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Put a Bow On It: Unwrapping Experiences with Unboxing

Posted by Conifer Research on November 19, 2019

Topics: Ethnographic Research

Tearing into a gift or unwrapping a new purchase is a high emotion and high stakes moment. Consumers may bring anticipation, excitement, curiosity, and surprise to the event. These feelings may be rewarded handsomely, or replaced with something closer to confusion, awkwardness, disappointment, or dread.

Don’t you wish you could be a fly on your customer’s wall when they open your product for the first time? How much would you learn if you can see, hear, and feel what experience during this most critical touchpoint? This is precisely why we often incorporate unboxing into our research to simulate those magical (or tragical) moments when assumptions meet reality and first impressions are formed.

Authenticity Exposed

YouTube has helped unboxing videos become a cultural phenomenon. Experts, influencers, and everyday enthusiasts set up their cameras to open new purchases and share their reactions and reviews. Fortunately for us, this can be much more than fun, viral videos; it can unlock innovation or be a much needed go-to-market readiness gut-check.

As a research technique, 'unboxing' is a means to capture the authentic reactions of ordinary consumers. Unboxing participants are not prepped or scripted - they usually don’t even know what they are even unboxing until the wrapping paper has been torn off. Their feelings and thoughts are revealed spontaneously as they encounter the product experience for the very first time on camera. We can look, listen, and observe their emotions, expressions, and behaviors, just like the lucky fly-on-the-wall.

Unboxing gives us insight into: 

  • Product first impressions
  • Customer expectations and assumptions (and whether they are met or violated)
  • Moments of delight and confusion
  • What customers seek or notice on packaging
  • How the packaging is used and whether they struggle with
  • "Compliance" - Do users open the package or read instructions as intended? Why or why not?
  • Setup and/or trial experiences -what is and is not intuitive

"Unboxing enabled us to see candid reactions and expressions to products that helped us understand immediate associations, some of which may be lost without instilling a sense of surprise."

- Senior Innovation Analyst, CPG Company

Like the millions of YouTubers out there, we ask our participants for product reviews. But there are a number of other key elements to our approach to unboxing:

"Don't Open Until Instructed." The element of surprise is critical to unboxing and capturing authentic data. We deliver items in the form of “gifts,” so the participants don’t know what is inside. They open their shipments on camera (without peeking, of course) and share first impressions on the products in-the-moment.

Beyond the Physical Item: Our team gets creative with “reveal” tactics that can help us understand the first impressions of online or digital experiences. These can be captured using screen recordings and reveal videos that can help build suspense.

Capturing Reactions to Change: Unboxing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The product inside a box is often expected to substitute or be an upgrade over items the consumer has used in the past. This is why we frequently use unboxing during Deprivation Research  to capture user reactions to their product swap challenge or deprivation mission.

Reflection: The participant’s recorded reactions don't stop at the unboxing moment. Throughout the week we ask them to incorporate the new product into their routines, try them (on camera) and describe the experiences at length. We often ask them to "review" each item on camera and report back about key attributes, sensory elements, texture, flavor, etc.

Unboxing offers something that focus groups or point-of-purchase studies cannot: an ultimate, in-context moment of truth when the promises of your brand must deliver. Give this lean methodology a try to see how the assumptions and expectations you and your team have for your products play out when consumers take your products home. These authentic first impressions may give you your own surprises that may lead to innovation across product, packaging, experience, and brand equity.


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