Eye tracking study helps Nestle, Woolworths understand live shopper behaviours

Gateway Research claims its eye tracking study across 300 Australian shoppers is the world's largest and provides a raft of data insights into category and brand buying in retail environments

In the crosshairs in Gateway's eye tracker research
In the crosshairs in Gateway's eye tracker research

Behavioural research firm, Gateway Research, claims to have completed the world’s largest single store eye tracking study across 300 Australian shoppers in partnership with Nestle and Woolworths.

Gateway founder, Dr Peter Brawn, told CMO the Shopper Compass project was an exercise in big data management, with more than 4 million fixations, 700,000 navigation data points and 10,000 purchases tracked and analysed.

Alongside the live shopper study using eye tracking technology, which was developed by Gateway’s sister company, Eye Tracker, the project involved a raft of complementary research components including post-shopping surveys, receipt exercises and brand analysis.

Given the broad base of retail categories Nestle covers, a raft of different objectives had to be determined first, as well as questions from its retail partner, Woolworths, which had a say in the types of insights sought, Dr Brawn said.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions in this space around shopper data,” he said. “What actually happens when people enter the store, that path to purchase, what do they interact with and how they behave in stores, for example. Shopper research is a hot space generally at the moment. Technologies like eye tracker is delivering new insights into shoppers. It was a pipe dream a few years ago to get these insights.

“Beyond consumer research and sales data, this was an opportunity to get some nice objective data on consumers.”

Dr Brawn said there were questions both at a category and brand level, as well as from a macro perspective, such as how people move around the store, hot spots and cold spots.

“We also looked at how impulsive shoppers are and if that changed as they moved around the store,” he said. “Then at a category and brand level – did this brand stand out on shelf versus another one? How long does it take to make a decision to make a purchase? Who pops out during that timeline?”

Other factors investigated through the Shopper Compass project included brand navigation and directional movement, what’s popping out on the shelf, which gondola ends are working, point-of-sale and ticketing.

Using 300 real shoppers chosen by a field marketing research team from different demographics, such as younger families and single individuals, Gateway employed eye tracking glasses to record a host of data over an eight-week period. This allowed the team to also track natural retail changes, such as weekly point-of-sale updates and planogram changes, Dr Brawn said, creating an A/B testing environment.

“Often, shopper research is done by recruiting a panel and asking people to pretend to shop,” he said. “It’s not the same as a real shopper in their local store, spending their own money. The data is really authentic as a result.”

After someone had completed their shop, they were asked to indicate whether purchases were planned, broadly planned or unplanned.

One headline finding was that nearly half of the individual products purchased were not locked in at a brand level prior to the shopping sessions.

“That was a surprising finding for us, in terms of the extent people haven’t got a brand locked in and what it’s worth to try and influence the shopper and win in-store or at the fixture,” Dr Brawn said. “So marketers armed with information from this research can potentially positively impact millions of dollars’ worth of sales.”

Another insight was just how important flow is in the store, Dr Brawn said.

“That’s not just aisle penetration scores, or where people dwell, but directional flow,” he said. “We created a new visualisation tool to allow us to get a granular view on how people move around the store and that’s a critical factor in things like success of a gondola end, or extent to which your brand pops up.”

Nestle shopper insights manager, Stephen Norcross, said the Shopper Compass study is an important new tool for gaining fresh insights into shopper behaviour for the FMCG sector.

“By applying ground-breaking analysis and data visualisation, the project was able to identify positive and negative components of the customer experience and conversion for both categories and individual brands,” he said.

The biggest challenge was the amount of data created to analyse in a meaningful way, Dr Brawn continued. Huge volumes of data were generated, including where shoppers were second by second in the store, every single thing they touched, and what they looked at.

“Eye movements are fast – we’re talking milliseconds to fixate something,” Dr Brawn said. We had to create new tools and software, invest in R&D not just encode the data, but also to create analysis and visualisations that allowed us to interpret it.”

The large undertaking has now given Nestle’s category owners a benchmark of performance for their products in-store at that time that they can use to measure against that and identify pain points, Dr Brawn said.

“One key output we used was a conversion funnel,” he explained. “We diagnosed and compared different issues along the way – for every one that went into the store, how many made it down a particular aisle, and from those who made it to your category, who saw your brand, who evaluated it, brand and then those that purchased. We could then suggest if there were issues with your product popping out of the shelf, or brand consideration. Those insights were things Nestle could then act upon.”

Dr Brawn said there’s plenty more insight to come from the Shopper Compass project for the wider market too.

“We have analysed a certain amount of data for different categories, but there’s no end to how deep we can go with analysis,” he added.

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