More Than Just Heat Maps: Using Eye Tracking for Product Development
Originally published: 2016 (PDMA Visions Magazine, Issue 3, 2016 • Vol 40 • No 3)
Read time: 7 minutes
When developing a new product, one of the biggest challenges is predicting how the product will compete once it arrives in the store. Will the package draw attention? Will the most important information be what consumers notice? Will the package stand out on the shelf? Utilizing eye tracking technology to test prototypes allows developers to optimize the design of the product and its packaging.
What People See
Eye tracking is a research methodology that allows product developers and marketers to understand the shopping experience through the eyes of the consumer. Attention that products and packages receive is measurable through what researchers call fixations. Any element receiving at least 200 milliseconds’ worth of attention can be interpreted and understood by the shopper. This is where eye tracking data and the resultant heat maps come into play. Heat maps are visual representations of exactly where, and for how long, one’s attention is focused. Traditional heat maps show what draws the most consistent attention. The heat map in Figure 1 is an example of how attention is spread throughout the yogurt category in a grocery store. Notice how the majority of heat is placed on the second- and third-from-the-top shelves, closer to the center. Those were the products that drew the most attention.
Once prototypes of a new product have been developed, they can be tested in a mock store environment using eye tracking to determine the optimal prototype design that draws attention. A recent example of this type of testing occurred with a Mexican beverage company whose management wanted to understand which shapes and materials of their product redesign performed best. Using a mock store environment, two prototypes were tested against the current package.
The test determined that both prototypes received more attention than the current package, with the second prototype having a slight edge.
Figure 1: Heat Map Eye Tracking in a Grocery Aisle
Figure 2: Test Pacakge Comparison
What People Do
Monitoring shopper behavior is nothing new, but utilizing eye tracking for monitoring is an effective way to understand shopper behavior through their own eyes. This stage in analysis identifies why a new package that is selected off the shelf and examined is either selected for purchase or rejected and put back on the shelf. Using video playback following the shopping excursion, the shopper describes in their own words the decision-making process that led to their purchase decision.
In the Mexican beverage project, while package number two only had a slight edge in terms of attention, it was selected for purchase significantly more frequently than test package number one. Combining attention data with behavioral data provides a clearer picture as to whether the attention a package or prototype receives is positive or negative. While prototype one received more attention than the current package, it turned off the consumer in various ways, as it was selected for purchase significantly less frequently than prototype two or the current product package.
Combining attention data with behavioral data provides a clearer picture as to whether the attention a package or prototype receives is positive or negative.
Strategies for Product Development Using Eye Tracking
- The logo of a well-known brand must be the focal point of the package. If an established brand is promoting a new product, and hoping to convert existing customers to try it, they should not shy away from featuring their logo. The familiar logo will draw the customer’s eye to the new product even if they are unfamiliar with the product, simply because they recognize the brand.
- Often, using eye tracking to test a number of prototypes can benefit the ultimate design process for the product. Utilizing eye tracking to determine which elements are most important, or which draw the most attention, allows designers to incorporate the most effective elements of each prototype to determine the best overall design.
- Creating strong contrast is an effective way for packages and products to draw the consumer’s eye to the package on the shelf. Similarly, understanding the colors of competing products in the aisle gives product designers the opportunity to use contrasting colors to ensure that their product stands out against the others in the category.
- Utilizing mock store environments, such as in the Mexican beverage example, is an effective and inexpensive way to understand which designs are the most successful in a realistic environment without having to mass-produce product and conduct retail trials.
- In a sea of new products and old favorites vying for the attention of consumers, utilizing eye tracking in the development stage of a package or product design can be important for optimizing its chances of success when introduced to the market.
About the Author
Kirk Hendrickson, CEO of Eye Faster, a leading provider of shopper research, developed his expertise in eye tracking and shopper research while leading worldwide field operations for EmSense Corporation and product management for MarketTools, Inc. Kirk holds a patent for conducting surveys on mobile phones and was twice a finalist for the EXPLOR Awards. Kirk holds an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College, and a BS and MS in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.