1. News
  2. Shopping News

Shopper store pathway heatmaps identify opportunities

Eye tracking can help retailers understand where shoppers focus their attention

Kirk Hendrickson, CEO of Eye Faster, a leading provider of shopper research, developed his expertise in eye tracking and shopper research while leading worldwide field operations for EmSense Corporation and product management for MarketTools, Inc. He holds an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College, and a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.


When retailers and architects design store layouts, they are not only designing for aesthetics, but are attempting to control the path shoppers take through the store. Ideally, shoppers follow a convenient path to find the products they seek, one that is lucrative for the retailer by giving shoppers opportunities to notice the maximum number of products during their visit to the store.

Wearable eye tracking headset technologies record shoppers’ entire in-store experience, from their point-of-view. Heat maps, produced as output from eye tracking, enable retailers to understand where shoppers focus their attention throughout their visit. This data, which is a byproduct of any study in a retail environment, can be overlaid onto a store map, and those paths translated into a journey heatmap (seen below – red areas represent the most divergence in shoppers’ pathways through the store; blue areas represent the least divergent areas throughout the store).

This example of a shopper path map shows where shoppers’ paths converge in a small food and beverage store. Areas in red show the most convergence; areas covered in blue show the least convergence. As you see, the most convergence occurs around checkout, the only red hot spot for shopper convergence. The left side of the store (top of the image) is more yellow than the right side of the store, which means shoppers are more likely to take that path through the store, past the carbonated beverages. This is a key indication of the location within the store that dedicated marketing messages are most likely to the biggest impact.

Shoppers Converge at Checkout

As would be expected, in many stores, the most convergence takes place around the checkout area. While it seems obvious, this is the best place to attempt to communicate to the most shoppers. However, messages at checkout can be ineffective, as most shoppers have already selected their purchases prior to arriving. At that point, any communication for products elsewhere in the store will have little relevancy to the customer. Any messaging that occurs in this convergence hot spot should pertain to products available in and around the checkout area where they may influence impulse purchases.

Pathway heatmaps also show areas of the store with heavy traffic that present opportunities to further engage shoppers with in-store messaging. Considering shoppers’ journeys through the store, along with their convergence, creates opportunities to optimize messaging. Keep in mind that product or sale-related messages should be located as close as possible to the corresponding products and don’t make shoppers work too hard to act on any messaging that resonates.

Also, product categories most closely aligned with impulse purchasing should be placed along the paths of greatest convergence so most shoppers will notice them. Conversely, destination categories – products certain shoppers seek no matter what – can play a role in drawing shoppers to areas of the store they might otherwise miss.

Heat Up the Back Corners Using Destination Categories

When examining shopper pathway studies in different retail environments we find the back corner of the store, the area furthest from both the store entrance and the checkout, is the most often missed area of a store. Shoppers that do reach that back corner, however, have likely passed by the most products and categories on their pathway. This is a key reason to place destination categories in often-missed corners.

A destination category could be anything from beer and wine to health and beauty products to women’s clothing, depending on the retailer and store size. Placing popular categories in back corners draws shoppers, thus increasing the number of other product categories they have the opportunity to notice on their shopping journey. Depending on the store layout, drawing shoppers here may strongly influence their overall path through the store and back to checkout. Changing category placement within the store to reflect this suggestion is a relatively low cost investment with the potential to increase basket size and improve the shopping environment in a way that resonates with customers.

Smooth Out the Shopper Experience

Occasionally, store path heatmaps uncover trends of erratic paths shoppers take through a store. Typically, erratic paths are a sign that the store layout was not conducive to finding the items they sought. It can also mean that the way the products were shelved was confusing and customers had to work to find their way. While erratic paths often mean consumers are spending more time shopping, which could be inferred to be a positive, it nets out negative as shopper behavior suggests they are having difficulties completing their task, which can lead to decreased satisfaction with the in-store experience.

Improving category placement, as mentioned, is one way to increase satisfaction and create for less chaotic pathways. Subtle investments in store design may also improve shopper paths. One classic (albeit a bit extreme) example is how Ikea moves customers through the store via guiding arrows and lines painted on the floor. This creates a very consistent shopper path with high convergence throughout the entire store. Ikea shoppers, who consciously or unconsciously follow the designed flow, don’t miss a single category or department as they make their way to checkout.

Other design elements and messaging can assist in making it easier to find products while smoothing out shopper paths through the store. Brands and retailers often attempt new messaging around wayfinding, both in aisle and at the shelf. The key to ensuring that these messages work is consistency. Shoppers historically have found wayfinding signs hanging from the ceilings above aisles or at the end of an aisle angled toward the advertised products. Changing the placement of wayfinding to the floor, for example, means that shoppers will need to relearn where to look for these signs after being conditioned to look up their whole lives. On-shelf signage that serves to organize product categories for easy location should be consistent within the category, if not throughout the store.

Store path heatmaps provide an effective visual tool to ascertain where shopper paths converge. As a byproduct of retail eye tracking studies, which chart consumer attention, these maps pinpoint key areas for messaging, depict consumer behavior, and identify areas of potential improvement in store layout and design.  

Take a Home Warranty Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.