Starting a business and running it successfully entails a lot of planning and preparation, and a great bulk of that is devoted to gathering information and data. What is worth noting, however, is that this data-gathering activity is not something that is conducted only when a business is about to start, all the way to its initial phases of operation. It is a continuous process.

One of the vital information that businesses have to keep constant track on is their customers. Change is inevitable, and the landscape that businesses operate on is not constant. If we are to liken it to a scenery, it is an ever-changing one. Therefore, there is a need to be kept up to speed and updated about the customers since they are the ones who support the business.

There are several ways that businesses and marketers go about gathering the required information about customers. In fact, there seems to be no shortage of such tools, because businesses can pretty much take their pick among the several information gathering and measuring tools that are available to them. One method that has been garnering a lot of attention and positive feedback in marketing and consumer research is eye tracking.

How to Use Eye Tracking to Learn about Your Customers

© Shutterstock | Max Griboedov

In this guide, we explore 1) what is eye tracking, 2) how to use eye tracking for understanding consumers and market research, and 3) how to use eye tracking to gain the most insights.

AN INTRODUCTION TO EYE TRACKING

So what is “Eye Tracking”?

As the phrase implies, eye tracking is the monitoring and measurement of eye activity. Using an eye tracker or an eye tracking device involves the measurement of the point of gaze (or the point where a person is looking) or the motion or movement of the eye in relation to the head. In short, it measures the positions of the eye, and the movements or motions it makes. The phrase “eye tracking” is also interchangeably used to describe the sensor technology used in measuring eye movement.

But what is so important about measuring eye movements and positions?

You can tell a lot about how a person feels just by looking at them – their facial expressions, some distinctive facial tics, even the slightest smile or frown. In the same way, you can also deduce a lot of things by monitoring how their eyes move.

The cool thing is that eye tracking can be even used to analyze Christiano Ronaldo’s play style.

To get a better understanding of the whole concept of eye tracking, let us first learn some key points about the human eye.

There are more than 10 different eye movements, but for purposes of discussing eye tracking, let us focus on two of them.

  • Fixations refer to when the eye stops moving and focuses on a point. Within the duration of the stop or fixation, the image or visual information seen by the eye is communicated to the brain, which then processes it into something meaningful. The length of these stops usually last no more than 600 milliseconds.
  • Saccades refer to the movements between fixations, or the jumps from one fixation to another. No visual information is received or processed, because the duration is usually very brief, around 30 milliseconds on average.

EYE TRACKING IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOR AND RESEARCH

Eye tracking is not solely applicable to marketing and consumer research. Since its development in the late 1800s, one of its earliest applications was in the field of psychology.

Later on, eye tracking has become very useful in various fields of research, including psycholinguistics, product design and development, education, medicine, and marketing. In marketing, eye tracking has proven to be an excellent tool for studying the behavior of customers.

It was in the 1980s when researchers first realized the usefulness of eye tracking in understanding how customers read, view and process advertisements on magazines. Soon, it was also used to understand how consumers view the internet.

In order to effectively design marketing messages and communication that is guaranteed to catch the attention of customers, marketers are keen on measuring how their attention is engaged, and how they respond. That is where eye tracking comes in.

With so many tools available, why eye tracking, though? Why not just stick to explicit methods, where you can sit down with customers and ask them directly the questions that you want answered, or solicit information that you require through letting them fill up a form?

We can identify several main advantages of eye tracking over other traditional, explicit methods of consumer behavior research.

Eye tracking provides objective, unbiased and accurate data

The one stumbling block that marketers often encounter is the potential lack of objectivity. Some tools are simply not designed with objectivity, which is why there is a tendency that the data is prone to a lot of biases. There is no assurance that the information that customers will readily provide is accurate.

Eye tracking is seen as a way to capture data that is unbiased and difficult to manipulate. The actual and real behaviors of customers are measured objectively. Between asking for their opinions and recording the number of actual purchases they’ve made or the amount they spent on their purchases, it is clear that the latter is more reliable of being recorded and measured. These are then used to gain a deeper look into their behavior and decision making processes.

  • Eye tracking gives you an insight on how customers react to different marketing messages. And their reactions will be different, that’s for sure, depending on how the marketing messages are crafted, and how they are delivered. The behavior being measured and monitored through eye tracking is more reliable, because they are considered to be more authentic, as they are perceived directly from the point of view of the customer.
  • Eye tracking allows marketers to understand the cognitive engagement of consumers. Consumers tend to behave according to a certain pattern. How they usually react to one marketing message tends to have similarities with how they behave or react to others. Through eye tracking, marketers will have an easier time coming up with generalizations about their customers, because the focus will be on their natural, subconscious and habitual behavior. Customer profiling becomes an easier task.
  • Eye tracking provides results in real time, measuring the reaction or behavior of customers in the exact moment that they happen. This is true whether a customer is browsing a website of a store or physically moving along a length of shelves in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Eye tracking does not require sample sizes to be large for its results to be considered reliable. Tracking tests can be performed even with a small sample size, and the results may be used for planning purposes. This results in a more cost-effective and efficient way of researching consumer behavior and coming up with customer profiles that can be used for the company’s marketing programs.
  • Eye tracking aids in ensuring marketing campaign effectiveness. Marketers need a yardstick to measure whether the marketing strategies they have employed are actually working, or if they need more work

The major areas that eye tracking can look into in consumer research include:

  • The marketing elements of an advertisement or campaign that capture the consumer’s eye. In a storefront, there are various items that draw the customer’s eye: a sign announcing the new products for sale, the color theme used in the storefront decoration, or the use of audio-visual elements in their presentation. Which among these elements are most effective in grabbing the customer’s attention the longest?
  • The parts of the marketing message or communication that the consumer focuses on. Say, for example, that a customer is looking at a poster of a new product. What parts of the poster did his gaze linger on the longest? What words written on the product poster did he spend more time looking at?
  • The parts of the marketing message or communication that they ignore. Of course, you also have to take note of the areas that they give noncommittal responses to. This is so that you can find ways to make adjustments. Do they ignore a certain line or slogan? Perhaps you can rewrite it to something catchier or more effective in capturing their attention.
  • The drivers of the consumer’s decision-making process. Eye tracking can also help you determine the factors that drive the customer’s decision to purchase a product or service. What finally convinced him to buy it? Is it the choice of words you used in your product poster, or is it the image you used on the label or packaging of the product itself?
  • The overall user experience of customers. The satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) of customers with the overall experience with a company or business may also be measured through eye tracking.

HOW TO USE EYE TRACKING FOR CONSUMER RESEARCH

Now let us try to look into deeper detail on how eye tracking is useful in learning about your customers. The customer information obtained through eye tracking can be used in various aspects of marketing, including, but not limited to:

  • Positioning of products in the market, or in the consumers’ minds. This could have an impact on what advertising techniques you employ or what marketing campaigns you put into motion (and how you will put them in motion).
  • Physical positioning of products in a physical or virtual store. Basically, this will have an impact on your store planning
  • Physical placement of signage, displays and other marketing visuals. Just like how you will pay attention on how you arrange items on your shelves or on your store, you also have to consider where to put signage, standees, and the like.
  • Design and layout of a store website. Businesses invest on the creation of websites that are designed to increase customer engagement and drive sales.

Ultimately, however, the end goal of using eye tracking in studying customer behavior is to drive sales.

See how a computer game uses eye tracking to enhance the look and feel.

The principles of eye tracking hold that the fixations and saccades, as well as the other eye moments, can be indicative of a customer’s behavior. Say, for example, that there are two products on a shelf, positioned side by side. They are essentially the same products with the same usage, but they are different in their design or packaging.

If a customer comes by and is made to look at the two products, it may be established through eye tracking that he looked at Product A longer than he did at Product B. In short, he had a longer duration of fixation on Product A. This behavior can be interpreted as the customer found the packaging of Product A more appealing or visually pleasing, which is why she was fixated on it longer.

In another example, let us say that a customer is looking for two specific products on a very long shelf filled with various goods. If the amount and duration of fixations while searching for Product A is higher and longer than when he was looking for Product B, this could mean that the physical positioning of Product B on the shelf was less user-friendly, because she took a longer time trying to locate it.

Eye Tracking in Interactions with Websites

As mentioned earlier, eye tracking is not limited to the usage of customers in a physical setting, using a wearable eye tracker while moving around a store. It can also be applied in the case of a customer doing his or her shopping online.

Website user behavior and its consequent feedback can be obtained through eye tracking. Basically, eye tracking lets you know how your visitors interact with your website.

  • What did the visitors look at on your website? Which products got the most views? What pages on your website were visited by the customer for information? Maybe they looked at your page where you talked about the shipping fees and return policy.
  • When did the visitors look at a specific page on your website? You may notice that a specific product had more visits or views during the weekend, or on a specific holiday.
  • How long did the visitors stay on that page or look at it? If they looked longer at one product, it means that product is more interesting than the others. Or it could also be that there were some vague information on that page, which is the reason why they spent more time on it.
  • What is the order in which the visitor looked at (or fixated) on pages on your website? Did they start by checking out the additional fees? Did they look at product images first before they read the product description or specifications? Did they read the testimonials or reviews before placing an order? Getting a glimpse of the order of their attention will also give you an idea of what they prioritize during the buying process.

In a typical eye tracking test of a customer’s experience while buying on a website, the visitor will be asked to perform the whole process from the beginning. He will shop for products or items that she would like to buy. Once she has made her choice, she will buy it by adding it to the cart, after which she will proceed to the checkout process.

Throughout the whole process, she will be eye tracked, so even the smallest nuance will be captured: when she found the product he likes, when she scrolled through its details and specifications, when she clicked on the “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” button, when she clicked on “Checkout” and saw the final rundown of costs she will pay.

Application of Modern Technology

Thanks to technology going further, eye tracking has also become more advanced, compared to when eye tracking was first introduced. Today, the application of eye tracking is mostly done through wearable eye tracking devices. Out of the several eye-tracking systems and service providers today, one of the more recognizable names is Tobii. They have developed products and services purposely for eye tracking.

In most cases, the device comes in the form of a pair of eye tracking glasses that will be used by customers, just like how they would wear a regular pair of spectacles. This is not limited to physical stores and physical marketing items, however, because there are also systems that can be used to track which part of a website a user looks at, and what they basically ignore.

So, how does it work, in general?

Eye tracking systems, depending on the developer and manufacturer, have their own patented technologies. However, generally, eye tracking systems are based on infrared technology, and are designed with cameras that capture images of the eyes of the customer or user. The cameras are not your ordinary cameras, either, since they are capable of capturing images at high frame rates. These systems are also equipped with software for image processing, to interpret the movements and patterns of the eyes.

Eye tracking, by itself, is a very powerful research and data gathering or collection tool. However, if you want to make the most of eye tracking, it would be a good idea to use it with other tools or forms of research designed primarily for conversion optimization. One prime example is Google Analytics, which is used by many businesses in combination with eye tracking.

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