Consumer product giants' eye-trackers size up shoppers

July 16, 2012 by Nancy Owano weblog

( -- Consumer product giants whose supply chains, profit margins, and boardroom reports depend on how fast the paper towels, shampoo, and diapers can fly off the shelves no longer dare to rely on just focus groups or survey handouts for consumer data. Technology is supporting retailers and marketers with sophisticated ways. “Neuromarketing” has become a frequently used term to describe a shopping environment where advanced technologies s including eye tracking reveal consumer wants and shopping behavior.

Dr. Stephen Sands of Sands Research, for example, has done research on consumer behavior in supermarkets using a mobile EEG technique and in a real supermarket environment. Researchers like Sands are getting a better read on what the newer technologies can actually say about consumer behavior.

Businesses use the data that eye tracking collects to make decisions on product weight, package design, and where to put the items on shelves. They cannot rely just on what shoppers report back because research indicates that shoppers may say they like a product yet their purchases tell a different story. Marketers in turn look to eye-tracking solutions as helpful tools for better understanding shopping behavior.

New 3-D computer simulations of shopping experiences augmented with eye-tracking technology and brain-wave monitoring are taking the place of conventional research, according to a report this week in The Wall Street Journal.

Eye-tracking collects eye data points when people are looking around a store. Eye tracking is also used to tell how the floor plan and design of the store are affecting the consumer.

According to the WSJ, three company giants, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Kimberly-Clark, are combining three-dimensional computer simulations of product designs and store layouts with eye-tracking technology.

Kimberly-Clark's researchers in the past have used computer screens outfitted with retina-tracking cameras when testing packaging for paper towels. Their goal was to find which designs got noticed in the first ten seconds a shopper looked at a shelf. They also wanted to know if the preferences held up on different count packages, from single rolls to multipacks.

Types of eye-tracking equipment may range from a special camera that is embedded in the rim of a computer screen to free-standing devices. Prices may run as high as $25,000 to $40,000, depending on the type of system.

Data visualization results may be in the form of heat maps, the most familiar kind, where collected information forms a heat map that uses color to show where people looked.

Another data visualization format is the Gaze Plot which shows a diagram overlaying an image of the ad or product package. Gaze Plots display the order that someone looked at a point, how long they looked at the point in relation to other points, and the path that person’s eyes took. The Gaze Plot is considered useful to learn what drew the attention of the customer, if the message was easy to interpret, and if the customer became confused at any point.

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4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2012
Between social media monitoring and methods like those described above, one can increasingly feel devalued and commodified, cynically milked for information then manipulated for the profits of a few. I sense no honour or dignity in the brands that treat their fellow humans as 'subjects', like sheep. I suggest we all shop at the little local stores, where the owner knows us, mutual respect is shown, and by that contribute to affirming our corporeal communities. Consumerism is costing humanity dearly.
3 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2012
Unfortunately, the "Mom and Pop" stores have gone the way of the dinosaur where I live. Commercial rents are staggeringly high and out of reach for anything but franchises and chain stores. The whole landscape of once charming towns has irreparably changed, and the garish tastes of humans-turned-lemmings are to blame.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2012
Not great news really. All it's for is for these huge chains to raise their ever growing profits selling you stuff that you probably don't want.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2012
Okay, so if I'm looking at the hot chick's ass in front of me while I'm pushing my shopping cart - isn't that an invasion of privacy? Also, what if I'm just looking for what I already know I want? I mean products of course, but how does that factor in to this paradigm?
not rated yet Jul 16, 2012
@baudrunner, "Also, what if I'm just looking for what I already know I want? I mean products of course, but how does that factor in to this paradigm?"

I believe that is what their system is trying to do, why can't you find that product? Why did you look at the other product first? Was it the hologram on the packaging or just happened to be the first place you looked for the product you wanted. They are trying to not only sell more products but sell what you and others looked at back to the product makers so they can augment their designs(color, look, etc).

It's all about the marketing nowadays, it's a shame they are selling their souls just to get a look into ours.

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