Labels Influence Consumer Purchases

Posted on by kginter

Have you ever wondered what makes your label work? How shoppers notice your label, and which elements they notice first? At this year’s Pack Expo in Las Vegas, Clemson University students set up a Consumer Experience Eye Tracking Lab that will help us understand the science behind how labels and packaging design influence consumer purchases. Here’s what they’ve learned so far.

First, Clemson Students “CU Shop”

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Let’s say you’re doing your weekly shopping and you have your shopping list with you ready to pick out items at the store. The first thing on your list is Strawberry PopTarts. When you get to the aisle, what is it that draws you to the box of Strawberry PopTarts? What do you look for first on the label? The word strawberry? An image of a strawberry?

In order to find out, Clemson University packaging students set up what they called the “CU Shop” at the Pack Expo trade show in Las Vegas last week. Their simulated shop was comprised of store aisles and shelves stocked with everyday items we all purchase during our shopping experiences. It gave visitors the feeling of being in an actual grocery store.

What the Packaging Students Are Looking For…


Two Clemson University Packaging Students

Assistant Professor R. Andrew Hurley explained that the research being conducted during this experiment “unveils consumer decision-making and investigation at the subconscious level.” Hurley and his team of packaging students are looking to make conclusions on trends in packaging design as well as elements that they say “impact the perceived quality of products.”

Early Findings About Private Label vs. National Brands

One of the packaging researchers I spoke with at Pack Expo found that during the interview process prior to the experiment, consumers would be specific about the items they would choose in a store setting versus ones they wouldn’t choose. To the researchers’ surprise, consumers would prefer one thing but once they were involved in the experiment, they wouldn’t choose it. This held true especially with private labels vs national brand labels. Though these are just anecdotal observations, the final findings will be published after the experiment is complete.

Eye-Tracking: The Science Behind Packaging

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Chip Tonkin, the Director of the Sonoco Institute at Clemson University, explained in an interview that “Eye-tracking is the science behind the design of retail packaging.” He continued, “The research we are doing here is groundbreaking because it takes place in real time in a real shopping environment. Most eye-tracking research is done in a virtual world looking at a large screen.”

The Clemson packaging students were able to make their experiment more realistic than past studies. The products they placed the on the shelves of the “CU Shop” each have a sensor. These sensors work in coordination with a pair of glasses that track, record, and measure eye movements such as “fixations” and “saccades.” A fixation is when your pupil pinpoints an area on a display, and a saccade is very fast eye movement that help transition your gaze between fixations. The glasses can track eye movement (fixations and saccades) at 30 frames per second.

At the CU Shop, the packaging students provide visitors like me with a shopping list of items to find on the shelves. Some items on the list are specific brands whereas others are product categories. One item is Strawberry PopTarts – a specific brand. Another is just “coffee” – a product category.

I went through the store with my list and began looking around, the list included the following items:

  • Strawberry Pop Tarts
  • Grilling fork
  • Original Scent Liquid Laundry Detergent
  • 2 liter soda
  • Cookie cereal
  • Olive oil
  • Coffee

Adding in a specific detail like the word strawberry makes it interesting to see what the consumer searches for on a package or label to determine whether the item is the one they are looking for. As you do your shopping the results from your glasses are then shown on a computer that tracks which areas of the packaging attracted the consumer’s attention.

After the shopping experience, participants are given a heat map printed off the computer that shows the tracking of their eye movements. This heat map dissects what the consumer was looking at during the experiment.

When I looked at my heat map, I was surprised to see how much detail I find myself looking for. In terms of looking for “Original Scent Liquid Laundry Detergent” you can see that my eyes automatically looked for a few things:

  1. The shelf with bottles (liquid typically comes in bottles)
  2. The center of the label for details such as the words “original scent” or “liquid”

It really shows how programmed we have become to look for certain things, how we rely on packaging to help give us the answers before finding out for ourselves by touching the product.

We will keep you posted on Clemson University’s findings once research is published. Until then we will most definitely be waiting on the edge of our seats!

Your Thoughts?

What do you think about this packaging science experiment being conducted by Clemson University?

Are you interested to see what their results are? Do you think they will be surprising?

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