Packaging research has come a long way from direct response methods such as surveys that query appeal, preference, uniqueness and purchase intent. Advents in methodologies such as online simulated shelves, mock shelves and virtual stores have enabled data that provides greater face validity for managers and more realistic environments for the respondents.
Leveraging these more realistic environments allows researchers to secure better data by placing respondents in the actual shopping scenarios and having them evaluate, compare and purchase products just as they do in real life. This realism in shopper insights has also ushered in new metrics based on shoppers’ actual behavior and new technologies to measure previously elusive behavioral constructs.
While eye-tracking has been around for quite some time, its application to shopper research and retail insights has grown at an exponential rate over the past decade. From stationary eye-tracking to mobile and the latest, online options that uses respondents’ webcams, the technology has made measuring stimuli at retail much more feasible than ever.
Companies have come up with many different protocols and variations on how they use eye-tracking for shopper insights such as viewing a projected shelf for a specified period of time, shopping actual shelves just as in a store, to viewing individual products on a computer screen. Metrics such as fixations, fixation duration, percent noticed, time to first fixation and number of fixations have been used to provide insights for shopper and retail insight scenarios including package and plan-o-gram testing, aisle resets, as well as shopper pathing, signage and merchandising testing.
A common approach for package testing has respondents view mock or virtual shelves and produces the aforementioned metrics for the test packages. The package designs that score highest on these metrics are identified as the winners or the packages that score highest against a bank of standardized metrics collected over time from previous studies are deemed winners. Another approach models these metrics for the test packaging to sales data, ultimately yielding a projected sell-thru for a test package design.
The issue with this approach is that it treats the test package designs as unidimensional rather than looking at the bigger picture at retail and how these changes in the packaging affect the other SKUs on the shelf. Does the winning package actually attract more attention to a competitor next to it? Does the winning packaging cannibalize attention from other SKUs under the same brand?
The reality is that the shelf at retail is a multidimensional arena and changes to any aspect of that shelf from signage, POGs and even just one package can have altering effects on multiple brands. This is why when testing packaging, the measurement of all SKUs on the shelf is not a “nice to have”, but rather a “must have.”
Two recent case studies exemplify this notion of multidimensionality for package testing. The first involved a national CPG brand that was optimizing their planogram to increase sell-thru. They went through multiple iterations of online and virtual shopping tests to forecast the sales of the various designs. Once they arrived with a plan-o-gram that forecasted the greatest increase in sales, they tested it one more time in a mock store with mobile eye-tracking. The eye-tracking results confirmed this planogram would increase their sales as planned, but the eye-tracking also uncovered that the new planogram would increase the sales of their main competitor even more. Treating this project with the multidimensional approach saved the client from making what could have been a costly mistake.
The second case study involved the home improvement category and a change in packaging that helped every brand but the client’s. The client went through internal testing and then rounds of qualitative research using mock shelves comparing the control packaging against the final test design. While it was almost unanimous that the new package design was the most preferred and more appealing, the new color made it blend into a competitor located right next to it and it was unable to break through the clutter and got lost regarding noticeability. Using the insights from the eye-tracking, the client was able to keep the appealing look of the new packaging and add a subtle change to help differentiate it from the competitor using increased color contrasts.
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