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Open your eyes to what shoppers really see

The concept of ‘System One’ thinking is well established in shopper insight. Shopping is not rational, and many of the decisions that are made, are done so in the sub conscious.

Yet as an industry, we still overly rely on the results of shoppers’ conscious decision making to inform our in-store strategies. Conscious techniques certainly have a place, but as standalone methodologies, they will not get to the heart of that all-important system one thinking.

Whilst it’s certainly not a new idea, Eye Tracking has a very crucial role to play in uncovering system one behaviours. Our eye movements tell a story… something that Yarbus investigated back in 1967 through recoding observers eye movement whilst they viewed the painting “The Unexpcted Visitor”. By providing the participants with seven different instructions (e.g. guess the age of the people in the painting, surmise what the family had been doing in the painting) despite the same visual stimulus, the results in eye movement patterns were strikingly different. Their eyes told a story. And the same is true for shopping…

1. How shoppers orientate

Having eye tracked numerous categories, we know that first in flow is generally worst in flow. When you observe shoppers walking down the power aisle in a supermarket, their eyes look towards the middle of an aisle to make a split-second decision about the relevancy of that aisle for them. As they turn to enter the aisle, again eye movement focuses on the second/third bay in, often ignoring products that are first in flow, unless they are well known, destination brands. It is therefore a risky strategy putting a new product in the first bay, as it’s unlikely to be seen by shoppers.

2. How shoppers find

We often use decision trees to tell us how shoppers go about making decisions and finding their segment/brand in the aisle. However, when we conduct eye tracking, we can add an additional layer to this, by understanding how shoppers visually make sense of the aisle. In well organised categories, eye movements are fairly focused – with shoppers quickly fixating on brand blocks and familiar colours that allow them to signpost key segments. For example, a shopper walking down the World Foods aisle will look quickly at the yellow block of Old El Paso to identify the Mexican segment. In more confusing categories (e.g herbs and spices) you will see more sporadic and intense eye movements – where the shopper is forced to visually work very hard before homing in on the product they want. Understanding how this process works visually, provides a good understanding of how merchandising can be improved.

3. How shoppers really make choices

Asking shoppers what is important to them will often generate responses about price and promotions. Eye tracking shows how important price and promotions really are in the context of what else they look at. We regularly see that price isn’t even read on shelf strips and barkers. Quite often, a shopper will look at the colour of the promotional shelf barker (e.g. red or yellow) and this cue alone acts as the marker for value; telling a story about how the shopper is really making choices

4. Decoding Packaging

Eye tracking can also tell a story about what shoppers need on packs. Pinpointing the importance of different colours, straplines, information points and logos can ensure we design packaging to help the shopper choose at shelf. In a recent study, shoppers told us that health was important to them. Eye tracking showed what they looked at was the words ‘Fat Free’ (rather than the fat content itself which they didn’t read). This level of understanding provided useful insight to the brand manager around how to communicate ‘health’ for this category.

In summary, as Yarbus proved all those years ago, our eyes certainly are windows to perception and cognition, and nowhere is this more relevant than in a complex shopping environment.

Standing Out

I’m sure many of us have the guilty pleasure of watching the reality TV talent shows such as X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. As these shows have now been running for so many years, standing out as an artist has become increasingly difficult. We see so many singers and dancers on our screens, we will only remember the ones that catch our eye with something different (good or bad!)

Compare this to products on our shelves. We shop so frequently and habitually, loading the same products into our baskets week after week. Shoppers tell us they are looking for something new, the X Factor if you like; but like those talented contestants, most of the new products we launch as an industry fail to get noticed and are never purchased.

So how DO we get our products and brands to stand out in-store? The lessons from reality TV can probably help us…

1.  A back story

Anyone who has watched any reality TV will know how much the audience love a good emotional story about the contestant’s fight to get on TV. Sharing this provides a memorable, emotional hook, making us more likely to remember that contestant over and above others.

A memorable back story is also key when launching a new product in-store. A brand that is not supported with any through-the-line activity will struggle to get noticed in-store. Even when brands DO have a strong TTL campaign, standing out can still be difficult. Using a common thread which links the campaign out of store to in-store is key. For example the sweet kittens seen on the McVities biscuit advert were very prominent on in-store displays too, creating a thread that links back to the emotional back story.

2. Positioning is key

Who can ever remember the first contestants in Eurovision? I certainly can’t! Those that go first often run the risk of being forgotten about, or missed if you are late switching the programme on.

The same is true in-store. A product display at front of store may just be too early in the journey to get noticed as shoppers transition from car park to store.

We also know shoppers visually focus between waist and chest height, so if your new product is too high or too low, it runs the risk of being missed.

3. Standing out from the crowd

Talent alone doesn’t seem to be enough now on these shows. Contestants have had to be creative to get noticed and we need to do the same in-store.

Applying the theory of discontinuity is probably a good place to start. Putting it simply anything that is different from its context and surroundings is likely to get noticed. The three key levers we can use for this are colour, shape and light/movement.

Cilit Bang created stand out years ago with a discontinuous colour. The use of pinks and purples in a category dominated by blues and greens really helped generate stand out.

Innocent used shape to create stand out in the ready meals category – launching with round tubs where everything else was rectangular.

Light and movement is more difficult to create with products themselves – but can be achieved through effective POS material.

In summary, as with talent shows, having the ‘talent’ (or in our case a good product that meets a need) is the hygiene factor. To ensure we stand out from the rest, new products need to hook to a TTL campaign, achieve a visible location in-store and on shelf, and ensure pack and POS allows a brand to stand out from the crowd.

The Power of Eye Tracking

We’ve talked in general about technology application for shopper research in our previous blogs, so we now want to focus on how to apply some of the specific technologies to shopper research. Today we will concentrate on eye tracking.

Eye tracking was first introduced as a technology suitable for shopper research way back in 1993! The technology has come a long way from the clunky camera mounted cycle helmet used back then; making the technique far more widespread, cost effective and accessible. However, the power of the technology will only be harnessed through successful application to your business issues.

Eye tracking works through utilising an infra-red beam to track exact eye movement. As so much of our shopping behaviour is sub-conscious, eye tracking is invaluable for understanding the visual cues that shoppers use sub consciously to find, shop and buy their chosen products.

When should eye tracking be used?

It has three main applications in retail/etail …

1.Merchandising Optimisation – understanding more about the visual process used to find and buy products by identifying fixture/web hotspots to help us maximise product positioning on shelf

2. POS Optimisation – understanding what communication items people don’t look at is as insightful as understanding what they DO look at! As so much of our visual environment is discarded; being able to understand what POS items aren’t seen could save thousands of pounds of unnecessary marketing spend, allowing us to concentrate on the items that ARE seen and utilised throughout the shopping process

3. Packaging Optimisation – many new products fail because they lack stand out on the shelf. If we understand more about what products, brands, colours and shapes create shopper cut through in a category, we can use those visual cues on pack to ensure our brands to get noticed and purchased!

Are all eye trackers the same?

It is not just about choosing eye tracking as the correct technique to meet your business needs – the type of eye tracker you should use also needs to be considered in-line with the business questions you are trying to address. If you are interested in understanding web-based eye movement, then static eye tracking equipment such as Tobii will be most appropriate. However, mobile eye tracking is better suited for projects conducted in a bricks and mortar environment.

If you’re objective is to unpick the most important elements of your pack or POS message, then the type of eye tracker you use will be essential, as some eye trackers are better equipped to measure visual activity to a detailed pack level than others; which is why getting to the heart of your issue is key before jumping to the technology solution!

Eye tracking is particularly useful for understanding the shopping process in environments/categories where physical product contact is limited and visual cues are key to selection – such as fast food, bars, kiosks and tobacco. However, eye tracking is not the best tool to understand shopper issues such as how to layout a store or how to optimise range and space. Equally eye tracking alone may not provide all the answers to any business issue. As with all shopper insight, the key is in interlacing different technologies and methods to get the best results.

Our next blog will focus on the different techniques and technologies available to observe physical shopper behaviour…

The Decision Tree Dichotomy

If we were to play word bingo when it comes to shopper research briefs, the most commonly used words that appear time and time again are…. (1) decision, and (2) trees! Getting to a decision tree seems to be the Holy Grail for shopper marketeers and category managers, yet when probed, we are often not entirely sure what we need one for and how we will use the results.

So what should we be using a decision tree for and how should we go about creating one?

You won’t be surprised to hear the two factors are clearly interlinked. We shouldn’t be rushing to a decision tree solution until we are completely clear about how we want to use the information. In reality there is no one right way of producing a tree, there are just different approaches and different approaches will be more or less relevant depending on the reason for doing it in the first place!

What should we be using a decision tree for?

As with any good research brief, the starting point should be with the business issue, not the research tool (a decision tree). Decision trees can be the chosen research tool for a variety of business issues. For example:

1. To map the category landscape and identify white space for new products

2. To dictate how a shelf should be merchandised

3. To define a plan for shopper marketing activity

What we should be asking is – how can we expect a single decision tree to enable us to create plans for all of these issues? In reality, this is asking too much of one tool and results in a `one size fits no one` solution.

This makes logical sense when we actually think about what information is needed to fuel those business decisions…

To map the category landscape and identify white space for new products

If we are trying to get a better understanding of our category landscape and white space, we need to take a total market view over a long period of time to predict the future. This should involve looking at actual purchase data to see what shoppers are buying and the key relationships between products, alongside a monitor of macro-economic and social trends. Taking this approach helps us to understand the likely needs different products/categories are meeting; allowing us to create a strong category map and understand any new/emerging sectors coming to light, based on potential needs. In the moment research is unlikely to get us close to this outcome, as it can only report on what shoppers are currently doing now.

To dictate how a shelf should be merchandised

If our main priority for a decision tree is a merchandising solution, then a different approach should be adopted. Merchandising should be about creating an effective layout that helps shoppers find and buy products either in-store or on-line. The key word here is FIND.

In most categories, the majority of shoppers will already have a good idea about what they are going to buy (either the exact product or the brand or the type). Very rarely will these shoppers be making conscious decisions at the shelf – therefore a decision tree that plots what is important to them is merely describing learnt scripts of behaviour that have been formed over time. It will NOT reflect how they go about FINDING their product or set of products. Far from making decisions, these shoppers are de-selecting everything until they reach their relevant part of the fixture. Therefore any approach that uses drivers of choice to determine a hierarchy will not be satisfying a merchandising objective.

Sales data will tell you WHAT shoppers are buying over time, but not HOW they find products. If merchandising is the priority, then research needs to happen in-store, diagnosing the shopper’s task at the shelf (the mechanics they take to find or choose products at-fixture). We should be looking to define a hierarchy of how shoppers FIND their product not make decisions over time – a search hierarchy rather than a decision hierarchy.

To define a plan for shopper marketing activity

If we’re using a decision tree to inform shopper marketing activities, then task at shelf is still important, but here the focus should be to identify and understand shoppers who are genuinely making choices at shelf. Knowing what decisions shoppers make at home vs. in-store is crucial to any through-the-line shopper marketing plan. This involves understanding what drives choice of one brand over another. Understanding what these drivers are, and where the decisions are made will help us to inform both WHERE activity should be happening (above-the-line or below-the-line), and WHAT messages are likely to drive purchasing at shelf.

In summary, it is rare that one research tool or tree is ever going to provide a perfect solution to all of your business issues. We need to combine a series of methodologies and tools that help us understand what is happening now, what is likely to happen in the future and how shopper needs and priorities will change subject to their task at shelf. Equally, all the research solutions in the world will never produce an off-the-shelf ready-to-go planogram or shopper solution. The research will provide the ‘science’, but we should be adding our own ‘art’ into the mix to create solutions that will work for our business and our shoppers, both now and in the future.

2 steps to unlock category conversion

I have a three year old son and a one year old daughter that both attend nursery. As such, I seem to spend a great deal of time in the waiting room of our local doctor’s surgery! One recent visit, after this weeks bout of whatever it was, got me thinking about one of the biggest issues we face in the world of category and shopper – improving category conversion. It was a fairly routine and now incredibly familiar set of steps that the doctor went through …… listen to the symptoms, observe and test to diagnose the issue, then prescribe some advice or medicine to treat accordingly. A process we should also follow when it comes to tackling category conversion.

As a shopper research agency, we are often asked to propose a solution to tackle category barriers. A perfectly sensible question to ask. However, we are often asked to rush towards the treatment, without first properly diagnosing the issue.

Diagnosing where

The business question we are typically trying to address by understanding category barriers is; how can we improve category conversion to help us achieve growth? To improve category conversion we must minimise existing barriers to conversion and maximise the triggers to purchase, but our first step should be diagnosis – WHERE, if at all, do our current barriers exist?

Is our conversion issue within a certain channel? Or perhaps within a specific retailer? This already narrows down our prescribed treatment needs.

Shoppers may plan to visit our category in any particular channel or retailer, but do they actually visit? Is the issue that we are not getting our planned shoppers to the aisle?

Is the issue within the aisle? If shoppers visit do they then go on to shop? If they shop do they go on to buy? They might browse, but they don’t all convert to purchase. The barriers, and consequently our opportunities for improvement could lie at any one of these stages.

Researching and creating simple conversion funnels diagnoses where our issues are, allowing us to size the missed opportunities.

This simple process allows us to pinpoint exactly where our efforts should be focused – and therefore where we should be further investigating the WHY.

Diagnosing why

If our funnel reveals that we are not encouraging shoppers to visit our category in discounters, our next phase of research can concentrate away from the aisle, or even away from the store/channel, exploring WHY discount shoppers don’t visit our category (what are their barriers?) … for instance do shoppers even know that our products are available within this channel? Do they have poor perceptions towards retailer range and quality? A treatment for this diagnosis could include shopper marketing coverage in the retailer magazines, showcasing the great brands and range available.

As another example, our conversion funnel may highlight that shoppers do visit and shop the category in supermarkets, but they don’t go onto purchase. Here we want to concentrate our research focus within the aisle, talking to shoppers that engage but walk away without buying. Barriers may be around ease of navigation, ease of shop, or we may have issues with out of stocks. The treatment for such a diagnosis may be a shopper-led merchandising solution supported with communication to improve ease of find and aid the decision making process.

Once we have established where our issues lie and why, we may wish to hone this further by exploring what the most pertinent issues are for our key shopper groups – WHO are we really losing at this point and HOW can we concentrate our effort on removing the barriers that are having the greatest effect with our key shopper groups?

Finally, we may wish to run this exercise with a brand focus – shoppers may buy from the category, but are rejecting our brands in favour of the competitive set. The barriers here could be different again, more likely to be focused on the brand proposition – e.g. on-pack messages, previous product experiences or price/promotions associated with brands.

It is unlikely that any category will have major issues across the entire funnel – so diagnosing WHERE the biggest conversion opportunities exist allows you to tailor barriers and triggers research towards the right stage within the funnel. This way you observe and talk to the most pertinent group of shoppers, ensuring you are more targeted (and cost-effective) with the WHY. Start with the big picture, then narrow the focus down until you are drilling into the real barriers impacting your category, your brands, your shoppers.

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