How biometric testing informs packaging design

Q&A with Dr. Andrew Hurley, founder of Package Insight

Research analyst looking at a retail shelf while wearing glasses to measure reaction

Andrew Hurley, PhD, Founder of Package InSight LLC, in Greenville, SC, uses biometric testing to study consumer reaction to packaging design. Dr. Hurley’s company is a member of Clemson University’s Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics.

Veritiv spoke with Dr. Hurley to learn more about the work he’s doing and how packaging design affects consumer purchasing habits.

Q: What can you share about your background, Dr. Hurley?

Formatted text representing a point made in the contentA: I began my entry into the world of packaging at Kraft Foods, where I was able to work on a big packaging redesign. It became apparent to me that watching people interact with packaged products was key to truly understanding how packaging should be designed. After my time with Kraft, I pursued a doctorate that allowed me to explore biometric research and information design. I designed a grocery store prototype where we could track eye movements, facial expressions, and shoppers’ skin responses to develop a comprehensive understanding of how people interact with packaged products.

Later, my focus segued into a role at Clemson where we built CUshop™, a retail consumer experience lab, where we do biometric testing. There was a shared interest in this work: Clemson’s desire to disseminate novel research and bring new knowledge to the table, and brands’ interest in product packaging research.

Q: How does your work uncover new ways in understanding purchasing behaviors?

A: Packaging is the thing between the product and the buyer. It’s important to understand how well it communicates the brand’s value proposition for the product. We measure human behavior and how it changes, based on product packaging. We use biometric sensors, including galvanic skin response, that measures the conductivity of the skin and electroencephalography which measures the electrical activity of the brain. We also rely heavily on eye tracking and facial analysis research to measure shoppers’ interactions with packaging.

Q: How do you select shoppers for Package InSight tests? 

A: We have a large database of diverse shoppers and consumers. If a company is considering a structural change to their packaging, it’s important they understand the impact that decision will have on shopper behavior. Sometimes a company wants to do a line extension to capture different shoppers. Other times, the focus is a new product launch or a category change.

We choose the target audience based on the brand’s objectives and questions they need answered. Our participants sign up to be secret shoppers. They tell us about their shopping habits so that when we’re doing a study, we can more effectively pull from our participant database to meet the brand’s requirements. We also use a screener to help recruit and review individuals.

Q: What’s the future look like for biometric testing in the packaging industry?

Research analyst discussing how biometrics works with packaging designA: Brands can’t change their products very easily once they establish them. The only way many companies can differentiate themselves is with packaging. A brand’s packaging partner can help bring transformative innovations directly to them. We could also see packaging suppliers taking on biometric research. Once they have this data, they could be more agile in deploying findings and bringing new packaging to brands.

Faster data collection and analysis is another area. I can collect over a million data points across a statistically significant group of shoppers in just a couple days. Compare that to studies I worked on a decade ago, which took months for data collection and even more time for data analysis and then transferring that knowledge to a brand. In the future, this work will be completed even more quickly.

Q: Any last thoughts to share with our Packaging Unwrapped audience?

A: Biometric testing makes our perceptions about packaging and products clearer and more transparent, which benefits everyone—academia, commerce and consumers. The tools we use aren’t the means to an end. As long as we have questions, biometric research provides data to help craft awesome packaging solutions.