If looks were everything, consumers would be over the moon about their packaging. According to packaging solutions provider MeadWestvaco, appearance is the one aspect of packages that consumers rate higher in performance than they do in importance. It's what prompts two-thirds of them to buy products off the shelf without knowing anything about them or doing any research into them.

Unfortunately, visual infatuation in the store doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder in the rest of the packaging life cycle. MeadWestvaco found that once consumers take packages home, satisfaction declines at every stage thereafter.

Sobering but constructive insights like this abound in Packaging Matters, MeadWestvaco’s annual survey of consumer satisfaction with packaging. It compares the perceived importance of 15 packaging attributes with consumers’ usage-based assessments of them.

The most recent study, conducted about a year ago, surveyed 7,665 consumers in 10 global markets including the U.S. Input from the U.S. respondents indicated that only a handful rated “attractiveness” and “distinctiveness” as very important packaging features. Durability, product protection, and ease of use loom much larger in importance but fall so short of expectations that fewer than 20% of consumers say they are very satisfied with product packaging.

The study pinpoints big discrepancies between what consumers say they want in packaging and what they believe they actually get. For example, the attribute “makes it easy to get all the product out,” called important by 78% of consumers, gets a performance satisfaction rating of only 59%: a disappointment gap of 19 percentage points. In contrast, appearance features get an 11% edge in performance over perceived importance—the only set of attributes to exceed expectations in this way.

“Brand owners are underperforming on the attributes that matter most to consumers: packaging that works,” MeadWestvaco concludes. The company urges brand owners to remember the full scope of consumers’ interactions with packages and to “focus on packaging attributes that really matter to consumers, alongside their effective brand-building efforts.”

With label and packaging producers increasingly acting as brand management consultants to their consumer-product producing customers, it’s good advice for everyone in the packaging supply chain.