The eyes may be the window to the soul, but they also present a window of opportunity for marketers. Davenport and Beck said it best, “The eyes don’t lie. If you want to know what people are paying attention to, follow what they are looking at” (Davenport and Beck, 2001). From a marketing standpoint, the gap in correlating purchases to viewed stimuli (Pieters and Warlop, 1999; Russo and Leclerc, 1994) is closing faster than when Treistman and Gregg (1979) first documented it. Current eye-tracking hardware and software allow direct, robust eye movement measurements to assess that link between visual stimuli and purchase.
Merchandise displays are ubiquitous in retail settings, and retailers rely on displays to be silent salespeople, draw consumers into the store, and motivate them to purchase products. Displays have the capacity to increase sales. For example, Nördfalt (2010) found that disorganized displays, which implicitly signaled cheaper merchandise, increased sales by over 900%. Thus, improving our understanding of how consumers view and react to merchandise and other components of displays has both academic and practitioner relevance. The affordability and portability of eye-tracking hardware and software, along with the dearth of information about attention-capturing stimuli in merchandise displays, make the time ideal for discovering visually captivating elements of displays that will benefit both academia and industry.
Eye movement is not random. Visual cognitive processing requires the eyes to attend to an object, and attention requires eye movement (Russo, 1978). Eye movement is the fastest movement the human body can make (Holmqvist et al., 2011), consisting of a series of stops (fixations) and moves (saccades). Eye fixations direct attention, thus increasing mental processing of the meaning of an object. Characteristics about the person (top–down factors) and about the stimulus (bottom–up factors) contribute to attention, and thus, both influence the meaning derived from a stimulus. More is understood about top–down factors than bottom–up factors (Wedel and Pieters, 2008). The bottom–up factors and their role in capturing attention are only now becoming the subject of investigations due to improved affordability and compactness of eye-tracking hardware.
The majority of peer-reviewed eye-tracking literature is related to reading online advertisements (Kuisma et al., 2010), television commercials (Teixeira et al., 2010) advertisements (Nixon, 1924), and package labels (Bix et al., 2009; Sorensen et al., 2012) vs. viewing merchandise displays. Wedel and Pieters (2008) call for more research on “other static visual marketing stimuli besides print ads.” Investigators acknowledge that visual research on merchandise displays has not begun to develop (Chevalier, 1975; Nördfalt, 2010). For instance, “special displays are assumed to be a powerful tool to capture the customers’ attention, yet this aspect is very little elaborated on in academic studies” (Nördfalt, 2010). Nördfalt postulated that learning more about capturing attention is of “great academic and practical interest.”
Given the void in the literature for field research on displays and the emergence of affordable, portable eye-tracking hardware and software, now is an ideal time to investigate what captures attention in displays. These devices enable researchers to get closer to the consumer in ways not possible before the advent of this technology. Anthropological studies would permit a research to follow a subject and record what she/he looked at. This technology permits not only following and recording, but a less visible method and more exact identification of what is viewed. The methods described in this paper outline the practical use of eye-tracking technology to assess merchandised horticultural products. Eye-tracking technology provides a new measure of bottom–up factors that literally catch consumers’ attention and, hopefully, lead to an improvement of shopping experiences that result in a greater probability of purchase. This paper seeks to provide a methodology and protocol for use of two types of eye-tracking devices to aid in retail display investigations.
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