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Tracking consumers' eyeballs to find out how they shop

Eye-tracking with eyetracker tools at a supermarket in West London.

Ian Janes of eyetracker wears the eye-tracking device.

Tess Vigeland: We've noticed quite a few companies rolling out new packaging lately. 7-Up has gone all retro. Bob Evans has updated its grocery store packaging. The sausage maker calls it a "relaxed" look, whatever that means. Even Jack Daniels unveiled a new label. Makers of consumer products spend nearly $30 billion a year to figure out what sells, what doesn't and why.
And increasingly, they're using a technology first developed to help train British fighter pilots. It's called "eye-tracking."

We sent reporter Christopher Werth to have a look.


Christopher Werth: First, I want to find out what eye-tracking is. So I've come to this supermarket in West London to meet Iain Janes from a company called eyetracker. It's one of a growing number of agencies studying what consumers actually look at when they see ads or packaging on store shelves. Janes hands me a pair of glasses straight out of a sci-fi movie.

Ian Janes: If you can pop those on.

Mounted on top are two small cameras.

Janes: One is a... we call it a field of vision camera, which collects everything that's in front of you.

And the other camera is pointed at my pupil and follows it wherever I look. When that's laid over the video of what I actually see, you get a set of crosshairs tracking every detail I focus on in the store.

Janes: And if you go off and do your shopping. And come back, and we'll have a look at the tape.

Now, if I can just find what I'm looking for...

Werth: Sorry to bother you. Could you point me to the laundry detergent aisle?

The clerk leads me to a long row with at least a dozen brands to choose from.

Werth: Liquid detergent. Powdered detergent.



Christopher Werth tries eye-tracking

But my eyes quickly settle on a big blue box with a red logo and an image of a father and son playing in the grass -- a detergent called Persil. I pick it up.

Werth: And it costs six pounds, 40 pence.

I bring the glasses back to Janes and we look at the tape of my purchase.

Janes: OK, so you're going to the detergent aisle. You're trying to decide which one to go for.

I like to think of myself as a price-conscious shopper. But when we watch the tape, I realize I hardly look at price tags at all. Janes says most shoppers are surprised to learn this about themselves.

Janes: The amount of time people actually spend looking at price is very, very small.

Instead, my crosshairs zero in on things like bright colors and logos with clear easy-to-read lettering.

Janes: Some of the best packaging we've ever researched has actually been incredibly simple.

Janes says my little test shows why eye-tracking is so useful. Instead of relying on what people in focus groups say they look at -- marketers can see for themselves what packaging catches a shopper's eye. And eye tracking can also help marketers figure out why we connect with certain products.

Nick Widdowson: Generally, we shop in a subconscious mode.

I played my video for Nick Widdowson, who works with eye-tracking at Unilever. It's the company that makes that box of Persil laundry detergent. Remember that picture of the father and son on the front? Widdowson notices I can't take my eyes off it.

Widdowson: From the amount of time you were looking at it, suggests that image seems to have struck a chord with you as a shopper.

Nick Williams is an expert on eye-tracking at the market research firm Ipsos MORI. He says the image might be tapping into some kind of deep, fatherly instinct.

Nick Williams: Your paternal or otherwise thoughts won't be the key driver in what you're doing. But it's going to be relevant to how you shop.

And when I think about it, he's probably right. I am getting married soon, and my fiancee and I are thinking about starting a family. Who knew that shopping could be so revealing?

In London, I'm Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

Ian Janes of eyetracker wears the eye-tracking device.

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This was obviously just a demo. I’ve worked with eyetracker on a number of projects and our normal approach is to ask people to not just look but also to make a purchase (with their money) - inevitably they then spend more time looking at the prices.
I’d also like to add that while eye tracking is quite definitely not new, the quality of mobile eye tracking equipment used by eyetracker is constantly evolving, and is now some of the best on the market – hence the quality of analysis is also exceptional.
Finally, while eyetracker is a UK company, I know that as a result of their work both in the UK and Europe they are now being asked to conduct studies in the States – and are keen to conduct more!

This was obviously just a demo. I’ve worked with eyetracker on a number of projects and our regular approach is to ask people to not just look but also to make a purchase (with their money) - inevitably they then spend more time looking at the prices.
I’d also like to add that while eye tracking is quite definitely not new, the quality of mobile eye tracking equipment used by eyetracker is constantly evolving, and is now some of the best on the market – hence the quality of analysis is also exceptional.
Finally, while eyetracker is a UK company, I know that as a result of their work both in the UK and Europe they are now being asked to conduct studies in the States – and are keen to conduct more!

Listening to this article as I drove home I was as curious as Ms Wentz at how the reporter represented the eye tracking technology as something new.

Heck, even the 1981 Albert Finney vehicle "Looker" used the technology as a plot piece.

Driving home this evening I listened to the "Tracking Consumer's Eyeballs" segment. As a packaging designer for the past 30 plus years, I was amazed that you were presenting eye tracking, a valuable research tool, as something new. Eye tracking has been in use for at least 25 years here in the US. That your report came from a correspondent in the UK made it sound as if it was new technology being applied in the UK. I would have thought that Market Place would be capable of better research. Should this make me think that your reports on the financial markets are out of date and suspect? Please get in touch with Perception Research in Fort Lee NJ for up to date information on eye tracking research for packaging design.They also have offices in London, Singapore, and Geneva.

There is another reason for the finding that attractive looking packages are the primary things people are "really" interested in. They failed to listen to the commentator when he described what he did. Yea, he went first to the looker, but that only puts the looker at the head of his potential list, good but not a sale. Next he checked the price and if he found the looker to be significantly higher than the others he'd continue looking. You neglect the automatic thought process that brought him to the looker. We all know that the unfamiliar presentation is likely to be less expensive. If we go for cheap, we look for the unfamiliar and then compare price. If we went just by price we risk lousy enjoyment of consuming it. We have nothing more to use for comparison--- unless we were smart enough to realize that the healthier meal will be the best long term investment--- The best value is the best tasting of the cheap when a couple of pennies may be the difference. It's the most efficient method of picking the best in an unknown field.
So the looker gets ahead of the pack but the price conscious shopper maximizes the chance of leaving with the best he was willing to pay for.

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