Eye Tracking for the “Bricks-and-Clicks” Model

By  James Breeze, Georgina Ng and Ying Ki Lo

The “Bricks-and-Clicks” retail model

In recent years, e-commerce has experienced a rapid surge in popularity due to the unparalleled convenience it brings shoppers as well as the ease and low cost of setting up and maintaining online shops. Other digital retail services such as price comparison and consumer review applications have also seen much use, heavily influencing shopping decisions through the information they provide.

However, the traditional “bricks-and-mortar” element remains a crucial part of today’s shopper experience. “Bricks-and-mortar” refers to the physical aspects of a retail company or business – for instance, a physical store or warehouse from which a retail company sells their products. Shoppers often want to see, feel and try out a product in person before buying it, which pure online retail services cannot offer them. A bricks-and-mortar retail experience also enables shoppers to interact with and get advice from knowledgeable sales associates in person.

It is hence unsurprising that prominent e-commerce companies such as Amazon, Warby Parker, Bonobos and Birchbox have, in recent years, extended their business into the offline world, setting up bricks-and-mortar outlets to augment their online businesses. For example, Bonobos, an American menswear retailer, launched ‘Guide Shops’ to enable customers to shop for clothes in person, receive an email with their fit and style preferences, and then purchase their items online at their own convenience. Extending their services into the real world allowed these companies to provide customers with the conveniences of online shopping in addition to the benefits of bricks-and-mortar retail.

A Bonobos Guide Shop. Source: Pinterest

Conversely, and quite commonly, bricks-and-mortar stores have also established online channels and integrated them into their business model. A prominent example is John Lewis, a chain of department stores in the UK. John Lewis implemented a service that allowed customers to order online and collect their items in-store, as well as a pure online service where customers could order online and have products directly delivered to their home. Numerous other examples of large retailers going online include Macy’s, Walmart and Target.

This mix of online and offline channels – whether it involves online commerce retailers extending their presence offline, or bricks-and-mortar retailers going online – constitutes the “Bricks-and-Clicks” model, or “omni-channel” shopper experience. Such an experience would ideally be composed of a seamless combination of online and offline channels to provide consumers with the flexible, convenient mix of shopping options they desire.

Eye tracking for online and offline channels

Eye tracking has been a popular research tool to uncover how real world shopper behaviours and decisions are affected by the immediate physical environment. Explicit research methods such as surveys and interviews – which involve the gathering of verbal feedback from participants – are commonly used to obtain feedback and opinions from consumers. However, eye tracking offers an additional layer of implicit insight and objective measurement that enables researchers to obtain more honest and accurate human data that does not rely on memory and is, furthermore, less affected by bias.

Using a wearable eye tracker to conduct shopper research in a supermarket. Source: Tobii Pro

In the context of traditional “bricks-and-mortar” stores, eye tracking has been used to assess shopper behaviours in response to packaging designs, product positioning and in-store advertising. For example, Molson Coors Central Europe conducted a study of in-store movement and visual attention using mobile eye tracking, aiming to see how effectively signs advertising Borsodi Brewery could draw shoppers’ attention. They found that shoppers’ gaze was largely determined by their habitual, typical route through a store. Displays visible along this route drew the most visual attention, while far less visual attention was paid to displays located away from this route. Eye tracking data also revealed which parts of the displays attracted the most attention and hence, were most worth placing crucial advertising information on.

Borsodi Brewery display areas on which eye tracking data was collected. Source: Tobii Pro

A large volume of work has also been done on digital channels, with numerous companies investing more in enhancing the user experience of their websites in an effort to keep customers coming back. Campbell’s Wholesale Reseller and Food Service Solutions in Australia is one such company, working with Objective Experience Australia to identify UX flaws on their online store. Consumer gaze behaviours observed through eye tracking during the shopping and transaction journey revealed distracting visual elements on the website that hindered shoppers’ ability to easily carry out online transactions. These elements were subsequently removed, creating a smoother and more pleasant online shopper journey.

Using eye tracking to enhance “bricks-and-clicks” retail experiences

As mentioned earlier, recent years have seen companies step up their efforts to more effectively implement the “bricks-and-clicks” model and stay ahead of the competition. Aside from revealing insights to enhance consumer experiences in either online or offline channels, eye tracking can also be used to improve a combination of the two: namely, “bricks-and-clicks” experiences. For example, Objective Experience Singapore partnered with Philips Electronics to evaluate the new Philips store design in Vietnam before their global launch to understand how consumers perceive digital branding and marketing initiatives throughout the stores. An additional goal was to identify key locations for the placement of said marketing information. In this case, eye tracking data revealed a crucial insight. Tablets intended to provide shoppers with information on nearby products were placed on display tables. However, while many shoppers looked at the tablets, few used them. Further probing and analysis revealed that shoppers assumed that the tablets were non-interactive digital displays, and were unaware that they could be used to access product information.

Eye tracking could potentially be used in numerous other ways to gain further insight into what can be done to change and improve retail experiences, and could also potentially be integrated with virtual reality (VR). It is important to note, however, that eye tracking works best when combined with other research methods, such as interviews and surveys – interpretation of fixation data can be difficult and ambiguous otherwise. For instance, it may be unclear why a shopper fixated on a product, which may call for the shopper to provide a verbal account of why this product attracted their visual attention. Just as shoppers seem to prefer a flexible mix of shopping options, an adaptive, synergistic combination of shopper research methods appears essential for retail companies looking to venture into providing enjoyable and effective omni-channel shopper experiences.

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Authors: James Breeze, Georgina Ng and Ying Ki Lo
Date: 15 March 2017

About the Authors

James Breeze is an ACI Fellow and a Customer and User Experience Strategist, Eye Tracking Expert, Usability Consultant and Photographer. He founded and runs Objective Experience in Sydney and Singapore and Objective Eye Tracking works across SE Asia. James is also a professional speaker and regular guest lecturer at universities across Australia and SE Asia.

Ying Ki Lo is a UX researcher at Objective Experience Singapore, who excels in the domain of cognitive psychology and human-computer interaction.

Georgina Ng is a Masters graduate in psychology and a UX researcher at Objective Experience Singapore.