Understanding in-store shopper behavior is key to designing environments that promote product purchase. But retailers must overcome numerous hurdles to get shoppers to notice a product, let alone buy it.

Toward that goal, we recently conducted research in six stores nationwide to identify shopper behavior patterns and generate insights into the retail experience. Mobile eye tracking headsets were employed to observe actual shopper behavior and to measure key levels of engagement at three stages:

1. Shopping Path/Track

2. Aisle/Category/Shelf

3. Display Engagement

Shoppers were intercepted at the store entrance and asked to perform their intended shopping trip while wearing mobile eye tracking system. Before shopping, participants were surveyed about their intended trip and after shopping, they were surveyed about items purchased.

Shopping paths are largely driven by their primary destination category, which tends to create concentrated pathways through the store. As a result, most shoppers see only a small portion of in-store displays, and for just a brief time. The typical shopper notices some 30 displays, which represents approximately 12% of all the displays in a store; most notices are brief, at <1 second. Moreover, noticing a product does not guarantee that a shopper will buy it.

The research demonstrated that getting a customer to pick-up a product has the highest correlation with purchasing (30% of products held were purchased; purchasing increased to 60+% when more than one item was held). For most product categories, the longer a customer spends in a category space, the more likely they are to make a purchase. So the challenge for retailers is two-fold: how to get people to spend more time in the destination category, and how to encourage them to pick up, to touch a product.

How Shoppers Shop Shelves

Display viewing frequency is largely a matter of the path shoppers take through the store: If it is not on their path, they won’t see it. If it is on their path, they will notice it based on the time spent in that area, not on the density of the displays. In high traffic areas viewing will tend to be high, while viewing is low in low traffic areas. Since shoppers tend to focus on products displayed slightly below eye level, a retailer can alter this pattern by either mixing categories in bays or by incorporating value-sized packages in the same bay.

Highly noticed displays are not necessarily the best performing displays. Highly viewed displays toward the front of the store on the racetrack are noticed by 40% of shoppers passing. However, these displays have a product interaction rate of 0.4%, 1/10th the rate of lesser-viewed displays in the center of the store. Engagement is highest when the display is…