The power of real-world testing

As today’s retail environment grows ever more competitive and the variety of products in our shops increases inexorably, those who know where and how shoppers are most likely to choose a product have a clear advantage.

Testing, and in particular, real-world testing has become a key tool for brands as they strive to understand shopper behaviour and how to design products and secondary packaging that stands out on the crowded shelves.

Snap decisions

We all know the majority of consumer purchasing decisions take place in store. Everything happens very fast – according to Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science’s recent report, the average consumer spends 13 seconds choosing which brand to purchase in-store. Most decisions are largely automatic and highly subconscious.

the average consumer spends 13 seconds choosing which brand to purchase in-store

In addition, research by OgilvyAction found that despite claiming they know what they want to buy, almost 20 per cent of shoppers impulsively buy in categories they had no intention to buy from before entering the store.

This shows that there is a real opportunity for brands to influence and win the loyalty of new customers. Products, packaging and placement on the shelf can be highly effective at disrupting a shopper’s gaze and triggering interest so it is therefore critical that concepts are tested at an early stage to see how shoppers respond to them.

Real-world testing is able to show how shoppers actually behave, rather than how they think they might behave when interviewed in a totally isolated setting.

Test the impact

Many companies are investing significantly in the latest technology to help them scientifically test products and packaging for marketing effectiveness. At DS Smith, a lot of our testing is based at our Impact Centres, which are located all across Europe. Many large brands come to our Impact Centres to investigate which packaging variants perform best on a shelf.

We design our Impact Centres to mirror real retail environments with a genuine shopping atmosphere. We test all aspects of the shopper experience - from the design of packaging and displays to their placement and the effectiveness of multi-sensory approaches.

Using the very latest eye tracking technology, a shopper’s eye movements and the duration of their gaze are recorded. In addition, video recordings document the behaviour of the person being tested. Test participants are then asked about their purchases, habits and preferences in individual interviews immediately afterwards.

The benefits

Using real-world testing, brands can examine the effect of their products, packaging and displays at ease and away from the public and competitors. It has clear advantages over virtual shelf tests, which considerably limit the multi-sensory experience of the brand. Instead, shoppers can view the product, displays and packaging as they would in a real supermarket.

It is essential to understand how shoppers move through a retail environment in reality, rather than in theory. For example, shoppers don’t side step down aisles facing products head on.

brands need to know whether they stand out and disrupt the gaze of a shopper

They are more likely to walk down aisles glancing from the left to the right and just catching products through their peripheral vision. Therefore, it is not actually that helpful to know how products look on a 2D computer screen. Instead, brands need to know how their products perform at a glance and whether they stand out and disrupt the gaze of a shopper. It is irrelevant how shoppers feel about a product when looking close up if they never even notice it in the first place.

It is also important to employ realistic real-world testing. For example, how does a brand’s retail ready packaging (RRP) work when it is on the bottom shelf?  What about when a shopper is looking from a completely different angle or at the very end of the day when the shelves are half empty and messy?

While innovations such as DS Smith’s SalesFront have made a huge impact by pushing products to the front of the shelf, it’s still important to consider how RRP can support your brand positioning when the shelf is empty.

As a result of this knowledge, brands are able to test, change and modify design concepts and improve their conversion rate.

Interpreting the data

Learning how and why people behave as they do is so important. At DS Smith, we add consumer panel tests to our real-world testing so we have extra insight. For example, through the eye-tracking software, retailers can see if a certain design triggers a reaction but technology alone doesn’t show them what sort of reaction it is.

It is therefore vital to understood this further and interpret it. To do this, we interview our test shoppers and explore whether the reaction was positive or negative and ultimately whether it would lead them to pick up a product and buy it. Being the loudest, noisiest product on a shelf, doesn’t necessarily translate to a purchase.

Time-poor, cash rich, stressed consumers are changing the way they shop and understanding this is critical to the future success of brands. Innovations in technology such as advanced eye-tracking, visual impact tools and complex algorithms provide priceless insight into what people actually see, and which packaging performs the best.

This real-world testing is an extremely powerful tool for brands as they navigate increasingly challenging times.

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