Uncovering Marketing Opportunities by Mapping Shoppers’ Pathways

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Uncovering Marketing Opportunities by Mapping Shoppers’ Pathways

By Kirk Hendrickson, CEO, Eye Faster - 04/25/2017
Retailers and merchandisers make design decisions for everything from layouts to showrooms and display windows. While aesthetics and product marketing certainly play a major role in their decision making process, these design decisions can influence the shoppers' directed attention and pathway through the store. Ideally, shoppers follow a path that is convenient to find the products they seek and one that is lucrative for the retailer by showing off the best products in an eye-catching way; giving shoppers the opportunity to look at the most products during their time in the store.

Portable eye-tracking technology is used to record shoppers' entire in-store experience from their point-of-view, and analyzed to understand shopper behavior in the store. Heatmaps are produced as output from eye tracking, enabling brands and retailers to understand where shoppers focus their attention (whether it be on price tags, products, sale signage, displays or even employees).

Data related to the shoppers' paths through the store is also a byproduct of this research methodology. Each shopper's pathway is overlaid onto a map of the store and those paths are translated into a pathway heatmap as seen below- red areas represent the most divergence in shoppers' pathways through the store; blue areas represent the least divergent areas throughout the store).

Logic follows that for most retailers, the most convergence takes place around the checkout area. While it may seem obvious, this would be the best place to attempt to communicate messages to the greatest number of shoppers simply because all shoppers who purchase something will go there. However, messages at checkout can be ineffective, as most shoppers have already selected their purchases prior to arriving at checkout.

At that point, communication for products elsewhere in the store may have little effect on or relevance to the customer. Any messaging then, that occurs in this spot of convergence, should pertain to products available in and around the checkout area and may help influence the purchase of impulse items.

Pathway heatmaps, however, show areas of the store with heavy traffic and present opportunities for locations to further engage shoppers with in-store messaging outside of the checkout area. Considering the shoppers' journey through the store along with their convergence will create opportunities to optimize messaging. Information about sales or new products should be advertised as close to the common path as possible. Don't make shoppers work too hard to act on any messaging that resonates with them, so place the corresponding products close to where the sale or new products are advertised. 

In-store destinations heat up the back of the store
The back corner of the store, the area farthest away from both the store entrance and the checkout, can be the most overlooked part of a store on the shopper path. Shopper that reach that back corner, however, have in their path likely passed by the greatest number of other products and categories in order to arrive there. This is a key reason that retailers use destinations in their design to draw people to the back of the store.

Many clothing retailers will locate their dressing rooms toward the back of a store in order to make sure that simply on their walk to the fitting room, shoppers pass as much clothing as possible to encourage impulse interactions. In a similar way, ever-popular clearance sections are housed in the back as well, making sure customers walk past all of the newer full-price products while making their way to where the big deals are. Depending on the layout of the store, drawing shoppers to this area may strongly influence their overall path through the entire store and then back to checkout.

Smooth out the shopper experience
Occasionally, store path heatmaps will uncover a trend of erratic paths that shoppers take through a store. Typically, erratic paths mean that the store layout is not conducive to finding the items customers are looking for. It also could mean that the way the products are organized may be confusing to customers and it takes some work to find their way. In order to avoid erratic paths, place products with similar characteristics together and next to related products.

For example, be sure to place dress shirts near formal neckwear. While erratic paths often mean consumers are spending more time shopping which could be inferred to be positive, it tends to net negative as their behavior suggests they are having difficulties completing their task, which can lead to decreased satisfaction in the in-store experience.

Improving product placement, as mentioned above, may be one way to increase satisfaction and create for less chaotic pathways through the store. Subtle investments in store design may also improve shopper paths. One classic (albeit a bit extreme) example is how Ikea moves its customers through the store via guiding arrows and lines painted on the concrete floor. This creates a very consistent shopper path with high convergence throughout the entire store. Shoppers at Ikea who consciously or unconsciously follow the designed flow don't miss a single category or department as they make their way to checkout.

Other design elements and messaging can assist with making it easier to find products while smoothing out the shopper path through the store. Brands and retailers often attempt new messaging around wayfinding both for the aisle and at the shelf. The key to ensuring these messages work is consistency. Shoppers historically have found wayfinding signs hanging from the ceilings above aisles or right at the end of an aisle angled in toward the products they're advertising. Changing placement of wayfinding to the floor, for example, will mean that shoppers need to relearn where to look for these signs after being conditioned to look up their whole lives. On shelf signage that serves to organize the product categories for easy findability should at least be consistent within the category, if not throughout the whole store.

Store path heatmaps are a simple and effective visual tool to ascertain where shopper paths converge. As a byproduct of eye tracking studies charting consumer attention, these maps pinpoint key areas for messaging, depict consumer behavior, and identify areas of potential improvement in store layout and design. 

Kirk Hendrickson, CEO of Eye Faster, a 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. He holds a patent for conducting surveys on mobile phones and was twice a finalist for the EXPLOR Awards. Hendrickson holds an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College, and a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.