Squaring the circle: Merchandising embarrassing products

March 5, 2018, New York University

Buying an intimate personal care product can be embarrassing, especially if the act is observed by acquaintances or perfect strangers. From selecting the product to carrying it to a register, to placing it on the counter in full view of the checkout line...the experience can be excruciating. New research shows how packagers and retailers can make such in-store purchases easier for the typical self-conscious shopper.

Mississippi State University Professors Carol Esmark Jones and Adam Farmer, along with doctoral student Christian Barney, conducted five studies and found that packaging shapes and colors of embarrassing products as well as where the products are placed in stores make a difference in how likely shoppers are to follow through on purchase intentions. Additionally, promotions such as coupons can take the edge off the embarrassment in encouraging people to purchase. The research, "Appreciating Anonymity: An Exploration of Embarrassing Products and the Power of Blending In," is forthcoming in the March issue of the Journal of Retailing.

In one particularly intriguing study, 44 participants wore to navigate a virtual drugstore in search of hemorrhoid cream, passing a couple of actors who were added for realism but not placed in the hemorrhoid cream aisle. The video then stopped before a shelf with two differently packaged creams, a blue box and a red tube, and the participant was asked to choose one. They selected the blue box over the red tube by a factor of 2 to 1.

This result confirmed and extended the preceding studies, which controlled strictly for package color and shape: blue was preferred over red and a box was preferred to a tube. Subsequent studies showed that displaying the product on an endcap, versus in an aisle, inhibited , but that discount coupons or other promotions had a mitigating effect.

For manufacturers, the packaging implications are clear: avoid flashy, go for subtle. For retailers, ceding this market to online retailers isn't sensible; many such purchases are for immediate need. The authors suggest placing embarrassing products in less traveled parts of the store or providing shopping bags or baskets that help hide the product.

Explore further: Privacy, please: Why surveiling shoppers can inhibit sales, and how to fix it

More information: Carol L. Esmark Jones et al, Appreciating Anonymity: An Exploration of Embarrassing Products and the Power of Blending In, Journal of Retailing (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.jretai.2018.01.001

Related Stories

If you build it, they will come

August 1, 2016

In a perfect grocery-shopping world, the supermarket where you usually shop would have an online presence that perfectly mirrored its bricks-and-mortar store, with the same selection of products and a minimal online-offline ...

Augmented reality makes shopping more personal

July 3, 2012

While in-store shopping accounts for 92 percent of retail volume, consumers are expecting the same levels of personalization and customization that they do when they shop online; 58 percent of consumers want to get in-store ...

Recommended for you

Study forces a rethink on population history of Ibiza

December 7, 2018

Otago researchers have discovered a rare case of genetic population discontinuity on the Mediterranean Island of Ibiza. Essentially, the original genetic signature of the founding female population, handed down through centuries ...

Medullary bone found in Cretaceous birds

December 5, 2018

A team of scientists led by Jingmai O'Connor from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported the first occurrence of medullary bone in Enantiornithes, the ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dirk_bruere
not rated yet Mar 05, 2018
Now nobody will know about my need to buy anal flea powder
Pooosia
not rated yet Mar 06, 2018
Nowadays VR becomes more and more popular. You can watch sports and movies in VR, play games and do online shopping. Except of that there are lots of ways to market your business using VR, for example: fuselabcreative.com/11-creative-ways-you-can-use-virtual-reality-and-augmented-reality-to-market-your-business/ It makes us feel that we live in some futuristic world where almost everything is possible for anyone! :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.