How to Take Your Shelf and Merchandising Strategy to the Next Level, with 3D Eye Tracking Technology & Data

Shelf and merchandising strategies are quite old trades in the marketing mix of retailers and product/brand managers alike. Tactics like building strong relationships with KAs (product/brand/store key accounts), advocating for premium shelf space, implementing shelf colour blocking or avoiding out-of-stocks are part of any retailer or brand manager’s strategy towards increasing sales.

So, how can you make your products stand out? What can you do besides these classic tactics that everybody does? And, even more important, how can you take your product merchandising strategy from art to science, so that when you DO meet the shopper, your products will be seen and chosen? 

We took a shot at answering all these questions as we put together an article to help you optimize and advance your merchandising strategy in a data driven way, so you can rely more on facts vs experience or gut feelings when making decisions.

Let’s dive into the why & how of a new data-driven approach that is built to deliver results.

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Using Shopper Data to Improve Your Product Merchandising Strategy

One way you can differentiate your merchandising strategy, be it you are a retailer who wants to enhance store sales or a marketing manager who wants to increase product sales, is making more educated decisions regarding your merchandising and shelf strategy

You have to use a more solid way to increase the possibility of conversion & sales – a “hidden card” that makes your merchandising decisions better and more informed. 

And that hidden card is shopper data.

Data can mean Purchase History, Customer Demographics, Product Preferences, Consumer Journey, Engagement Patterns or Shelf Attention. And this type of info is what can make your merchandising strategy stand out.

But getting to the data isn’t always easy.

Common Issues When Obtaining Shopper Data 

Usually part of the merchandising strategy feels like you do a little bit of guesswork based on experience or common practices. 

Big data means surpassing that and have a greater understanding of your consumer’s shopping habits

To get this type of data, most retailers use focus groups or analytics obtained from their point of sale systems and foot traffic analytics devices (people counters or beacons) – while those are helpful tools that enable you to make data-based decisions, they can only go so far in painting an insightful picture into what customers really desire and want to buy. 

Let’s see why:

Focus Groups

For example, when deciding the packaging of the next SKU in your product portfolio, as a brand manager, one common practice is to conduct a focus group. But it is well known that people’s answers in focus groups are somewhat over thought and altered by post-rationalization, thus, not as objective as you would need them to be. 

Even if you conduct the perfect unbiased focus group, it still won’t give you data regarding a product’s capacity of keeping the attention. It may catch the attention at first glance, during the focus group activities, but is the packaging able to hold that attention as well, thus, increasing the chances of being bought? 

Eye Level is Buy Level

In the context of retail research, visual attention reveals what customers are naturally interested in. Click To Tweet

As for shelf merchandising, everybody learnt the basic rule: the benefits of merchandising come down to eye-level shelf interest – eye level is buy level: you need to place the product at the level of straightforward gaze. Products that are positioned much lower or higher than that aren’t quite noticed and therefore attract less attention from shoppers.

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Considering the competition for attention in the eye-level area of interest, what you need to know is…knowing things your competition doesn’t. 

So, the eye-level/buy level approach could be a good start for shelf merchandising. 

  • But, should you place the product more on the right or on the left? 
  • Is shelf 3 or shelf 4 more suitable for your product (bearing in mind that both are at eye-level)? Where does the consumer look first? 
  • And should it be placed next to that fellow brand that has more striking packaging colours? 
  • Is that particular space flattering for your product or the shoppers are immediately drawn to other products in that area? 
  • Which product in the planogram just received a glance and which one really retained their attention?

In order to conduct proper merchandising strategy, you should be able to answer these types of questions and have access to palpable, objective and direct data about your shoppers’ behaviour in-store, prior to the act of buying

You need to be able to “catch them in the act” and observe their authentic reaction and feedback on your product. 

And that’s where 3D eye tracking comes in – with its power to capture all your users data in a non intrusive way. 

How 3D Eye Tracking Can Help Get Unbiased Shopper Data

In retail, one of the methods used to directly observe what the customer thinks and desires is eye tracking

Analyzing the shopper’s eye movements can tell a lot about his perceptions, intentions and future actions.

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And it can also tell a lot about your products as well – you can see product sales increase from the sales numbers, but only if you use eye tracking are you able to understand if your product was not bought because it was unseen or unliked

So far, eye-tracking has been mostly done by using special glasses or headsets. These are given to the customers to be worn during the shopping process. 

As this method has proved its efficiency over time, but also its limitations, being a rather intrusive and controlled method, here, at Eyeware Tech, we took market research and eye-tracking a step further and created 3D eye-tracking – a technology that remotely tracks visual attention from as far as 1.3m (4.3 ft) away. 

This means:

  • No glasses – it is a non-intrusive method
  • No VR headset – the shopper is not burdened by any heavy objects during shopping
  • No personal approach with the shopper – it is all anonymous and GDPR friendly 
  • No calibration

 

All you need is a depth-sensing camera and you can track thousands of customers in a GDPR friendly anonymous way.

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Using off the shelf depth-sensing cameras, it allows you to track multiple subjects, label objects of interest (shelves, displays or other merchandising items) in the open space and track attention towards them in real-time, with the help of GazeSense, a 3D eye tracking software created to be able to map your store or your point of analysis (shelf display, products etc.).

How to Implement Data to Advance Your Merchandising and Shelf Product Strategy 

When developing a merchandising strategy, especially as a retailer, crossing all the Ts and dotting all the Is is key. Not only do you have to think big scale about the way you merchandise your shop (or your product, as a marketing manager), but also go into the small details, the small shelf or merchandising tactics that, although small, could have a high impact on your ROI.

Below, we created a checklist of the most important merchandising factors to take into account when developing a merchandising strategy either for your shop or your brand/product. 

And, to add that USP to your merchandising strategy, we also give a couple of insightful advice on when & how you could use 3D eye tracking for your merchandising strategy and, most importantly, how this technology helps you make better and more informed merchandising decisions:

In-store Layout 

As a retailer, you are aware of the strong relationship between merchandising and store layouts. Shoppers can be enticed by the way a store looks and they are keen on having a store or shelf experience rather than just go from aisle to aisle with their shopping list. 

By using 3D eye tracking for in-store layout improvements, you will be able to analyze and have precise answers for questions like:

  •  where shoppers’ attention go first when they enter your store?
  •  what do people look at in low or high traffic aisles?
  •  what display caught the eye at the end of the shelf (the one on the right or the one on the left)?

Practically, at the end of the process, you will be able to influence the shopper’s experience and your own sales for the better, having access to real, tangible data. You will improve the layout of your store and make it easier to navigate – by having clarity on points of confusion, attention hotspots and distractions.

You will have all that it is needed to create a tailored in-store experience – having all this data you can combine the best place, the best products and the best signage to create an appealing in-store hotspot or engagement area.

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Shelf Level 

Probably one of the most important parts of a merchandising plan is how you strategically arrange your shelves and how you create planograms

Knowing what products require premium shelf positioning and what products would have a better chance at selling if they were placed just a little bit more visibly is crucial for your sales. For example, let’s say that you are a retailer that has a private label and wants to know exactly the second place the shoppers look at on the shelf (supposing you reserve the first place to a top selling brand in your category), in order to place the private label product. 

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3D eye tracking enables the access to this type of data, by being able to analyze multiple subjects and their attention span at the shelf. The GazeSense software can track things like:

  • how long it took the shopper to focus on a specific product on the shelf;
  • what area he focused on first, the order of the glances;
  • the number of times he/she looked at an item;
  • how long he/she spent gazing at an item on the shelf for the first time;
  • how long he/she spent gazing at an item on average.

Each type of gaze, eye movement or blinking habit says something about your subconscious perception about a specific product. 

To show this type of information, the 3D eye tracking software can be used to generate heat maps and opacity maps. The warmer or lighter an area on the shelf is, the more visual attention it received.

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Having this type of data analyzed, making decisions about your shelf strategy becomes a very professional and very “in-the-know” process, that goes as far as guaranteeing good results, leaving the guesswork behind

You no longer have to wait to see how the customers act after you implemented your shelf strategy and decide whether you have to change it or not, but rather directly benefit from good shelf implementation and good results.

Display Performance 

When you have a product that sells better in one store than in another, it is really useful to know what exactly made that product so wanted in the store that sold it better. 

Maybe you prepared the same point of sale (PoS) kits/displays for every store in your chain for that product but the results are different. What made it so? Or maybe you prepared two display prototypes, with different shapes and colours and you want to see which one grabs more attention.

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One way to see how shoppers react to your display design or display kits is by tracking their attention to the displays that you have in store.

By using 3D eye tracking you can see which signage is completely ignored, what shape/colour/type of display grabs more attention or which CTA is the one that turns heads and retain attention

This way, you can measure and report on display performance and answering important questions such as:

  • what do shoppers look at/ don’t look at when they pass an aisle? How do displays affect it;
  • what displays are seen, not seen, just noticed (3 seconds or more), read (2 seconds or more), which ones retain attention and which ones brought you more sales, at the end of the day;
  • are my display promotions actually being read, glanced at or totally ignored? Are these displays the reason for my good campaign results?
  • moreover, you can analyze if displays that communicate different promotions are sucking attention away from aisles or if they’re helping sales grow.

Product Packaging 

Tackling store layout and shelf performance are two parts of the puzzle that retail merchandising is. Along with those two, a product merchandising strategy should be developed. 

You can have the perfect shelf spot, but if it’s not backed-up with appealing design, it won’t give you the best results. 

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3D eye tracking can offer answers to important questions, when in a big marketing dilemma. As we’ve already mentioned, it can really make a difference in changing your strategy if your product didn’t sell and it can explain why your product was not bought – you are able to track if shoppers just didn’t see your products or they saw it, analyzed it, but decided not to buy it. This is really helpful in calculating your next steps as a product or trade manager.

 3D eye tracking can also help you evaluate branding and packaging directly on the shelf, prior to any big launches that you have in mind. It gives you the opportunity to conduct proper A/B testing for packaging/branding if you want to launch a new or limited edition product. By placing the two different designs of the packaging on the shelf alternatively, you can see which one is better welcomed by the shopper’s eye and, in the end, by the shopper’s shopping cart. 

And the same goes for ad campaigns as well – you can test different messaging in 1 or 2 local shops before going national with your campaign. 

Tracking the shopper’s reaction and gaze at the moment of purchase will give you that authentic, raw reactions that you truly need when assessing branding or advertising campaigns. And raw reactions will result in raw and pure data about the appeal of your in-store campaign and in data-driven merchandising decisions.

Where You Stand with Retail Merchandising versus Competition

Let’s not forget about competitive research. What once was biased guesswork about how shoppers interact with your product vs. a competitor’s can now be factual.

 3D eye tracking enables you to see how decided/undecided buyers are at the shelf, the number of brands seen prior to purchase, which were those brands, if they gazed longer at you or at the competition and what final choice they made

Moreover, you will see how they perceive you differently from the competition in terms of purchasing: are you more grab & go than your first competitor or vice-versa? Is your product highly considered amongst the competitors when in front of the shelf or they pass you by?  

Really understanding your place in-store and at shelf by comparison puts things into perspective and can give you valuable hints for how to go along with your retail merchandising strategy.

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Wrapping Up: Retail Merchandising Has Gone Tech. Will You Adapt & Evolve with It?

Data analytics has become the norm in online retail merchandising. And it should be more so in the offline retail as well. 

You can now complement demographics, footfall and local shopping behaviours with new deep data about shoppers’ in-store behaviour and the attention they give to your products, shelves and displays. 

With 3D eye tracking, merchandising is becoming more of a science than art and organizing stores, shelves and displays strategically is becoming more of a calculated process than guesswork. 

You can now know what specific elements in the display grabbed the shopper’s attention, what part of the shelves they scanned first and how eye-catching certain products are to them. You can know what areas are well suited for sales and promotion and what areas should be kept for awareness campaigns.

It is safe to say that eye tracking will become a permanent “guest” in the marketing research of retailers and in their merchandising strategy process, transforming the retail industry into a more technological one. And in this technology and AI driven retail climate, there is no going back: it is up to retailers to keep up with the emerging trends and remain competitive on the market.

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We can assist you in gaining competitive advantage in your retail merchandising strategy. Reach out to the Eyeware Team and we will be glad to help you try real-time 3D gaze coding with GazeSense!