Why it works: PRS eye tracking and packaging design helps brands win at retail

Grant Montague, senior research director – global, and Hervé Turpault, vice president Europe, Perception Research Services, reveal how eye tracking can help brands stand out in the retail environment


Over the past five years, there’s been a surge in the availability and use of eye tracking in consumer research, for applications ranging from packaging and copy testing to web usability. This is clearly a positive step, as more marketers, designers and agencies have come to recognise and benefit from its insight and the value of seeing the world through the lens of the shopper.  

Our PRS eye tracking studies show shoppers never see at least one-third of the brands displayed in the retail environment. So breaking through and being seen quickly (visually preempting competition) is an essential role of packaging and correlates highly with purchase consideration at point of sale – Unseen is unsold.

However, break through is only one piece of the marketing puzzle – and should not be viewed as a single measure of success. As many have correctly pointed out, eye tracking doesn’t tell us whether someone likes a package or wants to buy the product inside. A hypothetical example would be the proverbial ‘pink polka dotted’ packaging: it would certainly stand out and get visual attention (within the toothpaste aisle, for example), but this strong visibility wouldn’t necessarily convert to strong purchasing behaviour. The reality is not only do you have to be seen, but you have to gain attention for the right reasons and convert shoppers’ initial attention into resonance with the brand proposition.

PRS has repeatedly found the primary value of eye tracking lies in helping uncover why the packaging isn’t working hard enough and guiding enhancements to marketing efforts – establishing the priorities in messaging and how it should be placed and treated on packaging designs, in order to maximise engagement and ultimately compulsion to purchase.

For example, hesitancy at shelf is a primary reason for products to fail at shelf. Packaging serves to help the shopper identify the brand, the product and the version within the range (whether it be a flavour or a scent). What happens though when shoppers are unsure of how to identify the correct version within the range, due to non-intuitive and/or recessive graphics or copy? Experience tells us the consumer will either walk away or default to the safer option, most likely another brand, to be sure they get the product they need and want.

Where eye tracking analysis can help in this instance is to determine the legibility of the versioning on pack. By monitoring pack viewing behaviours and identifying which elements are seen or missed by shoppers as they examine the pack, hypothesis can be drawn on the ability of the pack to clearly identify each variant within the range.

Similarly, do shoppers understand the product benefits and supporting reason-to-believe? Through measuring the hierarchy of messages processed via the eye tracking and evaluating imagery perceptions generated by the pack, PRS can determine whether the pack design is effective at communicating the intended positioning or whether the architecture of the pack needs to be modified so the shopper takes away a cohesive story. 

As eye tracking witnesses increased research involvement, so has its capacity to evolve. Two of the more exciting directions of the application of eye tracking involve the retail environment:  

  • By linking eye tracking technology with sophisticated virtual store environments, researchers can now leverage eye tracking while
    pre-testing new approaches to in-store signage, displays, aisle configuration, category management and product assortment  
  • Through the carriage of modified glasses, portable eye tracking approaches are now possible and can provide a comprehensive account of an individual shopper’s viewing behaviour in any live retail context. Currently mobile eye tracking is being utilised most frequently in-store to track shopping patterns and document engagement with displays, signage, packaging and supporting point-of-sale material

As with any research tool, eye tracking’s validity and value are dependent on how well it is used, in terms of applications, study design, stimuli and analysis. Thus, while researchers should leverage eye tracking when appropriate, they also need to adhere to fundamental principles to ensure meaningful data and insights. By doing so, they will facilitate more compelling marketing routes that disrupt and break through clutter at retail and help their brands win in an increasingly chaotic and competitive landscape, where consumers’ attention can’t be taken for granted.

About PRS:

PRS conducts more than 800 packaging and shopper research studies annually to help clients ‘Win at Retail’. 

Email: grant.montague@prsresearch.com and herve.turpault@prsresearch.com.

Web: http://www.prsresearch.com/

A Retail Times’ sponsored article.