Behavioral Insights from Eye-Tracking

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To use eye-tracking effectively it’s important to understand its added-value and its limitations. Specifically, eye-tracking is very good at identifying:

  1. Visibility: in a crowded environment, do consumers even see and notice a package on shelf, a sign in store or link on a screen?
  2. Engagement: do these marketing efforts hold shopper’s attention or are they quickly ignored?
  3. Viewing Patterns: which specific parts are consistently seen and which are overlooked?

Eye-tracking is most relevant when you are trying to capture attention (a package on shelf or an ad in a magazine) and you test in situation to capture the impact of behavior and the role of the environment on visibility.

Eye-tracking can’t tell us whether someone likes a package or wants to buy the product inside. It should not be used in isolation – in other words it’s important to understand the link between visibility and other key factors such as brand recognition, clarity of message and believability. Attention isn’t everything. Although it’s important to be seen, it’s only the first step towards purchase.

When it comes to pinpointing what efforts are not working, eye-tracking can be very useful. Is the packaging getting lost in the clutter and never creating an opportunity to sell? Is the product being seen but not the key message? Is the message fully considered but not persuasive?

To ensure that studies are gathering meaningful data it’s important to keep in mind best practices when using eye-tracking:

  1. Don’t ask why: because visibility is primarily physiological, asking respondents to verbally tell you what they are looking at will deliver misleading information.
  2. Don’t cut corners on stimuli: avoid trying to show a 40-foot aisle on a 20-inch monitor. Show items at 80% or more of life size to accurately measure visibility and viewing patterns.
  3. Don’t confuse “Eye-tracking” and Click-Streams: it’s important to differentiate between actual eye-tracking and studies that ask users to click on parts of packs or ads that they have found compelling. They are not the same thing. Because the eye moves much faster than the hand and mouse, clicks don’t correlate well with actual viewing behavior.

The future of eye-tracking is very bright as it continues to take on new directions. With virtual eye-tracking, eye-tracking is used in conjunction with virtual store environments in the form of signage, displays and aisle configurations shown on large high definition digital screens. This allows marketers to simulate retail scenarios without actually producing and placing materials in store.

Mobile eye-tracking is becoming popular as eye tracking glasses have become smaller and more portable. It’s now possible to create a video recording of each person’s exact viewing patterns in any context. This allows marketers to understand what influences a shopper’s in-store journey by tracking shopping patterns and engagement.

In summary, eye-tracking’s most important function is to serve as a diagnostic tool to guide marketing efforts. Its effectiveness is ultimately dependant on how well it is used and whether fundamental best practices are adhered to. When used properly to deliver meaningful data, it can be a powerful tool to help marketers break through the clutter in an increasingly competitive shopper world.

Anne Stephenson
Partner, Explorer Research

anne stephenson

Marketing Research Technology