Contained: why it’s better to display some products without a package

Courtney Szocs, Sara Williamson, Adam Mills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Across varying marketplace contexts (e.g., grocery stores, restaurants, e-commerce) managers display products with and without packaging, seemingly arbitrarily. Does displaying a product packaged as opposed to unpackaged influence consumers’ product responses? Six controlled experiments and an Instagram study address this question. We focus primarily on food products but show our results extend to non-food products that are natural (i.e., originate from plants, animals, or humans). We propose that, in addition to its physical function, packaging acts as a symbolic barrier that separates the product from nature, decreasing perceived product naturalness and leading to less favorable product responses. Consistent with our theorizing, the negative effects of packaging attenuate when product information or retail signage highlights the product’s connection to nature and are contingent on the importance of product naturalness. Our findings have implications for strategic use of packaging in physical and digital merchandising and sustainability initiatives aimed at reducing packaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-146
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Academy of Marketing Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing

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