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Webcam Eye-Tracking Makes Agile Quantitative Package Testing Possible

By Mike Bartels

Webcam Eye-Tracking Makes Agile Quantitative Package Testing Possible

Since eye-tracking was first established as a commercial research tool in the 1990s, the package design industry has maintained a strong interest. The ability to test which design best captures attention on a crowded shelf and converts interest into purchase intent is a huge advantage. Many leading brands quickly recognized this, and in the last three decades eye-tracking has played a role in shaping some of the most iconic packages in the world across a wide range of product categories. There is simply no other way to capture and quantify the most effective design for catching the shopper’s eye.

However, until recently eye-tracking in package testing research has been limited in a couple of important ways: the sample size was typically smaller than ideal for conclusively evaluating package performance and the study scope often excluded key markets and test designs. These limitations stemmed from the fact that eyetracking has always primarily been an in-person research methodology, which required renting a research facility, travelling to test locations, recruiting and incentivizing at high cost, and fielding over a relatively long time span. All of these considerations caused companies to think smaller about their eye-tracking package tests – fewer participants, fewer cities, fewer designs tested. It was simply not practical to execute a large-scale quantitative study given these factors. The value of eye-tracking has always been evident, but it was clear from the earliest days of this methodology that its potential would not be realized until the technology evolved.

The most important innovation in overcoming these limitations has been the advent of webcam eyetracking. Thanks to advances in camera quality and attention tracking algorithms, it is now possible to use a standard webcam in the home of a willing participant as an accurate eye-tracking system, meaning the ability to conduct this type of research no longer hinges on owning eye-tracking equipment and having the budget to run an expensive in-person study. Instead of bringing participants to the eye-tracker, it’s a way of bringing the eye-tracker to the participants, in their own homes, on their own time.

The ideal scenario for webcam eye-tracking is a simple test of package visibility on a shelf. After providing consent and completing a brief calibration, each participant will see the shelf image on their computer for a brief time, and the data is analyzed to determine which design most quickly captures attention and holds their interest. Additional tasks may include an up-close exposure to the package to examine which elements are most visually salient and “findability” tasks to determine how easily each design is found when the shopper is specifically looking for the targeted product on shelf. These studies can also be paired with a survey to answer critical perception and opinion questions that eyetracking and behavioral analysis alone do not answer.

The impact of webcam eye-tracking on the package testing industry has been remarkable. Brands with an interest in evaluating designs no longer need to work with minimal sample sizes, because online fielding with webcams is a fraction of the cost of in-person recruiting. They no longer need to select a few markets and a few designs for testing, as the study can be launched everywhere at once with as many research cells as are necessary and no facility logistics to manage. Since webcam eye-tracking has become a viable option, the typical eye-tracking pack test has changed from a few cells of 50 participants or less in one or two markets to thousands of participants tested nationwide on several different designs. It’s faster, cheaper, and provides robust results with N sizes that are more conducive to quantitative analysis.

While webcam eye-tracking is clearly a game-changer for package design researchers, there are still good reasons to use traditional hardware eye-tracking systems to answer many research questions. For example, if a company is interested in evaluating how shoppers interact with products in an authentic shopping context, a study with a wearable eye-tracking system conducted in a real or mock store is most appropriate. We also recommend in-person eye-tracking when the research requires a qualitative interview or realistic shopping tasks that cannot be executed with an online platform.

As adoption of eye-tracking continues to grow, both online and in-person package and shopper research will become even more widely applied than they are today. The development of quality webcam eye-tracking has been an important development in the democratization of eye-tracking. A tool that was once relegated to expensive laboratory research studies can now be used by package design researches with as much ease as sending out an online survey.

This was originally published in Insights, all NMSBA members have access to the full archive of this quarterly magazine on neuromarketing. Interested in joining? Check the options