Ruth Clement, Head of Research at Bridgethorne

Over the last few years, eye tracking has become something of an in-vogue research tool for leading players in the FMCG sector looking to learn more about their shoppers and their detailed shopping journeys. This has, in part, been prompted by a significant increase in the use of mobile devices, the development of more varied and better quality stimuli and a demand for faster access to research data and insights by brands.

The insights that eye tracking produces are being deployed across a range of commercial challenges, from testing packaging design to optimising shelf layouts in store and even online, to planning and measuring the effectiveness of advertising and promotional collateral.

In short, the methodology works on the basis that “the eyes don’t lie”. In measuring the subject’s eye activity, it monitors where they are looking, what they are taking notice of and what they are not. It can even monitor when the subject blinks. It enables you to track your subject without any priming, so you literally observe what comes naturally to them. So, for example, you can see specifically where on an item of packaging a shopper may be looking and the impact that may have on their shopping behaviour. Moreover, by observing how the subject reacts to different visual spurs, quite detailed insights can be gained to help brands and retailers better understand shopper behaviour and, therefore, inform a range of commercial decisions.

However, in its enthusiasm for this technology suppliers and retailers in the sector may be missing the point that the metrics which originate from a split second of eye movement by the shopper can only be properly optimised when used alongside other, more conventional methodologies; those that also consider language, terminology, body language and more.

The key is to strike a balance and find the objective metrics best suited to what the brand is trying to understand, which may mean placing greater or lesser emphasis on this than rather than body language or emotional state when intervening in-store or looking at usability online. Eye tracking is an exciting and valuable addition to the roster of available research tools but rather than disregarding other methodologies proven over the years, perhaps it’s time to use them in conjunction rather than putting all our eggs in the eye tracking basket.