A closer look at the consuming gaze

Jul 30, 2012

Rows of chip bags in a vending machine, endless bottles of shampoo on pharmacy shelves, long lines of books arranged in the bestsellers section at the bookstore. From supermarket shelves to barroom beer selection, long lines of horizontally arranged products are the norm when it comes to the shopping experience.

But how does where a product is placed on the storeroom shelf influence which option a consumer will ultimately choose? It turns out that the shopper's eye has a very central focus.

"Consumers are more likely to purchase products placed in the middle of a display – without even being aware of it," says Onur Bodur. The associate professor from Concordia's John Molson School of Business is the co-author of a recent study forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research and co-authored by marketing researchers at HEC in France and the Aston Business School in England.

Using eye-tracking devices, Bodur and his colleauges investigated how location influences choices for products as varied as vitamins, meal replacement bars, and energy drinks.

They found that consumers would increase their visual focus on the central option in a product display area in the final five seconds of the decision-making process – and that was the point at which they determined which option to choose.

It turns out that the process is a subconscious one. When asked how they had come to decide on what product to buy, consumers did not accurately recall their choice process. What's more, they were not aware of any conscious visual focus on one area of the display over another.

What does uncovering these unconscious habits mean this mean for the average shopper? Greater awareness of buying behaviours should lead to more informed choices. Says Bodur, "by using this newfound knowledge that visual attention is naturally drawn to the center of a display, can consciously train themselves to make a more thorough visual scan of what's on offer."

When it comes to shopping, the visual equivalent to thinking outside of the box just might lead to savvier selections.

Explore further: When identity marketing backfires: Consumers don't like to be told what they like

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