What do you think is the most relevant information about a product that can successfully induce a consumer’s purchase behavior? If you were a promotion manager for a granola selling company, how would you try to understand your potential consumers’ purchase behavior and deep psychology inside it?
Eye tracking: Keeping track of consumer attention
Eye tracking, the sensor technology that enables a device to measure exactly where and when people’s eyes are focused, is known to provide a better understanding of consumers’ visual attention. People tend to stare longer and look more times at the object that they are interested in. In addition, their visual path gives much information about cognitive flow. Therefore, carefully investigating visual logs of consumers — eye tracking data in other words — might help those who are desperately looking for ways to promote sales of particular products to get insignificant insight. On the consumer’s perspective, the general public might also be able to enjoy the far better shopping experience with time-to-time recommendation system based on their eye gaze information.
But how can we track consumer attention in the real world?
Recall your shopping experience. As you enter a supermarket and stand in front of the shelf stuffed with the product category you were looking for, you will skim through several products and finally pick one of them to your cart. As a matter of fact, the process of making purchase decisions happens within seconds. Consequently, it is highly important for retailing researchers to investigate consumers’ natural attentional process “in situ.”
The majority of current research, however, even when analyzing eye tracking data, is undertaken in laboratory settings. The laboratory environment would make it easy to exercise any experimental controls to investigate what you want to know deeply. On the other side, keeping experimental controls inevitably leads to low level of ecological validity. If the ecological validity level is poor, any kinds of well-analyzed result might become valueless as we cannot guarantee that similar effects would happen in the wild. This trade-off between control and ecological validity level has always been quite a serious issue for many researchers.
Virtual reality mobile eye tracking: A new research opportunity
Fortunately, the advent of a virtual reality (VR) is extending the previous trade-off frontier for the existing researches. It is because VR not only allows various levels of experimental control but also makes it available to build up shopping experience that feels like a reality. This sort of experimental environment now puts the researches on the point where the optimal combination of experimental control and ecological validity is implemented together. Therefore, with the help of VR, eye tracking technology can be used way more effectively to capture the user’s visual attention with better reliability. This week’s research — “Combining virtual reality and mobile eye tracking to provide a naturalistic experimental environment for shopper research” — has reviewed how mobile eye tracking can be used in the virtual reality and discussed the pros and cons of applying eye-tracking technology in terms of experimental environments. Particularly, this research focused on three different kinds of environments — conventional 2-D monitor based setting, virtual reality, and the real environment. Besides, the research has proposed the experiment in a virtual reality setting to discuss the validity of using mobile eye tracking in VR to study consumer behaviors.
First of all, this paper has set up criteria and rated both of relative superiority and inferiority among three different experimental settings for each criterion. The result of ratings, as written in the table below, might work as a useful guideline to decide which equipment to use and how to design eye tracking experiments. As we can read from the table, the “desktop eye tracking”, compared with “mobile eye tracking in the field”, has relative advantage in criteria that are concerned with experimental control (“Ease of creating/using non-existing stimuli”, “Ease of controlling and randomizing treatment and extraneous factors”, “Naturalness of the eye tracking task”, “Ease of analyzing and reacting to respondent’s attention and behavior in real time”, “Ease of generating large sample sizes”, “Ease of obtaining retailer permission to record”, “Ease of data preparation”, “Reliability of AOI coding”, “Reproducibility of experimental setting”). In contrast, “mobile eye tracking in the field” shows better rating over “desktop eye tracking” in criteria about the ecological validity (“Realism of stimulus display” and “Realism of interaction”).
How about “mobile eye tracking in virtual reality”? Interestingly, “mobile eye tracking in virtual reality” seems to be the compromising plan that appropriately mixes up relative advantages of both sides (“desktop eye tracking” and “mobile eye tracking in the field”). “Mobile eye tracking in virtual reality” is rated with high scores in almost every criterion where “desktop eye tracking” outperforms “mobile eye tracking in the field.” What is more, different from “desktop eye tracking,” “mobile eye tracking in virtual reality” is rated with enhanced scores in “Realism of stimulus display” and “Realism of interaction.” Although it still needs to tackle with the problem of cost-effectiveness and to meet further technological requirements concerning realistic visualization as well as convincing presentation of the setting, it is anticipated that mobile eye tracking in VR might open a lot of new research opportunities.
Observing shopper behavior with eye tracking data in a virtual supermarket
Here is one of the new studies that adopted eye tracking in virtual reality in a new field: shopper research. In order to prove how mobile eye tracking in virtual reality can contribute to answering unresolved questions in the retailing study, this research team has tried to design the virtual store to test whether additional information about the product can help change the consumers’ final purchase decision.
In the virtual supermarket which was designed to create a realistic shopping experience, there were several shelves filled up with assortments of different granola and baking mixture products. The supermarket was presented in a virtual reality lab equipped with the front projection screen of the CAVE environment, and respondents went through the experiment wearing SMI eye tracking glasses. They underwent three successive stages. In the first stage, they had to choose the most preferred product out of 20 from the shelf. Then, the same set of products reappeared with the additional red frame highlighting the initially chosen product. Soon after that, the recommendations of six other products were highlighted with a blue frame. There was also a pop-up bubble with the additional information about the product presented right next to the product where the respondent gazed at for more than 200ms. In the end, the subjects were asked if they would stay with their initial product choice or not.
The results showed that some subjects had changed their preference during the stages. In other words, their decisions were affected by additional information provided in VR, which in turn implies that the virtual supermarket induced quite an active interaction between human and technology, and that such an experiment setting is helpful in testing and observing consumer responses.
Soon, when eye tracking technology is integrated into hands of electronic devices, far more innovations in retailing researches and people’s shopping experiences would come true. For instance, a gaze-based assistant system which can provide individualized recommendations based off of a consumer’s preference might change the expectation of what shopping should be in the future.
Try out your research with virtual reality and eye tracking
Although the paper mainly focused on the field of shopping, such gaze-based assistant system that reflects a real-time preference of the user in a virtual environment can be widely used in many areas in which exploring people’s minds is important. If yet uncertain of its validity, check out some available technology that has successfully combined virtual reality with eye tracking and try it out to investigate no matter what you want to know. A great deal of valuable but so far hidden information such as consumers’ complicated in-store decision processes, critical interior design elements that significantly influence people’s mood, and more would be in your hand.
If you are interested in using a brain and eye interface in the virtual reality, visit our website www.looxidlabs.com and get relevant information of our newly released product that provides the world first mobile VR headset with an interface for both the eyes and the brain.
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- Combining virtual reality and mobile eye tracking to provide a naturalistic experimental environment for shopper research | Journal of Business Research
- How Eye Tracking Works | Blue Kite Insight