Eye Tracking in Retail Shopping Must Benefit the Consumer

What if retailers could make judgments — at a glance, if you will — just by where you looked while you shopped? The truth is, eye tracking already exists and is being leveraged to learn about what someone looks at and why, to get a better read on a customer — that is, as long as they are willing to share this rather intimate information.

Retailers want to see the shopping experience through the eyes of the consumer. Some retailers are doing so literally. For instance, by using eye-tracking technology that records what a consumer walking into a store looks at first. This information lets retailers know what immediately grabs people’s attention and where they as a company should potentially put energy (or not put energy) into new offerings moving forward.

Many big players are getting into this space. Consider, for instance, The Eye Tribe, a startup acquired by Facebook and Oculus back in 2016. Oculus made software with interfaces focused on what people physically look at. Earlier this year, Facebook tested in-headset virtual reality ads in a move aimed to make virtual reality more mainstream.

Also, earlier this year, Facebook even decided to take someone’s eye movements and project them in live-time on the outside of the headset, according to the Washington Post. This way, other people in the same room as the person wearing the headset can see their eye movements and feel more connected.

This development, said one user, allows the headset wearer to converse with someone while making natural eye contact, all while experiencing virtual reality.

It’s an interesting dilemma. Making eye tracking more personal and natural, but not too personal where someone feels offended or creeped out.

Eye Tracking Takes Hold  

Over 3,500 companies and over 2,500 research institutions now use eye-tracking. It’s a controversial topic, for sure. Namely because, according to a Forrester survey, as referenced by Quartz, nearly one in two people say they’d stop shopping somewhere if they were being tracked. This study also found many people don’t understand how their behaviors and data are being tracked or don’t know about or understand the kinds of technologies being used; a lack of consumer consent means a privacy violation as a result.

On the flip side, new benefits of eye-tracking are being realized as more research is done. For instance, that tracking eye movements can potentially lead to safer workplaces, like in the case of healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, or sports workers. This is important. Up to 80% of occupational accidents involve human error, according to Tobii Pro data.

It Always Feels Like Somebody’s Watching Me  

Today’s eye-tracking technology has a nearly perfect — 96% — accuracy rate. Now, eye tracking is considered a valuable marketing strategy to learn more about consumer attention spans, what piques people’s interest, and what kinds of interests people have.

This kind of technology, which began over at MIT back in 2007, initially had participants don goggles that tracked what the person wearing them was looking at. It’s something that companies including Mars, Phillip Morris, Sony, and others currently use. Then, in the early 2000s, webcams came onto the scene. Companies acted on the opportunity to track what people looked at when they went to a company website or what web pages they decided to go to.

In 2019, Kellogg’s and Accenture took all of this a step further, equipping consumers with virtual headsets so they could roam around a virtual store and even put things into their carts. Benefits of this model include not being confined to a physical location and being able to conduct market studies at lightning speed.

Turning Tracked Data into Actionable Insights  

Many big-name retailers strive to take their personalized consumer information to the next level. For example, Sephora now has an artificial intelligence agent to help consumers figure out what products to purchase next based. These personalized recommendations are based on what each person’s unique preferences are.

The bottom line is that data collection must benefit consumers in some way. Tracking for the sake of collecting information that ends up leaving customers feeling taken advantage of isn’t the answer. For example, Nordstrom’s strategy to pick up people’s Wi-Fi signals as they entered a Nordstrom store didn’t go well with consumers.

This tracking, reported Forbes, allowed Nordstrom to better understand what its foot traffic looked like to determine staffing needs. Nordstrom said the tracking was anonymous.

The Intersection of Personalization and Curation

Retailers must give consumers something in return. Perhaps this is why consumers in the Nordstrom example weren’t happy. They felt the relationship was one-sided. On that note, consider how consumers’ information can provide those shopping with a more transparent, personalized, and seamless experience.

Data tracking must be consensual, exciting, and something both retailers and consumers benefit from and want to partake in. Wouldn’t you want it to be well worth your time if somebody was watching you?