Two must-have methods for packaging testing

Although a package redesign can increase sales significantly, the result can be also a huge failure (e.g. the Tropicana case, where the company lost over 50 million dollars). This is not surprising since influencing purchase decisions is complex: shoppers spend only a few seconds on a category, scan products in a split second, and decide subconsciously what to buy.

Redesigning a package can be a big opportunity, as the package influences the last step in the purchase process. The question is rather which design will boost sales the most? Or stated differently: which research method consistently picks the winning design?

Current package research solutions

Even though the package design can be one of the most important elements that drive purchase intent, most companies use only traditional package research methods (e.g. 20 min surveys and 30 min in-depth interviews) that tap into the conscious mind. However, this is in sharp contract how people take decisions in-store: in a split second and unconsciously/spontaneously.

As the traditional methods are unable to fully understand the impact of shopper marketing, it is not a surprise that for those traditional research methods the correlation between stated purchase intent and actual purchase is low and in some studies even found negative. However, for certain areas they might be useful:

  • Surveys can help to understand attitudes towards packages and in a certain sense they can explain failure, but insights are not as predictive as the ones gotten from implicit methods.
  • Focus groups can be used in the phase of brainstorming, but are not suitable for confirming success or failure.

Will you really rely on surveys for providing you insights about a multi-million investment? To provide the most accurate and predictive insights, implicit methods, such as eye tracking and virtual shopping, are much more suitable for predicting a package design’s success or failure.

Method 1: Eye Tracking: Is your package seen by shoppers?


Heatmap example

If shoppers don’t see your product, they will not buy it. Eye tracking is a unique research method that tracks respondents’ eye movement to measure where they are – or are not – looking at, for how long, and in which order.

Eye tracking of packaging designs can be done in a shelf environment, and/or as a stand-alone image.

  • Eye tracking of package in a shelf: results show if your package stands out. Do shoppers see your package on the shelf or not? How fast is it noticed? How long are shoppers looking at it? What is seen is not sold.
  • Eye tracking of stand alone package design: results show whether the key areas on the package design are seen (first). As shoppers are screening package design in a split second, they only see one or two areas at first sight. Are the key elements that drive purchase intent noticed (e.g. brand name, product name, organic label, etc.)?

Yet, only attracting attention is not enough: if people don’t see your package, they will not buy it by definition. However, the reverse is not always the case; people who see your package will not necessarily buy it. Attention is necessary, yet it’s not sufficient for driving purchase.

Method 2: Virtual shopping: Will shoppers buy your product?


Interactive shelf testing platform

While eye tracking shows which package designs will not be bought, virtual shopping gives answers about what will be bought.

In a perfect case scenario, the test would be conducted in a real brick and mortar store and package designs would be tested during a certain period of time. In reality though, this is almost impossible to implement due to logistics, time constraints, huge costs and many other factors (e.g. weather).

Virtual shops have 2 key elements similar to in-store shopping: the visual element and the interactivity. How does it work?

  1. Introduction: Respondents complete the screening questionnaire to confirm that they match the study specifications.
  2. Virtual shopping trip: Five to seven real-life store environment pictures are shown.
  3. Zoom in: Shoppers click on any product they like, the product pops out in zoom mode, they take a closer look and add the desired quantity to the shopping cart.

Thanks to technological innovation, it is now possible to build virtual shops inexpensively. Studies show that the correlation between sales in virtual and actual stores goes up to 0.96. This correlation is four times higher than the correlation between real market shares and regular questionnaires.

Although virtual shelves are predictive, they will not explain what goes wrong and how to improve the design even further.

The combination of methods is best

The combination of eye tracking and virtual shopping provides more accurate insights into the potential performance of your packaging than surveys. Nonetheless, surveys can still help diagnose potential issues.


Overview of methods