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Should I Buy Online or in Person? Brand's Influence On My Store & Online Shopping Experience

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By: Jenna Smith,
Senior Partner, Smith Design
As a busy brand professional and millennial mom, I am
constantly trying to maintain a balance of demands both personally and
professionally.  So when it comes to shopping, I find myself strategically
planning my purchases in-person vs. online. As much as my 'packaged good loving'
self enjoys a leisurely stroll through the store, sometimes the convenience of
technology is too good to pass up.  So, when the need arises to purchase a
packaged product, 'should I buy online or in person' is usually the first
question that comes to mind. The more familiar and predictable a product,
the greater chance I have to buying it online. However, the more subjective the
experience I have with a product, the more likely it is that I will
"perceivably' benefit from buying it in a store.
But, I do have to ask if that is true? Do I benefit from
buying some products online vs in person and how does packaging design
influence that perception? 
I love that as an online shopper, I have no pressure to
buy since I can always come back to my cart. I can read the product
reviews; search sites for comparable prices and deals, and generally feel
unhurried when it comes to purchasing. When it comes to buying something for my
kids, I want to feel like I made the smart choice (not necessarily finding the
best deal). Satisfaction, however, is delayed because I must wait for items to
ship. I cannot connect with the brand and product in-person and always have a
small feeling that it is somewhat of a blind purchase. This is because
packaging and a tactile experience play important roles in building my brand
loyalty for in-person purchases, while price and consumer reviews influence my
purchases online. 
This is not to say that CPGs cannot bring value through exposing
me to packaging online. The brands that recognize how packaging influences my
online shopping experience have an opportunity to see a casual, positive
sequence as I share knowledge with others via social networks. Additionally,
brands that can find a way to connect with me emotionally and reclaim a point
of difference, that is noticeable through their website or interactive information,
compel me to dive deeper to learn, try, and discover new products and
offerings. While online shopping diminishes the influence packaging has on
my initial (and often times impulsive) purchase decision, I am still
interacting with that package upon receipt, motivating my overall encounter and
future purchases.
On the flip side, ways that brands can keep me engaged in
the brick and mortar experience is by continually innovating and refreshing
their offerings and packaging so I feel as though I am receiving something
unique and different than what is shown online. Distinctive interactive displays,
special product presentations, unique packaging materials & applications, and
customization add to the overall experience of going to the store. According to
Professor Bell's book 'Location is Still Everything", online
purchases are significantly affected by which stores are near the consumer and
whether they have "trendy and friendly neighbors.' I live in a
heavily populated area and many times, I will go to a store because they have
an exclusive offer or are providing an interactive event - allowing me to
connect with a brand in a way I cannot do virtually. On a more basic level,
ingredients, materials, and components are top of mind for products in certain
categories, so being able to feel, touch, read labels is a necessity for me. If
a brand does not provide a large image of their label or ingredients and/or
components are not easily visible online, I assume the purchase must be made
in-person. Perhaps, as packaging designers, more attention needs to be given to
back of pack aesthetics for products that live in our ever-growing digital
Ultimately, I would say my personal shopping experiences are
evenly divided between in-store and online. 
Soft goods, such as paper towels, are an easy online purchase. I can
search for the best deals and my expectations of the product are always met
without any surprises or deviations from the norm. Food and specialty items
continue to be an in-store purchase since they consists of many fresh
ingredients and each piece is unique.
What I do find surprising is that items I never thought
would be Internet purchases ' shoes, clothes, electronics ' are my top
searches. However, I have little brand loyalty in these categories and instead
make purchases based on reviews and price. 
As stores continue to evolve their experiences to combat online
retailers and as e-tailers integrate additional ways for consumers to interact
with products as they do in-person, or provide instant gratification (ie Amazon
Prime Now), it will be interesting to see how packaging evolves for this
revolutionary thing we call the internet.

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