Cognitive dissonance and unboxing

Cognitive dissonance and unboxing

Cognitive dissonance and the point of minimum justification – Part 3 of 3

By Dr. R. Andrew Hurley
Contributing Editor, Packaging World

The theory of cognitive dissonance is even a factor in the booming e-commerce side of the industry. With powerhouse sites like and shipping anything and everything, how do smaller companies nail down repeat customers? It’s not only by convincing consumers that they really need their product, but also ensuring they have a pleasurable experience at the moment of unboxing.

One great example of an e-commerce retailer that is killing it in this department is BarkBox. We’ve all gotten comfortable with the idea of subscription boxes; you can get them for clothing, wine, even artisan jerky—anything to appease our human desires. For some people, the idea of paying a subscription fee to have dog toys delivered on a regular schedule is ridiculous. BarkBox solves this problem by allowing current customers to order “gift” boxes for their four-legged friends.

In the classic notion of “First one’s free,” once you open the box, you’re hooked. The interior of each themed box is wrapped with dog-doodled tissue, and included with the selection of treats and toys is a short fold-out marketing piece explaining the theme, or pushing a social media call-to-action (to show off what a great pet-parent you are). The product offerings are either Bark & Co brand or small “artisan” snacks from around the country, giving the consumer the feel-good boost of buying “locally,” even if it’s on a global scale. And to further temper that idea of cognitive dissonance, dogs, surprisingly, seem to really enjoy getting mail. So, I trust the company to curate good-quality products, I avoid the store, and the dog is happy and occupied! Still sound ridiculous? Well, they exceeded $100 million dollars in revenue in 2016, and they sell products sight-unseen each month, so they’ve obviously got something figured out.

The true trick here is riding that fine line between overt manipulation and a subconscious suggestion that your product will enrich the life of the consumer. A “good deal” will sell your product once, but a good feeling will create a long-term customer. How do you find that line, that minimum point of justification? Consumer testing. Specifically, quantitative consumer testing, via biometric eye- and emotion-tracking technology. While traditional qualitative and quantitative testing queries a prospective customer’s self-reported thoughts, emotion- and eye-tracking technologies allow you to see how a customer feels and reacts to your product. For a more in-depth look at emotion tracking and its ability to illuminate consumer feelings about e-commerce packaging, read a case study from Package InSight and Pregis.

Dr. R. Andrew Hurley is Assistant Professor of Packaging Science, Clemson University, and founder of Package InSight and The Packaging School. 

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