Professor John Maule from the University of Leeds describes new research into the way that consumers choose a product.
Understanding consumers Consumers are creatures of habit: they buy the same products time and time again, and such is their familiarity with big brands, and the colors and logos that represent them, that they can register a brand they like with barely any conscious thought process. The packaging of consumer products is therefore a crucial vehicle for delivering the brand and the product into our shopping baskets.
Having said this, understanding how consumers make decisions, and the crucial role of packaging in this process, has been a neglected area of research so far. This is surprising given that organizations invest huge amounts of money in developing packaging that they believe is effective - especially at the retail level. Our Centre for Decision Research at Leeds University's Business School, in collaboration with Faraday Packaging, is now undertaking work in this area. It has already led to some important findings that challenge the ways in which organizations think about consumer choice.
The research has focused on two fundamental types of thinking. On the one hand, there's 'heuristic processing', which involves very shallow thought and is based on very simple rules: 1) buy what you recognize, 2) choose what you did last time, or 3) choose what a trusted source suggests. This requires comparatively little effort, and involves looking at - and thinking about - only a small amount of the product information and packaging. One can do this with little or no conscious thought.
On the other hand, 'systematic processing' involves much deeper levels of thought. When people choose goods in this way, they engage in quite detailed analytical thinking - taking account of the product information, including its price, its perceived quality and so on. This form of thinking, which is both analytical and