Market research is a multibillion-dollar industry which delivers an overwhelming amount of data on consumer behavior and sentiment. However, making sense of it can sometimes feel like an educated guessing game. Traditional methods such as shop-alongs, focus groups, polls and surveys all provide useful information, but unfortunately, they don’t always measure the real factors which influence buyer behavior, an essential ingredient in formulating the right marketing strategy.
Eye tracking cuts through the clutter; it’s not a new research method, but it’s the only one which can deliver accurate, unbiased and detailed insights into human attention and the factors which influence purchase decisions. In the past, eye-tracking technology was relegated to the lab, but these days it’s extremely unobtrusive and can be used to test retail performance in real stores, on real websites, smartphones and even in virtual reality (VR) environments.
Ninety percent of the information we process is visual, and by understanding visual attention you can make sense of what motivates a consumer’s actions and how they receive and interpret the information before them.
So, What Information Can You Get Out of an Eye Tracking Study, and How Can You Put it to Use?
The value of studying attention through eye tracking lies in its ability to reveal behaviors that consumers themselves aren’t even aware of. The answers given during post-shopping interviews can be misleading. Since people aren’t aware of their subconscious actions or unintended biases, there are a number of issues that can make this data unreliable: one, they often struggle to remember their thoughts at a particular point in time; two, they may give inaccurate information simply to provide some type of answer; and three, they most certainly can’t give insights on information they didn't see. By recording someone’s gaze, with a device like eye-tracking glasses, you capture true evidence of attention. You can see where they looked first, in what order they processed the information presented to them, what products or ads they viewed, what features they noticed and what aspects they ignored. This data can be aggregated to deliver high-quality insights reflective of the overall buying behavior of consumers you’re studying.
The attention economy is fickle and competitive, and brands must be savvy to cut through the noise. With this in mind, here are three ways eye tracking can help you on this quest:
1. Optimize product placement and store layout.
Eye level’s buy level, right? Not always. There’s a lot of eye tracking research that suggests some of the most enduring marketing "truths" don’t always stack up. Most shoppers actually look slightly down when perusing an aisle, so the positioning with the most exposure may not always be where you think it is.
An eye tracking study can reveal the shelf, aisle and store positions which garner the most visual attention, allowing you to optimize product placement, advertising, promotional material, and other messaging throughout the consumer journey.
2. Improve package design by understanding what resonates with your target audience.
When the majority of purchase decisions are made at the fixture, there’s a lot riding on packaging. The elements of a design which a shopper viewed or looked for explains a lot about what motivated their final choice. The value of eye tracking in this instance is its ability to reveal subconscious actions. Shoppers may tell you they were influenced by price, but eye tracking data may reveal they didn’t even look at the tag. Perhaps they simply gravitated towards red or plain packaging, which they automatically associated with a budget line. Eye tracking is incredibly useful during A/B testing. It allows you to accurately assess how well your packaging conveys the value points of a product — e.g., a low fat or high fiber claim, how well your competitors’ packaging performs, what design elements are appealing or off-putting, etc.
3. Turn ‘browsers’ into buyers with a seamless online experience.
A poor online shopping experience can see a consumer disappear from your potential revenue stream at the click of a button. You wouldn’t block your aisles with clutter or physically prevent shoppers from accessing your checkout in a brick and mortar store, but poor website design and usability issues are essentially the same thing. Screen-based eye tracking allows you to observe how shoppers interact with your site and product descriptions, and unlike click or mouse data, it shows true attention and highlights friction points such as things which cause confusion and other barriers to an easy and enjoyable shopping experience. After 10 seconds of a user scrolling on a web page or application, they may (or may not) click on a line of text with a call to action. However, without eye tracking data, you wouldn't be able to see the cognitive processes behind the shopper’s actions. This could include things like the inability to locate the cart icon, poorly positioned pricing or description details, or hard-to-understand shipping and delivery information.
Major FMCG companies and retail giants like Unilever and P&G are just some of the names already using eye tracking to their advantage. There’s no reason smaller companies can’t also make use of the hugely beneficial insights eye tracking provides to influence consumers’ paths to purchase.
No matter what end or area of retail you’re in, eye tracking can help you assess, understand and, ultimately, influence buyer behavior.
Mike Bartels is the senior research director for Tobii Pro Insight in North America.
Related story: A Case for Next-Gen Digital Executions In-Store
Mike Bartels is the senior research director for Tobii Pro Insight in North America. Over the past nine years he has designed, conducted, and analyzed eye tracking studies in a variety of fields, including web usability, user experience, package design, consumer contexts, advertising, and applied science. Bartels has an M.A. in Experimental Psychology and has written eye tracking-related articles for several marketing research publications (Quirks, QRCA Views) and scientific conferences (HCII, ETRA).