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Comment: In-store tech can help get shoppers to try pick up products and buy them

Understanding how people shop the retail space is crucial to designing environments that promote product interactions that lead to purchase. But to succeed, retailers must overcome some hurdles if they hope to get shoppers to notice a product, to pick it up, and to buy.

In a recent national study we identified shopping behavior patterns using state-of-the-art mobile eye tracking headsets to observe real shopper behavior and to measure shoppers’ levels of engagement. Shoppers, who were intercepted at store entrances, were asked to wear eye-tracking gear, then, after shopping, surveyed about intended purchases.

In general the in-store shopping paths consumers’ take are driven by their primary destination category(ies) so on any one trip most shoppers notice only a small percentage of the total displays. A typical shopper will notice 30+ displays, or about 12% of all the displays in-store; most notices are for less than one second. And a notice does not guarantee a sale.

Our research showed that picking up a product has the highest correlation with purchase. Indeed, nearly one-third (30%) of products consumers held were bought; purchasing increased to over 60% when more than one item was picked up. In most categories, the more time the customer spends, the more likely to purchase (56% of shoppers who hold a product in a category buy). The retailer’s challenge is two-fold: 1. How to get people to spend more time in the destination category, and 2. How to encourage them to pick up a product.

Display viewing is largely a matter of the path shoppers take. If a product is not on their path, they simply won’t see it. If on-path, they will notice it based on the time spent in that area. Overall, high traffic areas enhance viewing, while shoppers rush through low traffic areas.

However, highly noticed displays are not necessarily the best performers. When placed front-of-store, displays will be noticed by nearly half (40%) of shoppers. But these displays produce interaction rates of just 1/10th the rate of displays placed in the centre of the store.

What we researchers call fixating – noticing - is the first step to purchase. Still, high-fixation does not always translate into high purchase rates. Fixating does generally lead to purchases of packaged cheese, carbonated soft drink, and bread, for example, but not the purchase of fruit snacks, candy, household cleaners, or pasta.

As shoppers near checkout, unplanned purchases drop dramatically so it becomes useful to understand how improving the last touch-point can increase return trips and impact future sales. Various tactics can create a positive shopping experience at the last moment. For retailers lacking a destination category, creating one could lead to increased visits, while retailers with destination categories should work to make shoppers traverse the store.

A retailer’s primary objective is to engage customers, increase time spent in-category and the number of products touched. Engagement can be promoted by interactive displays, on-pack promotions, integrated displays and staff suggestions and demonstrations.

Place high value displays in high traffic areas; in low traffic areas, change displays less frequently. Use display space for way-finding, to provide information, or shopper assistance. In low traffic areas, where shoppers seek specific products, make it easier to find them.

Brick and mortar retailers face tough challenges today. Retailers that hope to maximize their environment must understand how people shop, and configure retail space to accommodate their habits and preferences. The good news is that market research can now provide the necessary insights to create successful retail experiences.

Kirk Hendrickson is CEO of Eye Faster