Insights: Does eye tracking hold the key to buying behavior?

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By: RickFerguson |

Posted on January 28, 2016

Surprise! Shoppers do not select the best product options based on their merits alone. The buying process is quite haphazard; some products receive careful consideration, others are tossed into the basket seemingly with little thought, others are not seen at all. Just what does this behavior mean for marketers? In this guest article, Eye Faster CEO Kirk Hendrickson reveals one of the newest tools marketers have for understanding how shoppers behave.

By Kirk Hendrickson

With new portable head-sets, eye tracking studies can be conducted in real retail stores, alone or combined with biometric measurements or questionnaires. The technique generates a tremendous amount of data, but the art of eye tracking requires the knowledge to interpret the results and an understanding of how to apply them to marketing efforts.

After years of performing eye tracking studies, we�ve developed some best practices to improve the understanding of shopper behavior and enable brands to finesse their shopper marketing activity.

Here are six ways to examine eye tracking findings:

1. Focus on fixations. The human eye does not move smoothly. It cycles between abrupt movements, called �saccades,� lasting 20 to 40 milliseconds, and still �fixations,� from 100 to 400 milliseconds. The brain processes visual information only after the eyes fixate for 200 milliseconds.

Because fixations are so brief, brands have less than one second to convey a message. In an eye-tracking study we conducted in a music store, one subject fixated on products and signs 245 different times in five minutes. Another fixated 1,569 different times in 15 minutes. In a half-hour shopping trip, a customer�s eyes may fixate up to 1,800 times. It�s important to pay attention to items that cause fixations, especially for longer periods as those are the items that capture shopper attention.

2. Notice where shoppers look. Human beings possess a limited range of vision. The typical focus is around 30 degrees below eye level to 10 degrees above. Since shoppers walk upright items near head level get the most attention.

Heat maps derived from eye tracking studies show which shelf areas get the most attention, generally end-aisle and eye level shelves.. But be sure to look for products outside of the usual visual range. What�s special about these items? Bright colours? Brand status? You can gain important packaging insights by examining products that get shoppers to expand their visual range.

3. How shoppers �read� packaging. Our research shows a consistent pattern in how shoppers survey labels. The branding message in the middle of the package attracts the attention first and holds attention longest. After the central branding elements, upper and lower parts of the packs are explored.

The takeaway � the most important package elements should be located as close to the brandmark as possible. Less important content can be placed further away. The most important elements should be placed in concentric circles around the brandmark. If an important element goes unnoticed, check its placement and ease of reading. If the design incorporates vertical lettering or makes the text order confusing, shoppers have to work harder to understand the message.

4. Which product categories warrant consideration? Shoppers give certain types of products thoughtful consideration, others are thrown into the cart seemingly with little forethought.

In one study, shoppers picked up an average of three bags of prepackaged salad mix before selecting one; in another study they spent 62 seconds looking at salad dressing and noticed but seven percent of the possible choices. Meanwhile the snack aisle got careful deliberation, with shoppers spending 168 seconds on salty snacks, noticing 42 percent of the options. However a different study of standalone store displays showed that single snack packs resulted in a very fast purchase times, with 98 percent of products picked being purchased in four seconds.

When looking at eye tracking results, consider how product type affects how consumers interact. If they carefully read the packaging, provide extra information. If they grab it without stopping, a distinctive design will make it more visible.

5. Packaging strategy. Marketing managers instinctively want to make their product stand out on shelf. This tactic works for leading products but, however counter-intuitive, this strategy can backfire for new or struggling products as sometimes it�s better to look like your competitors.

Consider the cereal aisle. Shoppers looking for Cheerios quickly scan the aisle for its bright-yellow box, filtering out everything that doesn�t match. If a competing oat cereal is in a green or orange box, it will be overlooked but if it�s in a similar shade of yellow box, and placed near the Cheerios, shoppers will see it.

6. Think about shoppers� feelings. Consumers like to think they make rational decisions, and many brands assume that they do. But when we observe how people actually shop, we see a very different behavior patterns.

Most purchase decisions are made subconsciously, before conscious considerations, like value and quality, enter the mental conversation. Perhaps 10 percent of sensory information makes it to the conscious level; 90 percent remains subconscious, where emotional triggers�colour, memory, and package design�hold sway.

By combining eye tracking with biometric indicators (measuring heart rate, movement, breathing, and galvanic skin response), research finds a strong correlation between emotional response and purchase decisions. A product may catch a shopper�s eye and trigger a faster pulse, heavier breathing, and more perspiration, often so subtly that the shopper doesn�t even notice. But if it�s a happy reaction, it can trigger a purchase.

Kirk Hendrickson is CEO of Eye Faster.