NOELIA DA QUINTA and ANA B. BARANDA, researchers at New Foods and Consumer Behaviour

Today’s consumers have more and more shopping options, as well as new influences on their decision making when it comes to choosing products to consume. In a world where customer empowerment is continuously increasing and the service landscape is changing, companies must provide favourable shopping experiences to retain and attract new customers.

Thus, attributes such as the brand, the type of packaging, the information a product contains or how products are displayed on a retailer’s shelves have an important influence on consumer behaviour and, therefore, on purchase choice. In the same way, the e-commerce food or online food sector is undergoing rapid change. The increasing access to technologies, as well as the use of the Internet, has meant that online shopping has boomed in the last two years, driven by the COVID-19 health emergency and social isolation, opening up many opportunities for brands and manufacturers to offer consumers products under their shopping needs such as practicality and convenience together with the ease of use of the shopping tool.

Why is the consumer experience so important?

The act of buying a product is an experience that can enrich the value that the customer associates with the shop where he or she buys it, whether physical or digital. Buying is much more than a commercial transaction, it is an experience that depends on various factors such as the interaction of the products, the context, or other people. That is why more and more research is being done on everything related to the consumer experience.

The shopping experience is the overall perception of the customer (emotions, stimuli, feelings) when they are in the buying process. It spans from the advice phase and the purchase process, until the product or service is actually used.

During the purchase, the subjective experience generated by the congruence between the product/brand purchased, the environment and the consumers’ self-concept, affects their degree of satisfaction towards the product itself, but also towards the brand, their preferences and their purchase intentions. Understanding how consumers buy and which aspects of the product or service are most important to them helps to understand what measures and actions can be taken to encourage positive attitudes towards products, thus improving customer loyalty, experience and satisfaction. This is why, nowadays, more and more companies in the food sector are demanding more complete and precise studies on consumer behaviour.

In order to collect this behaviour, satisfaction and the emotions associated with it, the shopping experience has traditionally been measured through the use of questionnaires designed to extract information after the actual purchase or its simulation in facilities specially designed for this purpose or through online sales channels (web, app). Although these questionnaires are designed with the clear intention of obtaining objective answers, this is not always achieved as participants may be tempted to lie or to answer using stereotypical correctness. Even if the person is willing to tell the truth, they may be unaware of the answers we are trying to elicit, as 95% of thoughts and emotions are produced at a subconscious level.

This is why it is necessary to explore the consumer’s cognition and mental process in order to identify their interest and purchasing behaviour. Nowadays, there are several technologies based on neuroscientific knowledge (or neuromarketing technologies) capable of unravelling the subconscious part of behaviour. Among them, research using eye-tracking technology makes it possible to extract information about the visual path travelled from the first interaction with a product to the moment of purchase. This technology is based on locating and tracking pupils by emitting infrared light to determine what a person is looking at in real-time. Thanks to the eye-mind theory, we know that by increasing the level of attention on a product, the chances of choosing it increase.

The use of this tool makes it possible to objectively visualise those places to which consumers pay attention during the purchasing process, obtaining data on:

  • how they examine the location of a product at a point-of-purchase or on a shelf
  • the design of the packaging
  • the information on a label
  • advertising
  • user experience when interacting with the product

It offers unique insights into shopping behaviour and provides a clear indication of the factors influencing purchasing choices by revealing visual behaviour, thus delving deeper into subconscious processes. Its combination with traditional methods such as self-response questionnaires or face-to-face interviews offers a holistic view of consumer behaviour, offering the possibility to make more informed decisions on how to engage consumers and improve their experience with the product and brand.

Eye-tracking applications for assessing consumer experience

The cognitive processes behind consumer behaviour are broad and varied and often occur at a subconscious level, so consumers are not always aware of what motivates their purchasing decisions. Eye-tracking reveals these behaviours and allows brands, physical or digital retailers and marketing researchers to gain a deeper understanding of consumer actions.

In this sense, the use of eye-tracking technology offers valuable information not only about the consumer’s experience of products, but also about the shopping environment. At the product level, eye-tracking offers the possibility of identifying those elements that attract attention in the different stages of the decision-making process, as well as those that are ignored, serving as a basis for the optimisation of its design. On the other hand, this technology evaluates the interaction of consumers with the environment by studying how customers move through the aisles of a commercial shop or navigate through an app or a shopping website. This analysis makes it possible to identify possible design errors that make it difficult to find products, also serving as a basis for the optimisation of points of purchase. At the same time, this technology makes it possible to evaluate the effect of other elements present in the shopping environment, such as advertising campaigns or notifications of offers and discounts, on the visual attention of consumers during their product search and decision-making process, providing information on the visual attention they actually receive. This optimisation will satisfy two key objectives that directly affect the consumer experience. Firstly, it seeks to improve the way in which information is given to consumers, ensuring that all the information necessary for people to make their decision is visualised during the purchase (e.g. brand, price, nutritional information, list of ingredients, quality or sustainability logos, among others). Secondly, this optimisation is especially relevant when seeking to compare the experience generated by different products in the same category. The main objective of this application is to identify those attributes that hold back the attraction of attention to the products of interest, and then enhance them until these aspects stand out from the products of their competitors (benchmarking), thus improving the consumer experience.

Therefore, the analysis of this data provides unique information on how consumers interact with the environment where they shop and the products, helping to make changes to increase the likelihood of purchase and satisfaction in the consumer experience. In this sense, AZTI has a multidisciplinary team specialised in the development of studies based on both traditional methodologies and neuromarketing, and has different eye-tracking devices that allow the experience of consumers during the purchasing process to be evaluated. Thus, eye-tracking glasses make it possible to capture shopping behaviour in a natural and real environment, such as a shop or a supermarket. On the other hand, static eye-tracking devices can be attached to a computer or mobile phone screen, offering the possibility to assess the visual attention paid to digital elements, such as the shopping process through the online channel (web and app).

This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue of Tecnifood magazine.

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