What drew her to those particular packages? Because some 70% of all purchase decisions are made in store and consumers view only about half the brands displayed in many categories, marketers are clamoring to know-and turning to eye-tracking studies for the answer.
Having shed the "Weird Science" image earned when it came on the scene a few decades ago with goofy goggles and obtrusive headsets, eye tracking has become sophisticated. It is most often conducted in shopping "labs" or with consumers sitting in front of computer monitors that flash various package designs and grocery-shelf setups as a camera tracks their eye movements.
With eye tracking, a hidden camera documents where the eye is drawnn and gives a readout of those focal points; marketers can get as many as 60 readings a second. This allows marketers to determine what shoppers look at first in a product category, where on specific packages they look and how long they take to read the back of a label-important information if you're trying to get your brand to stand out among rivals and private-label copycats that mimic major-brand designs (see box at right lessons learned from eye-tracking studies that can help distinguish your brand on the shelf).
"It all translates into the ability to isolate any one element, from a package or a brand on a shelf," said Scott Young, president of Perception Research Services. "It's the only way to know what percentage of shoppers are actually stopping and becoming engaged with your brand in the store," said Mr. Young, whose clients include Procter & Gamble, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
"We can bring 100 people through a series of product categories and can say 68% definitely stopped and spent time with Philadelphia Cream Cheese on the shelf vs. 80% with a new package design," he said.
The technology isn't new. Originally developed among psychologists in academia to evaluate learning and cognitive behavior, it has been used by marketers to track how consumers look at ads online and in print.
But now it's transforming package development and design as well as in-store marketing research, bringing rigor to the value of so-called dwell times and overhauling the notion that shoppers want unlimited choices-not to mention pointing out where the most valuable real estate is on the shelf.
While eye-tracking studies can be conducted in store, they are mainly done through simulation because installing cameras in stores is expensive and can raise privacy issues for consumers.
too many choices
Jerry Kathman, CEO of Cincinnati-based package-design and branding firm LPK, whose clients include P&G, said eye-tracking studies have alerted many marketers to consumer fatigue with too many choices. "They aren't fascinated a brand has 90 SKUs," he said.
But that's not to say he sees eye-tracking technology as a catch all. "It's a specific metric and an important one, but tragically it can be misused as a go/no-go metric," Mr. Kathman said. "Marketers will abort a good idea that just needs to be optimized, or they get false validation something is working when it's not. It can be absurd, like any measurement."
Simon Hay, who heads the U.S. division of DunnHumby, a consulting firm known for its work culling data from loyalty cards for marketers such as PepsiCo and P&G and retailers such as Kroger Co. and Tesco, also warns against putting too much emphasis on such studies. While he considers it a "valuable tool," he said it can't be viewed in a vacuum. "You have to link disparate data sources and disparate research tools and techniques into a cohesive view of customer needs, values and behaviors."