Note: this article was originally published in TotalRetail on December 6, 2016

By Kirk Hendrickson

Retailers spend millions of dollars creating in-store marketing displays to help shoppers find items. However, these marketing efforts are worthless unless shoppers notice them. Real-time eye-tracking research can add a new dimension to efforts to design effective brand or retailer in-store marketing materials.

When it Comes to Signage, Bigger is Usually Better
While certain design elements — e.g., color contrast, brand recognition, eye-catching phrases — can draw shoppers’ attention, at shelf level, the space taken up by in-store marketing materials is often similar to its overall share of attention.

In a recent study for a national retail chain, the store that had been using large signage to cover overstock inadvertently gave customers a new type of wayfinding sign. The retailer wanted to understand how shoppers find their way through the store. There were standard ceiling-hung wayfinding signs, as would be expected, however, the graphic signs were seen by 84 percent of customers while the ceiling hanging signs were noticed by only 54 percent. The retailer had ultimately assisted its customers in finding product categories by placing the large graphic to hide stock, its original intended purpose. The overstock signs are significantly bigger, more colorful and directly over the products they’re advertising.

Another perhaps more obvious reason that bigger is better is that larger font sizes can be seen from further away, giving shoppers more opportunity to see the messaging throughout the store.

Keep in Mind Hot Spots for Attention
A key missed opportunity is not placing messages where customers have idle time in-store. Any location where a customer is forced to stand and wait is an opportunity to give them information on sales, promotions or other in-store messaging. There’s a reason most impulse purchases happen in the checkout lane. Idle customers seek something to attend to. The same logic applies to deli counter lines, fitting rooms or the customer service desk.

Keep Messaging Short and Sweet
To reach the greatest number of people, marketing messaging should make its point in one second or less, according to most eye tracking research. In a single second, most folks can read about four words, so the main message must be clearly articulated in that number of words.

Consumer survey research paired with eye tracking can assist in understanding what words resonate most. Historically, “New” and “Sale” draw attention to favorable product attributes. The simple message behind those single words attracts customers’ attention, which is ideal when marketing a message.

Place Signage/Displays at Eye Level
Another missed opportunity is to place displays above shoppers’ heads. Consistently, across product categories and retailers, customers notice products on shelves up to 30 degrees below eye level. When grocery shoppers place displays atop tall shelves, few customers notice them.

In a recent study for a national drug store chain, we found that of all the signage and displays tested, only a small group stood out. These signs were placed on the shelf where customers were looking, light up to attract one’s attention and helped shoppers understand the organization of the aisle — i.e., which products/types were shelved there. The exception to this rule is wayfinding signs, which shoppers have been conditioned to look up to find.

In-store marketing isn’t all about good design, as customer experience plays into one’s ability to notice, read and understand marketing messages. Keeping in mind where shoppers are located when viewing materials, and from how far away, are of paramount importance to effective in-store marketing design. Eye-tracking research, especially when paired with surveys or qualitative interviews, can provide a deeper understanding of the roll of customer experience and how shoppers attend to retail environments.

Kirk Hendrickson is the CEO of Eye Faster, a market research tool to better understand how customers interact with retail locations and products. 

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