Eye-Tracking Sees Growth in Hyper-Competitive Market

In the process of priming Febreze Sport’s launch, Procter &  Gamble tested the product to see if it caught consumers’ eyes—literally.

In that case, P&G was using technology from a firm called Tobii that tracks the eye movements as it responds to virtual shopping environments. The product and its simulated store shelves weren’t real, but the test subjects’ reaction to it was.

Last week, P&G named Tobii as one of its “preferred partners.” The two had been working together since 2005, but the new deal takes things one step further: Tobii, the largest company in the eye-tracking virtual market research space, can now test new products and solutions on P&G’s brands. P&G, in turn, can roll out new packaging and designs much quicker while ensuring these changes pop out on shelves.

P&G, which declined to provide further details on the partnership citing that it was still in its “very early stages,” said the move stemmed from a need to reduce “speed time to market and to incorporate consumer feedback more efficiently through the design process, enabling our brands to deliver a product and shopping experience that delights [consumers],” wrote rep Julie Desylva in an e-mail. “With virtualization, design iterations can be reduced from weeks to days.”

Eye tracking has been used for some time now. (One of the earliest examples dates back to French ophthalmologist Louis Émile Javal’s observations of the human eye while reading in the 19th century.) But the last two years have seen a surge in the latter’s application, particularly among the consumer-goods industry. Unilever, Kimberly-Clark, ConAgra, Heinz and Kellogg, for instance, all use it.Unknown Object

One reason is because the actual technology and equipment required to administer such experiments has gotten more sophisticated. In the case of the latter, eye-tracking devices have improved drastically. Indeed, they’re no longer the “minitorture devices” of the field’s early days, said James Weatherhead, CEO and founder of EyeTracking, a firm that works with clients like Kellogg and Heinz.

The modern day eye tracker now consists of apparatus ranging anywhere from lasers to freestanding units attached to testing monitors to “Elton John-esque” glasses, which Tobii plans to introduce at the Shopper Insights in Action conference in Chicago next month.

Another reason for the popularity is that shelf space has become even scarcer in recent years as retailers pull underperforming brands and promote their own brands. (For instance, Walmart pulled Hefty food bags off its shelves in February.)

The selectivity puts more pressure on vendors like P&G. As Barbara Barclay, Tobii’s general manager-North America, said, “Time is everything on the shelves. If [consumers] don’t see it, they don’t buy it.”

In such a hyper-competitive environment, small changes that make a product more pleasing to the eye are critical. For instance, Tobii used eye tracking to help redesign a free-packaged lettuce that was “seen 15 seconds earlier and looked at more [often] and longer” than the competition, thereby resulting in a 15 percent sales increase, Barclay said. That’s because consumers could “find it right away, and they knew what the brand meant to them.”


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