The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

Should You Pack It? How Does the Package Influence Purchase Intention in Natural Products?

Relevant topics Archive, Conversion

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    People are more likely to be attracted to and buy a natural product if it is sold without a package, rather than packed.
  • Application:
    To retain customers’ attention and increase purchase likelihood, consider displaying the product without a package (online and in-store), especially if it is a natural one.
  • For the past years, an important new factor guides our decisions when buying different products: how sustainable, organic, or natural they are. Although on a large scale we produce and consume a lot of synthetics (foods and drinks, care products, clothes) we crave to get back to the bare essentials. 

    People wish to experience more of the dewy grass and less of the concrete dust. In recent years, we have seen a surge of products and services that harvest the natural, the organic, and the minimal. Those that originate from plants, animals, or humans are considered to be natural (Rozin, 2005).

    Sustainable living is not only a modern lifestyle choice but a necessity we embrace as individuals and as businesses. We are willing to drive further, pay more, and put more effort into buying products that are undisruptive to the environment and our bodies. Well, as much as possible anyway. But just as we are willing to put more effort into acquiring natural products, we are more likely to ignore them if they come in a package. Not only in a store but when we shop online too. Do you want to know why?

    Recent research of Courtney Szocs and Sara Williamson shows how consumers' perception of how natural the product is, dictates our attitudes and buying decisions. It relates strongly to the perceived naturalness, and it is a decisive factor in our reaction, adoption, and purchasing intentions for different products. 

    We like it green 

    We want our food to be as fresh and natural as possible, that is a no-brainer. And this doesn’t just apply to our food. Or better put, we like our produced merchandise to feel just as natural as the things that occur or grow in nature. If we want apples or soaps, it is important to perceive them as just fallen from the “tree”. And if they don't grow in trees, we want them to feel like they can be picked up from a natural environment. 

    A product that is connected to its origin, is usually associated with being more natural. Prior studies show how people perceive naturalness as the perceived closeness of a product to its original state. (Ode et al., 2009; Tveit, Ode & Fry, 2006), and show that people will feel closer to nature if the word “natural” is used (Amos et al., 2014). The simple use of the word evokes the feeling of being close to nature. 

    When it comes to organic products, there’s more than just the product itself. Eco-friendly processes and elements, brand signage, colors, and copywriting all work together with product placement to conjure a natural setting. The packaging is essential to contain products and protect them from contamination and damage. And it also acts as an extension of the brand and product. 

    But in the case of natural products, we perceive the package as a natural component. And it either elicits the right feelings of closeness, or it blocks us from considering that product altogether. 

    What comes from nature does not come packed 

    The level of perceived naturalness governs both our offline and online purchasing behavior. It does not matter if we shop at the corner supermarket or on a website. The products that we perceive to be natural should appear in a natural setting altogether. 

    And natural products do not come in a box, a bag, or ideally not even a commercial store. When they do, they may not convince us. Szocs and Williamson studied this effect in physical stores and online product photos. The same products were displayed packed and unpacked. 

    The results show that when we assess the perceived naturalness of a product, seeing the product packed creates an emotional barrier that separates them from nature. On the other hand, seeing it without a package generates more attention and consumer response. The researchers looked mainly at food products, but their work shows how this effect extends to general, natural products. But why do we respond more favorably to a product that’s displayed unpackaged, than to the same product being packaged? 

    Our purchasing decisions for foods, clothes-wear, skincare, or household products, are influenced by how green we perceive the products to be. The perceived naturalness is determined by the store setting, the brand elements, the product positioning, and so much more. We want to know where our food comes from and believe that those products that are linked to the origin, physically or psychologically, are better (Balabanis & Diamantopoulos, 2004; Zhou et al., 2010). Goodbye industrial chains, hello local farmers! 

    In the context of sustainable living and raising interest in organic products, it is normal to search for natural alternatives. We choose the bread from the back end of the basket because maybe it is fresher. We will buy a product with a shorter barcode, because we may think it was produced not too long ago. 

    But it is also because we experience a full range of emotions that come with natural products. Picking the right tomatoes for a Caprese, tasting a cherry before buying a full bag, sensing the raw smell of fresh spinach. It is a sensory experience that not all like to delegate to somebody else. Maybe not only food lovers and chefs enjoy seeing colors, the freshness, and filling their veggie baskets. I know I do. 

    Should you really bag that? 

    Across entire store chains and restaurants, the same products are presented and sold both packed and unpacked. Most probably you’ll find peppers that you can pick yourself and their bagged version of it. Some people love to get a peeled-packed orange and some will never consider that as an option. 

    And stores continue to experiment with display options and what types of foods we want to handpick ourselves from the supermarket “branches”. The reality is that there are many factors to consider when deciding whether to pack a product, especially in the wake of COVID. 

    Because many factors influence a positive or negative reaction towards packaged foods. For example, germaphobe people and environmentalists are two very different groups of customers. Even if they both want to buy an apple to eat right away. On the one hand, people want to avoid contamination and make sure they buy a safe product. On the other hand, people who are against excessive packaging may search for a public rinser to wash it before eating it. Depending on where we plan to consume the food has a big implication.

    It is important to understand each specific customer journey with different products to understand why and when they would prefer packaged products. The nuances of perceived freshness and local provenance are tied to personal values. And so is the preference between packaged and non-packaged foods. 

    So the decision of what to bag and how to do so requires a deep understanding of your customers’ needs and more importantly values. Some want to handpick and sample their own, while others want you to make sure the product is perfect. 

    This is great news, especially in the context of sustainable business. For the store, this means fewer costs and effort. For marketers and managers, this lays out a better way to display and sell natural products. We have an opportunity to cut back on the prime matter, waste, and improve our shopping habits. 

    But some customers do appreciate it if a packaged option is available. To those, designers and marketers can make sure they establish an appropriate response. Showing that a package is made from natural materials, or clear signage that reflects closeness to nature, and helps people understand where the products come from and how fresh they are. These will reduce the negative barrier effect of the package and position the product correctly for the customer. 

    Take away points:

    • Packaging used for natural goods can reduce perceptions of product naturalness and lead to less favorable perception, response, and purchasing intention.
    • The perceived naturalness effect is valid for both online and offline shopping.
    • The negative effects of the package can be controlled and attenuated when the product information shows a product’s clear connection to nature and the packaging is made from natural materials.
    • It is essential to understand the customers' values to market products appropriately and educate consumers towards healthy practices.
  • Reference:

    Szocs, C., Williamson, S., & Mills, A. (2021). Contained: why it’s better to display some products without a package. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 1-16.


    Further Reading

    • Does Product Package Shape Equal Brand Status?

      Does Product Package Shape Equal Brand Status?

      How do you judge a person's status? Do you look at his or her clothes? Or their possessions?

      According to the Shape-SES theory, most people tend to infer a person's socioeconomic status from his or her body shape. And this turns out to be the case for products and their shapes as well! 

      So, what kind of package shape do you think of as luxurious? Or what would you describe as a high-status product?

      A recently published paper suggests that packaging shape affects how we categorize products and judge brands' status. 

      Do you want to learn more about how product packaging is used to position a brand in the consumer's mind? Continue reading!

    • Reaching Today’s Consumer in a Forest of Green

      Reaching Today’s Consumer in a Forest of Green

      Media in every form bombards us constantly with messages promoting green, environmentally responsible products that consumer goods companies want us to buy. Many of those products have a sticker price significantly higher than traditional, less eco-friendly brands and products. Exactly how much of a premium are today’s consumers willing to pay in order to live their values as responsible earth inhabitants, and how do producers approach them with an attractive marketing message? In short, how do our products avoid fading into the trees in a sea of green products? 

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