The use of Mobile Eye-tracking in Evaluating Retail Store Design

Authors: McIntyre, C., Bray, J. and Laver, L.


Dates: 9-10 December 2014


Studies have reported that consumers on a shopping trip can make judgements on the attractiveness of products in just 17milliseconds (Alexandre et al. 2012). Given this, it is essential for retailers to understand how consumers are shopping a store and precisely how they visually assess the stores design, layout, products and marketing messages in order to optimise their retail environment. The frontiers of Consumer Science research in this regard are being challenged by new technological applications for consumer and retail design research. An example of this is the use of sophisticated Eye-tracking analysis. This method of analysing shopper behaviour was initially conducted in laboratory settings with fixed equipment and virtual or web-based retail settings. However the use of mobile eye-tracking is a more recent state-of-the-art technique (Harwood and Jones, 2014) made possible by increasingly smaller computing possibilities and advances in digital photography. The use of mobile eye-tracking offers far greater complexity to the analysis of shopper choices in situ – within real physical stores – due to the constant movement of the participant and the related need for ease of portability of equipment used. A number of competing technologies now provide the opportunity for mobile eye-tracking, with each provider gathering data through two video cameras mounted on a headset, one camera captures the wearers field of view while the other looks inward to the wearers eye tracking the movements of the centre of the eye. Through combining the two resultant images a video showing the shoppers field of view annotated with a symbol accurately identifying where the eye was focusing at every point can be achieved. Given the rapidity of eye movements it is usually necessary to analyse the consequent footage at a quarter of real time speed in order to discern the sub-conscious assessments that the consumer is undertaking. This research examined consumer eye movements during a typical mid-week in-store grocery-shopping trip across each of the top four UK grocery chains using the xxxx xxxx mobile eye-tracking device which provides the highest resolution imaging of any of the available technologies. This technology enabled shopper participants to move freely around each store whilst capturing precisely what they looked at and how they navigated themselves within a large supermarket environment. Due to the physical and constructional characteristics of a large supermarket it was not possible to wirelessly transmit data from the headset back to a remote computer as it is ordinarily designed to function, but rather our shoppers wore a small rucksack containing a laptop computer which was storing and processing the imagery via a wired connection. We recruited two shoppers to collect data for this study; our first shopper visited one Asda and one Tesco store while our second shopper visited one Sainsbury’s and one Morrison’s store. In total, four shopping visits were captured, providing a total of 68:28 minutes of highly detailed data. This data was interrogated by a panel of psychology, marketing and consumer behaviour academics.

A number of key findings relating to store design emerged from this data. Firstly the importance of the stores entrance and the ‘decompression zone’ (Underhill 1999) was noted. Concurring with previous research, shoppers did not look at any of the offers that were presented to them in the entrance areas of stores. However, when a large entrance was provided the shoppers slowed their shopping pace took longer with their shopping and consulted their shopping lists less frequently during the subsequent shopping trip, giving increased impulse purchase opportunities. The absence of a significant decompression zone resulted in quicker more purposive, and more list-based shopping overall. Within the store, a variety of techniques were found to attract the shoppers’ attention, including brightly coloured offer tickets, floor mounted POS messages, and so-called ‘shelf wobblers’ – often apparently stimulating added attention to peripheral vision via unexpected location or movement. Alternatively, vertical banners were found to be particularly effective in increasing eye resting time, or scaccades, rapid movements of the eyes, upon a specific range of products that the consumer assesses via restricting eye movements within a defined horizontal area. Additionally, moving POS material are particularly effective at being spotted in peripheral vision and drawing the consumer to study alternative areas. Further findings examine how consumers ‘read’ a fixture of products in a culturally coherent manner-offering retailers added techniques that can be employed to increase the likelihood of particular items being selected, for example by locating more profitable or higher priced goods to the right of fixtures where the consumers eye is more likely to come to rest. These findings will be discussed and illustrated relative to exemplar clips from collected in-store eye tracked footage.

Research in this area has much to offer the retail store designer, mechaniser and marketer. Historically, store design has been largely left to the designers subjective view of it’s aesthetic appeal or practical functionality however these approaches lack a rigorous underpinning of exactly what the consumer is attracted to and how the consumer navigates and considers a store in reality. Eye tracking research provides the opportunity to gain a far stronger insight into shopper behaviour, and this exploratory study provides additional insight into some of the more effective and less effective design and marketing techniques employed by the countries leading grocers. Specifically, the value of the decompression zone can be assessed, the effectiveness of vertical banner point of sale and moving promotional signs has been highlighted. Greater consumer eye-tracking research is called for to further understand these aspects, the learning’s from which can enable store design to be optimised making stores more effective in optimising sales and providing a more customer friendly environment.

Alexandre N. Tuch, Eva Presslaber, Markus Stoecklin, Klaus Opwis, Javier Bargas-Avila, 2012. The role of visual complexity and prototypicality regarding first impression of websites: Working towards understanding aesthetic judgments. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. vol. 70 no. 11 pp. 794-811.

Harwood T, Jones M, 2014 “Mobile eye-tracking in retail research”, in Horsley M, Eliot M, Knight BA, Reilly R (eds), Current Trends in Eye Tracking Research, pp. 183-199. Springer: London.

Underhill, P. 1999. Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. Simon and Schuster: New York.

Source: Manual