From The Editor | October 22, 2015

Eye Tracking Gains Purchase In Packaging Design

John Kalkowski

By John Kalkowski, editor in chief, Food Online

Andrew Hurley, assistant professor for the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University
Andrew Hurley, assistant professor for the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University

I recently met with Andrew Hurley, an assistant professor for the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University, to discuss his research and practice, focused on optimizing the packaging design and development process by integrating eye-tracking technology. Hurley also is chairing the upcoming AmericaPack Summit, being held Feb. 22 and 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, NV.

Here, Hurley discusses how consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) are increasingly relying on eye tracking, and other packaging technologies, to capture consumers’ attention and increase sales in the competitive fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market.

Food Online: Eye tracking can tell you where the eye is drawn to based on the graphics and messaging, but does it tell you anything about the structure, the shape, and the substrate of the packaging?

Hurley: Eye tracking is a tool that can be used to measure the perceptibility, or the ability to garner attention, of an area of interest. When used with a scientific methodology, eye tracking can provide a wealth of information on any attribute of the area interest. When considering that “unseen is unsold” for fast-moving consumer goods in retail, attention is top priority. Structures, shapes, and substrates that attract more attention are, for the most part, more valuable. These attributes can be tested against a control, or compared against other substrates, to determine what variables encourage more attention.

Food Online: Please explain the term “biometrically adaptive consumer.”

Hurley: A previous graduate student, Dan Hutcherson (now at IBM), used this phrase to define packaging development that was based on consumer emotions, desires, and expectations versus traditional methods, which are based on marketing research and non-quantitative data.

Food Online: How confident can you be that biometric data will accurately predict the success of a packaging design?

Hurley: Of all the FMCG products launched in 2013, 93 percent were failures. In that same vein, 90 percent of new business startups fail. Eye tracking is a tool, not a cure-all. With two-thirds of any given category in a store unseen, the chances of selling in that block are zero.

There are many factors that affect a packaged product’s success. I recently did a store intercept for spray paint at a large, national, home improvement store. We asked shoppers in the paint aisle to participate in a study where they were to purchase spray paint for an interior or exterior project (whichever they came to the store for). Many customers exceeded nine minutes trying to select a product that costs about the same as a custom coffee drink from Starbucks. Though you did not need eye tracking to understand how long people take to find a can of paint for their application, it provided the insights to what people were looking at, how they were comparing products, which colors and information spiked the greatest interest, and where their eyes naturally drawn. This information can provide brand owners valuable information on how to reduce this time, command a sale, and efficiently give consumers what they want.

Food Online: Would you expect to see differences in consumer perceptions if a package is viewed individually or on a retail shelf?

Hurley: Absolutely, in-context is reality. This includes the competitive array, positioning, planograms, and the physical environment. We have data to show that research in virtual reality, static on-screen and in-store vary dramatically.

Food Online: Are most CPGs doing thorough research before introducing new packaging? What might they do to increase their chances of success?

Hurley: No, they are not. Remember, 93 percent of new products are failures. On average, two-thirds of the planogram is not viewed in any particular category. (A planogram is a diagram that shows how and where specific retail products should be placed on retail shelves or displays in order to increase customer purchases.) Though packaging cannot take the full blame, testing new packaging (which includes a litmus test for the product) within the development process would be beneficial. Unseen is unsold, and if your product is not in the top third of where attention is being held on shelf, you may want to consider not proceeding.

Food Online: How important is it to minimize the time from concept to shelf? Why?

Hurley: Significantly. The average product development time for major CPGs is 22 months. Companies that employ eye-tracking methods might shave off a solid seven months. I call it the “ripple effect.” Just like throwing a stone into a pool of water, introducing a new packaged product to the planogram changes everything. There is no constant attention metric for any category; the competitive array dictates attention. Companies who are first to market and understand category attention are able to control this “ripple,” and stay competitive, as they will always be first to introduce change.

Food Online: Clemson has developed a pseudo-store to test designs in a grocery environment. Would it not be better to use an actual store to show how consumers react to packaging in different retail channels?

Hurley: Not necessarily. There are pros and cons to all environments. At CUshop, we can control everything — lighting, competitive array, product positioning, etc. We can also control the participants, timing, and many other factors. Compared to an in-store or customer intercept test, CUshop provides an unparalleled quality for the price. Because the goal of eye-tracking is its use as an R&D tool — many of the products we are testing are secret. CUshop allows for a controlled disclosure of designs to be tested.

We have access to many real stores all over the world, we conduct in-store tests, and customer intercepts quite frequently. However, many brand owners like the fact that CUshop is controlled. There is not a real disclosure of pre-market products to the world. We have data that shows results from CUshop are similar to “real” stores, as well as actual customer intercepts. Real store intercepts are ideal, but the cost per participant for this type of testing is two to five times the cost of CUshop.

Food Online: Tell us a bit about Package InSight, how it works, and how industry is using this resource.

Hurley: In 2013, Clemson University’s Sonoco Institute advisory board recommended that we create a company to better utilize the efforts of CUshop. As faculty at a university, it is challenging catering to industry requirements and timelines. Thus, it made sense to create an independent company that could lease the space and provide business development and analytical services that are out of scope from an academic research perspective. It has been a real journey making this happen, but these services are needed. Package InSight provides revenue back to Clemson to keep our focus on research rather than B2B services. Clemson is focused on pioneering research methods, and we just debuted our latest technology involving emotional response at the point of sale. Bottom line: service companies are based on relationships, and it takes considerable time to not only understand the customer’s pain, but to develop a custom plan to mitigate that pain.

The company was formed and now (two years later), over 165 projects have been executed with tremendous learnings. Package InSight helps us keep CUshop up and running. Another interesting point is that Clemson’s business college incubated Package InSight, providing resources and space for its first year. After showing initial success, the company grew into the “accelerator” space and is now branching out into the community. This created jobs that did not exist before. I’d say this was a big win for our programs and institute at Clemson.

Food Online: How are you teaching the students at Clemson to use market research in packaging design?

Hurley: We are passionate about holistic and comprehensive thinking when it comes to developing packaging. Consumer and market research needs to be heavily integrated within R&D. The way people shop and interact with products is very different today than 50 years ago — but for some reason, most companies going to market still rely heavily on processes similar to those used in Madmen, a TV show  set in the 1960s.

 Some of the learnings we preach include:

  • The new target market is the entire market. It’s hard to survive in the marketplace in general; segmenting it is not advantageous.
  • There are many moments of truths, and retail only exists in one moment. The zero moment, which is during the pre-purchase, is more important than ever. Social media, reviews, interactions, endorsements, recommendations, and apps provide a wealth of information and direct decision making. This occurs routinely at higher priced items, reverting consumers from the first moment of truth (retail) back to the zero moment to conduct further research. The second moment is the point of use — a critical fact for a repeat buy. We are research in this area as well to understand usability emotions and packaging end-of-life.

Food Online:  Is the use of technology such as eye tracking, rapid prototyping, and graphic software making designers better packagers?

Hurley: There are many different types of designers — most designers are graphic or industrial. However, there are a few who specialize in packaging, where a fundamental knowledge base is required. A great industrial designer can develop what appears to be an ideal solution — but it may be impossible or cost prohibitive to manufacture. Packaging for FMCG needs to be scalable; not thousands, but millions of units. A packaging designer is trained to think like this — and usually works backwards from the customer to the manufacturer — noting the many variables and requirements of distribution, logistics, the supply chain, international regulations, etc. These technologies are allowing designers to quickly test and redesign packaging to ensure a better chance of success once it is released to the market.

The AmericaPack Summit is a forum for both buyers and sellers of packaging. As an invitation-only event, the summit provides an environment for a focused discussion on how to win the battle for market and mind share through packaging. It will take place Feb. 22 and 23, 2016 , at the Red Rock Resort & Spa, Las Vegas, NV. For more information, click here.