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The Power of Eye Tracking Shoppers

You may have seen our recent video (link here) which talked about the importance of understanding system one behaviours through shopper research.

One powerful research technique that allows you to do just that is eye tracking.

Eye tracking was first introduced as a technology suitable for shopper research way back in 1993, so it’s certainly not new, but still very effective due to its ability to get beyond conscious rational thinking.

Eye tracking works through utilising an infra-red beam to track exact eye movement. It can measure what the eye is looking at and more importantly, what the eye is fixating on (a defined period of time which is proven for the brain to have had the opportunity to process something). We can’t cheat our eyes – so seeing what the eye is naturally drawn towards helps us to understand what within a shopping context is attracting our sub conscious and therefore what is effective in terms of shopper activity.

The key of course is how we can extract action-driven insight from this technology. We believe there are three main applications for eye tracking research in the shopper sphere…

1. Merchandising Optimisation – eye tracking enables us to understand the visual process used to find and buy products by identifying fixture/web hotspots. We can see which shelves, brands and products are attracting attention and how this correlates with what shoppers buy. This insight allows us to maximise product positioning on shelf; ensuring our brands have the greatest chance of being seen and purchased. Eye tracking quickly picks up when a fixture is difficult to shop – our eye movement will be sporadic and forced to cover a lot of ground. This provides us with powerful clues as to how we could re-arrange products to make this process easier and more efficient.

 2. POS Optimisation – understanding what communication items people don’t look at through eye tracking could significantly reduce investment in ineffective marketing materials. Eye tracking pin-points the items that are seen, where they are seen and for how long; generating a clear format and location strategy for future POS activity.

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 get noticed and purchased.

With improvements in virtual technology and web-based eye tracking, this methodology is not limited to the store environment either. It’s now possible to eye track respondents using in-home online research, linking eye tracking to virtual shelves/products

The best way to use eye tracking data however is to combine it with other techniques and tools – layering richness to your insights.

In summary, eye tracking is a great research technology that when applied and interpreted correctly, can be used to create some powerful insights that help with merchandising, POS and Packaging optimisation.

Look out for our future posts which will focus more on the real insights eye tracking has generated around merchandising, POS and packaging.

Taking a leaf out of the Garden Centre – creating a retail experience for your shoppers

Who remembers going to garden centres and farm shops in the 80’s when they were literally just, well, garden centres and farm shops??

You went to the garden centre for your shrubs and farm shops for your carrots. Fast forward twenty years and these retail spaces are now family friendly destinations.

As a mother of two very young children, I’ve become a regular visitor to our local garden centre. Am I a keen gardener? Of course not! But I do like to get out of the house, entertain the kids and have a coffee and cake – all of which are now possible at the garden centre.

With more shopping happening online, just selling stuff is not enough. Toys R Us is proof of that. Shoppers are demanding an experience and will go elsewhere if you don’t provide this.

Garden centres in my opinion have done a marvelous job. They are blessed with square footage inside and out and have used it to their full advantage.

In my local garden centre, I can let the kids loose in the soft play area, buy all manner of non-garden related (high margin) gifts, consume my body weight in coffee/cake and take a bottle of artisan gin home for the evening. At Christmas time, they even have an ice skating rink and giant moving polar bears (not real ones – but who knows what is next!). You can also buy plants of course! It’s a true spectacle and has attracted so many customers that they limit entry. I happen to know they turn a significant profit too and expand year after year.

So, what can we learn from this? The key is giving shoppers a good experience. This doesn’t necessarily have to involve ice rinks and gin… as the expectation of what a ‘good experience’ is will of course be relative to the environment.

It could be as simple as recipe cards providing shoppers with inspiration, or on-line shopping capabilities in-store that allow shoppers to order things that aren’t available within the physical environment (Nike do this). Perhaps it’s about creating a buzz in-store through cooking /makeup demonstrations. Or linking up with the local community. An independent home décor store owner in my town has started to offer things like weaving workshops in the evening.  A skill that must be appealing to her customer base – allowing her to get to know her shoppers better, ensuring she sources future products that they want.

So, what is the best way to improve the shopper experience in-store? The answer is find out what makes shoppers visit your stores and your competitors. Get to know YOUR customers and experiment with different ideas.

It’s not easy but is certainly critical if you want to survive and thrive in the future.

Breaking up is hard to do – should you be brand blocking at-fixture?

Achieving a large impactful block of my brand on fixture appears to be the aspiration of many a Brand Manager, but unless you are the signpost brand in a category it is most likely the worst thing you can do.

Byron Sharp has taught us that a brand grows by acquiring new buyers at a faster rate than it loses existing buyers.  We are all therefore in the business of trying to acquire new buyers of our brand.

Presenting all the variants for our brand in one place on-shelf makes perfect sense.  Get the shopper to the brand, then demonstrate that we have every variant they may desire so the shopper has no need to look elsewhere.  The block has made it easier for your existing buyers to find you, but unless you are the signpost brand you may not get any new buyers to your brand.

As we have mentioned previously, signpost brands are the best known, most iconic or best-selling brands in a category.  The brands that shoppers use to help them identify a category, the brands that shoppers use to find a category in-store and the place where shoppers start shopping the category (irrespective of whether they are shopping for that specific brand).  Starting the category shop at the signpost brand gives the signpost brand the first opportunity to engage with the category shopper (including a whole bunch of potential new buyers).

If I own a signpost brand I want a nice big brand block.  If I’ve done my job correctly I will have argued that I should have the best position on fixture (the eye level shelves in the centre of the category), because I am the brand shoppers use to navigate to the category.  I will get existing buyers and new buyers to my brand because of that.  I will then demonstrate that within my range there is a suitable product to meet their needs, and I will grow my brand.  If I own a challenger brand however, the brand block I coveted may never get the chance to come into play because the signpost brand has got it all sewn up (potentially stealing some of my buyers along the way!).  I risk being marginalised – pushed to the sidelines.  I have a brand block, but it is wasted by being in the colder extremities of the fixture.

The rationale for a brand blocked fixture (that brand is the first decision in the shoppers’ decision hierarchy) is also often flawed, as brand is rarely the first decision shoppers make.  When you probe shoppers on their decision making you often find that there are elements that are not consciously recalled as part of the decision-making process.  For example, an ice cream shopper will often tell you that the first decision they make is the brand of ice cream they are going to buy, but when you probe them on it, you find that they had already narrowed the decision down to only brands of ice cream tubs.  So, the first decision is actually between tubs and hand-held ice creams.

In most categories there is a decision that comes ahead of brand.  Typically type or sub-category, but it is often not consciously recalled because shoppers have discarded the fact that they are narrowing their choice down to products that only exist within a certain segment of the category.  Or in their mind “brand” is a sub-brand that denotes a type or format of product (i.e. the brand is Diet Coke, a diet cola variant).

If I am a challenger brand, I want the fixture to be segmented by something other than brand.  Segment by type, format, flavour – whichever is in-line with shoppers’ decision making, as that gives me a better chance of being seen by new buyers.  My product has a better chance of attracting new buyers if it is located within a cluster of products that a shopper might decide between – I am a valid alternative to the products I am adjacent to.  I am the right type of product, in the right place when the shoppers mind is on choosing a version of these types of products.

You never know.  As a challenger brand I may also have a more dominant role to play within a subset of the category.  I may “own” a segment and can justify having the best position on-shelf.

There are exceptions, where a brand block is best.  There are categories that are genuinely brand-led.  In this instance a challenger brand must aim for a position as close to the signpost brand as possible with the aim of benefiting from the visual halo of the signpost.  There are also occasions where we may feel locating a product alongside its parent brand would drive more growth for us.  For example, when launching a new product, we may feel we will get more traction locating the product alongside an established parent brand in the category, rather than in a section of the fixture that currently has low penetration.  Although we would most likely strive to be in both locations in that instance, particularly as we aim to attract new buyers to our product rather than stealing share from existing buyers.

There is also a balance, of course.  We don’t want our brand completely dispersed across the fixture.  We want clusters of our brand sitting within relevant sections of the fixture.  A cluster that provides good standout, while the product group provides shoppers with the choice of products in line with their key decisions.

In summary, breaking up is hard to do, but for a challenger brand it is better to be in the game than in an attractive brand block on the sidelines.

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.

Confused about confusion?

Whilst on my way to the nursery pick up recently, I had a few minutes spare, so I popped into our local supermarket to pick up some milk and bread….”popped in” being the operative words! I weighed up the benefits of shopping with a tired and hungry child and thought whizzing in earlier was a better option…how wrong could I have been! I had to negotiate my way around other shoppers, who seemed to be standing there staring at the fixtures in front of them. Others were simply wandering, very slowly, gazing upwards…..and it got me thinking….what exactly are they doing?

It seemed as though many were struggling to find the category or item they were looking for. Many shoppers genuinely seemed confused…or were they? And how would this “confusion” manifest itself in their shopping behaviour, let alone mine!


  1. Are shoppers’ confused in-store?

14% of shoppers we recently surveyed told us they had found one or more categories of interest confusing to shop in their usual supermarket. The biggest culprits that shoppers tell us they find confusing to shop? Wine (18%), Ice Cream (15%), Beer/Cider (15%), Nappies (14%) and Skincare (13%).

These are categories where we might expect a level of confusion, as they tend to be products requiring higher levels of decision making, however, any level of confusion should not be ignored in any category.

  1. Why is it important to minimise confusion?

We would argue that any claimed confusion level above 10% in a category IS something to be concerned about, because confusion basically equates to wasted shopping time, unhappy shoppers and in the longer term, potential sales loss.

The quicker and easier it is to find a product, the more time shoppers will have to browse other products and make subsequent purchases. Whilst we won’t necessarily spend any longer in store or at a particular category, our allocation of time can become more efficient…meaning spend per second increases – a positive for the brand, the category and the retailer. The worst case scenario is that someone looking for a product wastes all of their time searching (confused), still doesn’t find what they are looking for, and leaves feeling frustrated and without buying anything. Thinking back to my bread and milk mission, if I couldn’t get to the fixtures, I would have given up and the store would have lost my sale. Equally, I might have spent more, had I not been frustrated at the time it was taking to get the basics.

  1. What are the biggest causes of shopper confusion?

Our research showed that the number one reason for shoppers being confused is too much choice (42%), closely followed by confusion over the best deal (39%), with a lack of understanding of the product (26%), coming in 3rd. Three very different reasons, arguably, managed by different members of a category/brand team….but all registering as valid reasons for “confusing” and potentially hindering shoppers.

Delving a bit deeper, even within one category (BWS), reasons for “confusion” vary – with deal confusion/lack of price visibility being key in Cider/Beer, yet choice/lack of product understanding being the biggest source of confusion for wine.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mums and Dads are getting confused in the Nappy aisle due to confusion over promotions and product suitability. The aisle being badly laid out is also a cause of frustration for parents here, so there are clearly some solutions that need to be put in place to create an easier shopping environment.

  1. How can we improve our execution to minimise confusion?

Too much choice – the solution here may be to reduce the range but equally it could be a more straightforward task of reviewing the layout and creating better signage to make things appear more organised and easy to find. Clearer packaging can also help here

Pricing and promotions – often we over complicate offers – we know shoppers don’t do the maths and they will judge value in different ways in different categories; is it price per gram? The physical pack size? The number of scoops/uses? It comes down to finding out what equates to VALUE in the eyes of the shopper, tailoring price and promotional strategies according to this and keeping it consistent across the category/subcategory

Lack of understanding of the product – perhaps this is the barrier we have most control over. We need to ensure we know what information people are looking for when searching in a specific category. Is it about ingredients or product usage? Are we using consistent messaging through the line to ensure product claims are understood? Once we know the messages we need to convey, we can address this with clearer shopper marketing through pack and POS messaging

Confused?? We hope not, it’s really quite simple, shoppers do find certain categories more confusing than others, but for different reasons. If your category is deemed confusing then you are putting one more obstacle in the way when trying to convert shoppers to purchase. However it is not a one size fits all solution, and may well need different fixes, to achieve your aim of making time spend as efficient as possible, driving shopper satisfaction and ultimately increasing conversion.

The paradox of choice

Like most of the nation, I’ve truly embraced café culture! I visited a local Starbucks recently, and for the first time, I forced myself to step out of my ‘system one’ behaviour, which is to order a Decaf Cappuccino; something I’ve done for years.

I realised that I don’t even LOOK to see if there is anything else, and when I did, my goodness, what a choice there was! Frappe, Latte, Mocha, Americano, Pumpkin Flavour, Cinnamon Flavour, Skinny, Fat, you name it, they sold it! This choice is great, and offers something new for the consumer. However the choice is also quite intimidating; often making it difficult to come to a decision.

Having considered some alternatives, what did I buy? A Decaf Cappuccino of course and I doubt I’m alone in this. Barry Schwartz talks a lot about the paradox of choice – when you offer someone too many options, they struggle to make a decision. This is exactly what happened to me, I couldn’t decide so I reverted to type. The same is true of most shoppers in supermarkets.

We say we WANT choice and we WANT variety, but too much choice can actually make it more difficult to shop and making it difficult to shop will decrease purchase conversion.

There have been so many shopper studies conducted after a range reduction, where shoppers have claimed they had MORE choice, not less, despite there being less products on the shelf.

However, shoppers are also more demanding than ever, wanting to meet more needs through the categories they buy into. Offering shoppers indulgence, health, premiumness and value, often means having a wide product portfolio, so how do we strike the right balance between TOO MUCH choice and NOT ENOUGH?

There will clearly be an ‘optimum range‘ and a plethora of research techniques that will define this. However, there are perhaps other fundamental shopper principles we can apply to make the shopping process SIMPLER, regardless of the range.


  1. Clear Segmentation

Greeting cards is a good example of this. This category has thousands of SKU’s. The only way of helping shoppers to make sense of it and narrow down their search is through clear segmentation. Looking for a card ‘for her’, ‘for him’ or for a certain age is relatively quick due to clear segmentation. Blocking products according to how shoppers navigate simplifies this process, even when the range is dense; allowing you to narrow down your choice into the right area at least. Most categories have some kind of segmentation – but is it based on how shoppers actually SEARCH? Or an out of date decision hierarchy which doesn’t really reflect the shopper navigation process? Understanding how your shoppers search will lead you to a clear and simple shopper-led segmentation.


  1. Clear Signage

Segmentation and Signage go hand in hand – but signage is even more important in a category like greeting cards, where the products alone are not enough of a signpost to get you to the right segment. But the signage itself needs to be simple, in the line of sight of the shopper. Ensuring you understand the language shoppers use to define those segments will ensure you make signposting shopper-led, which will speed up the navigation process.


  1. Clear Messaging

With so much choice, you need to give shoppers a clear reason to buy your product at shelf. The easier a product message is to decode, the quicker it will resonate with shoppers and lead to a sale. Communicate benefits, not features to HELP shoppers. If your product contains added protein, what benefit will that provide to the shopper? Understand WHAT drives people to buy, and clearly communicate these messages on pack to help make choice easier. But make sure the message is SHORT and PUNCHY – the quicker your category is shopped, the shorter and punchier your message needs to be. Too many words will confuse further, and will make the decision process even more difficult.

In summary, managing the dichotomy of choice vs. simplicity is a challenge. However, implementing a shopper-led segmentation and communication strategy will ensure we make this choice process simpler and easier for shoppers, regardless of the range available.

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.

Don’t be afraid of grab and go shoppers

Having been on holiday recently, I was most annoyed by having to spend an hour queuing to check my bags in.  This ‘dead’ time resulted in me feeling frustrated and prevented me from indulging in some duty free shopping when I was airside.

The theory is simple – checking bags in is the essential part of the flying process – so make it as quick and efficient as possible. This will free up valuable time for the non-essential part of the experience – buying some perfume or alcohol in duty free. Here you can indulge the senses and make shoppers part with some cash!

Shopping a store or a category is fairly similar. For every shopping mission, there will be some “essential” tasks – like buying the milk or toilet roll. The easier it is for shoppers to locate and buy these items, the more time you will free up for them to go onto browse and buy “non-essential” items such as that nice bottle of wine or some chocolates – meaning greater overall spend for retailers and manufacturers.

If I could have a pound for every time I’ve heard a category manager declare that they want to remove grab and go behaviour within their category, I’d be fairly rich by now! But why is grab and go seen as such a negative behaviour? It exists because shoppers WANT to grab and go, just like I WANT to check my bags in as quickly as possible! Far from discouraging it, we should be doing everything in our power to facilitate this, based on the airport theory that the quicker I shop the planned/essential part of your category, the more likely I am to buy something incremental from the area of the fixture I hadn’t planned to shop.

We know that shoppers have sub conscious time allocations for shopping trips and even category shops. They don’t stand there with a stop watch, but based on the habitual nature of the task, they sub consciously know how long they will spend in the area – and will be unlikely to increase this regardless of what we do. This time spend of course varies from category to category. For example milk could be as little as 10 seconds, whereas wine will be more like two minutes.

The key is therefore looking at managing the tasks WITHIN that time frame, not extending it!

Take Soft Drinks.  A sub category like Colas would be akin to the grab and go behaviour we talk about – quick shopping, limited product interaction and a high conversion. Shoppers know the brand they need and want to pick it up as quickly as possible. They make limited decisions, usually based on promotions. We should facilitate this shopping style with clear merchandising and promotions. Avoiding lost sales is the key – so managing things like out of stocks will be critical.

However, within Adult Speciality Drinks we observe a longer dwell time, with more comparisons being made between products as shoppers make decisions. Here we can consider more theatre and information at shelf, as shoppers are more willing to spend time and make decisions.

By identifying the role of each sub category and creating solutions that match the shopping style for each role, it allows shoppers to fulfil their mission successfully and quickly, freeing up additional time to spend in the areas of the category where incremental/impulse purchasing is more likely.

In summary, we should not be afraid of grab and go behaviour – providing it is happening in areas where planning is high and involvement is limited. Like when you visit the airport for your holiday, shoppers will thank you for making it an efficient and pain free experience, rewarding you with their hard earned cash in other parts of the category or other parts of the store.

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