Shoving products right under shoppers’ noses doesn’t work

I am absolutely influenced by product placement. In fact watching the latest Ben Stiller comedy The Watch, in which every scene was dominated by an ice cold Budweiser, encouraged me to find the nearest pub to the cinema once the show was done.

Mindi Chahal

I clearly reached for that particular brand of beer, but my choice could have changed when I was actually in the shop depending on where a product is actually placed on the shelf. New research shows that in-store product placement has a huge influence on what people will buy.

In print it’s said that most people are drawn to the right hand page. When looking at posters it’s the middle, and when shopping it’s not right under the nose of the consumer as previously thought, but in the centre, according to the new research by French business school HEC Paris.

The research has found that displaying a product right under the customer’s nose does not always result in increased sales.

Professor Selin Atalay at the business school has discovered, using eye tracking technology, that items placed in the centre of their own category are selected more frequently than the items surrounding them, regardless of whether the category is shelved in the customer’s eye line.

This selection method is due to a process Prof Atalay calls the ‘central gaze cascade effect’. When a customer is presented with an array of choice, as with supermarkets, they will unconsciously focus on the most central item in a particular section. Their gaze may then wander, ‘cascading’ outwards to other surrounding options. But in the final seconds before the choice is made the customer’s focus will invariably return to and select, the central item.

The same goes for shopping online; the central item of a particular category is still the one most frequently selected, whether it is visible on the screen at all times or not.

Atalay says: “Grabbing attention early on is not really essential, it’s the final fixation which indicates choice.” This is drastically different to the commonly held assumption that highly visible products are favoured over others.

It is also important for brands to simplify the buying process, as this week’s trends research shows. Consumers are overwhelmed by choice and actually get quite stressed about it – so using videos to help them choose might help, as in the case of US retailer JC Penney and it’s YouTube ‘haul’ videos.

So product placement, making in-store navigation easy and then giving people advice on what to buy could be a compelling combination for brands – if they can get it right.

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