A Unique Approach to Understanding Consumers

When hundreds of packaging professionals are gathered at an event together, a discussion surrounding consumers is inevitable. It is interesting that we as professionals in the industry make so many assumptions about consumer understanding of sustainability attributes of packages but rarely do we talk to consumers about their assumptions. And when we do bring the general public together for surveys or tests, they are typically addressed with leading questions in an unfamiliar office space designed to get answers and move on to the next person.

Wednesday morning at SUSTPACK, Cara Cosentino of Watch Me Think exemplified how videos of consumer interactions with packages are great tools for better industry understanding of the public. Cosentino mentioned that Watch Me Think started as a way for companies to get to know their consumers. Those of us in the packaging industry are all “consumers” too, so it’s odd to think that we might not be able to, but grasping consumers’ thoughts is a constant struggle. Using consumer videos, Watch Me Think has created a comfortable atmosphere for people to express their opinions honestly and effectively.

Cosentino showed the audience glimpses of consumers (or “thinkers” as Watch Me Think likes to call them) interacting with everyday packages and explaining their feelings of sustainable packaging in general. The organization strives to be an authentic look at consumers and her examples certainly showed this authenticity. A few people in the video mentioned that they prefer reusable and recyclable packages and that sustainability is on their mind when grabbing packages off the shelf; however, a few opened up and said environmental efforts have “absolutely no effect on products I purchase.”  These consumers mentioned that money and convenience influence their purchasing decisions much more than sustainability factors. Regardless of the purchasing practices, all of the consumers expressed frustration with over-packaging. E-commerce, toy, and pharmaceutical packaging were among the categories mentioned guilty of over-packaging.

In the SPC’s How2Recycle Label Program we often struggle with consumer understanding, as we are creating on-package recycling labels that will be displayed on millions of commonly purchased packages. It would be interesting to see how consumers feel about the different terminology used in How2Recycle and how well they understand and appreciate seeing the many different label types (Widely Recycled, Check Locally, Store Drop-off, and Not Yet Recycled). Extensive consumer testing was done during the development of How2Recycle, but now that the label is commonly found on store shelves it would be fascinating to see real-time videos of consumers interacting with it!

In the meantime, we appreciate all consumer feedback through our online survey at how2recycle.info. Let us know what you think of the program!

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