Using VR and AR to Measure Consumer Behavior and Inform Packaging Design

Consumer Behavior Testing

At the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University, we have been performing consumer studies in our eye-tracking lab (CUshop) using Tobii eye-tracking glasses. This wearable technology provides valuable data that helps us understand consumer perception of product packaging in the context of a retail environment. A typical study might examine the attention garnered by two possible package designs, uncovering which design, on average, was looked at first (time to first fixation), and for how long (total fixation duration). This attention data is used to aid decisions made during a package redesign or for a new product launch.

Clemson University Events

The Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University will be hosting a brand new seminar on Sept. 12. The “Proofing and Visualization Seminar” will review various technologies to proof and prototype packaging, as well as explore emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and their role in communicating design between the brand owner and the supplier. More information can be found at, or by contacting Bobby Congdon or Nathan Newsome. We will also be showcasing VR projects at PRINT 18 in Chicago, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, and at PACK EXPO in Chicago, Oct. 14-17.

We saw the potential to take consumer behavior studies out of a dedicated, physical lab and make the studies portable. With VR, we are no longer limited by the space, funding or time that it takes to set up a physical store environment for testing. Store layouts, shelf configurations and package models can all be changed on the fly with very little effort. Through the platform we’ve built, called CUshop VR, we can model a one-to-one virtual version of the CUshop lab as the environment. Participants—like those who visited our INFOFLEX 2018 booth, where CUshop VR was available to try—can put on a headset and freely walk around the store, interacting with any of the products as they normally would.

Upcoming academic studies on this platform will examine differences in eye-tracking patterns and user behavior in the physical store versus the virtual store. In addition to the tracked eye movements, because the activity takes place entirely in a virtual world, all participant movements, head positions and interactions can be recorded as well, giving even more insight into how consumers behave in the retail environment.

Training Applications

The aviation industry has been using virtual reality systems to train pilots for decades. Flight simulators allow pilots to be immersed in scenarios that would otherwise be expensive and dangerous for the untrained. These systems can be adapted quickly to fit all levels of experience and teach a broad range of skills by simulating real life scenarios pilots may face. Training in VR allows users to be immersed and engaged with the content while building motor skills and gaining a deeper understanding of the information they need to be proficient and safe on the job.

So how could this be utilized in the package printing industry? Imagine being able to put on a headset and walk around a full-scale press that’s running. Sure, you could easily demonstrate how the press operates as you normally would, but in virtual reality, real world rules do not have to apply. You could walk up to a press and pull off the side while it is running to show what is happening inside. Time can be slowed or stopped to really analyze how each component is working. You can simulate malfunctions, operator errors or safety violations so trainees can experience the consequences without the dangers and costs of real world mistakes. When augmented reality technologies become more accessible, that same type of content could be overlaid onto a real press in real time to better visualize various press operations or even assist in maintenance tasks.

Training no longer has to be limited to classes, videos or tests. We can immerse people in experiences which engage their minds and bodies to better retain knowledge, and allow them to be more confident and competent in their skills.

“Virtual reality provides opportunities to view a printing press in action, in ways one cannot even do with a ‘real life’ demonstration,” states Julie Shaffer, associate vice president at the Association for Print Technologies. “We’ve commissioned the team at Clemson University to build the Virtual Reality Experience for PRINT 18 so attendees

can interact with a printing press in ways they never could in the physical world. Imagine being able to put your head right through the wall of a press and watch the substrate moving through the rollers! You can do that with VR. It’s going to be an eye-opening experience for attendees.”


About the Authors: Bobby Congdon is the assistant director at the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University, managing a small but capable team providing world class training, research and services to the printing and packaging industry. He spends his weekends brewing beer and relaxing with his family.


Nathan Newsome has a unique background consisting of art and computer science which has led to a passion for creating interactive experiences. He graduated from Clemson with a B.F.A. in visual arts and an M.S. in computer science, where he focused on a human-centered approach to developing interactive technologies. As a research associate in VR, he is creating innovative solutions for the printing and packaging industry. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking new trails and spending time with his family, especially his new baby girl.