How Eye Tracking Can Unlock Consumer Insights

Mike Bartels
Senior Research Director
How Eye Tracking Can Unlock Consumer Insights
Live view of the attention of a customer participating in an eye-tracking study in store

There’s no shortage of research out there on buying behavior, but eye tracking is the only method that delivers accurate and unbiased information on a person’s visual attention. Post-purchase interviews can solicit inaccurate answers because shoppers often make up information they can’t remember, or feel that there’s a right or wrong answer, and construct responses accordingly. With eye tracking, you can see exactly what elements a shopper focused on, and what other elements of the packaging or surroundings consumed their attention.

A recent study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and and eye-tracking research consultancy Tobii Pro Insight (see sidebar below) examined the attention being paid to nutritional labeling in the grocery store aisle. It revealed that the vast majority of time is spent on branding and product imagery, with less than 10 percent of total attention focused on the nutritional information. of the total time that shoppers spent visually engaged with a product.  These findings suggest that there’s room for improvement in conveying important point-of-sale nutritional information to consumers.

While the FDA sought to examine consumer engagement with nutrition-related information, there’s a plethora of other areas where eye tracking can be used to engineer the consumer journey in store.

Eye Tracking to Optimize Grocery Signage

With the rise in popularity of organic, vegan and locally grown foods, there’s now a business incentive to visually highlight these products in store aisles.

Eye tracking can highlight the spots where shoppers look to find certain information and the type of information that holds the most value in determining their purchasing decisions. Because visual attention largely reflects our cognitive processes, it’s possible to get valuable information on what motivates and influences buying behavior. Eye-tracking research could be used to determine how sensitive certain shoppers are toward price, how heavily they’re influenced by packaging, and what nutritional values holds the most weight in their selection of products. Grocers can use this information to enhance signage and promotional material and inform sales campaigns for greater effect. Eye-tracking research can also be used to provide answers as to why certain lines don’t sell as expected, or reveal barriers to finding certain information.

How Eye Tracking Can Unlock Consumer Insights
A shopper taking part in an attention study wears eye-tracking glasses in store

Improve Supermarket Wayfinding With Eye Tracking

Time is in short supply nowadays, so delivering a seamless in-store grocery experience is essential. Shoppers value convenience, and wandering the aisles looking fruitlessly for a particular product will leave consumers annoyed and discouraged from returning. Eye tracking can be used to improve wayfinding by capturing valuable data on how people engage with in-store signage.

Just because a store layout makes sense to you doesn’t mean it makes sense to everyone. By capturing the gaze of shoppers, you can pinpoint things that cause confusion, discover obstructed signage and understand the natural places where people visually search for information. For example, equipping a shopper with eye-tracking glasses and asking them to find a specific dairy, baking or hardware product will reveal a lot about their assumptions on the locations of such things, and also how effective your signage is in communicating product categories.

The Way Forward

Eye-tracking technology is becoming increasingly accessible, the hardware is more reliable and unobtrusive, and businesses are realizing the huge cost benefits of investing in this type of research. Major fast-moving consumer goods companies like Coca-Cola, Unilever and Premier Foods are using this methodology to optimize product packaging, store layout and signage in a bid to win consumer spending.

For businesses with fewer in-house resources, research consultancies are a great place to get started with eye tracking, as they can help with the methodology and design, fielding the study, and analyzing the results. Knowing what consumers want doesn’t have to be a guessing game – eye tracking lets you understand consumer behavior and puts you in control of the factors that influence the purchase decisions of shoppers.

  • Looking at Labels

    Health advice and guidelines are constantly evolving in line with new research and statistics. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the standards and responds to this information to promote public health. Just this year, it released new labeling rules for food manufacturers, which include displaying calories in larger type, featuring the added sugar content, and updated daily values of nutrients. But are consumers noticing this information? 

    The FDA recently conducted a study with the help of eye-tracking research consultancy Tobii Pro Insight, examining the attention paid to nutritional information in the grocery store aisle.  Sixty shoppers were asked to wear eye-tracking glasses while selecting items from either the cereal, soup or snack aisle at two different U.S. supermarkets. After they finished, they were asked to recall important information about their choices.

    The results were interesting, with eye-tracking data revealing that just one-third of participants looked at the Nutrition Facts label at least once, and of those, the total time spent viewing it was less than one second. During the interview process, more than half of respondents said that the information on the Nutrition Facts label was “extremely” or “very” important when shopping in the targeted product categories.

About the Author

Mike Bartels

Mike Bartels is the senior research director for Tobii Pro Insight in North America. Over the past 12 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. [email protected]

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