Eye tracking is by no means a new development and is in short, the measurement of eye activity. The application of eye tracking within a research context includes tracking line of sight, how the pupil reacts to different stimuli and for how long the eye concentrates in one place, i.e. at a particular stimulus. You wouldn’t believe the insight that can be gained from examining respondent eye behaviour — not always a conscious decision.
Modern eye trackers are available in two forms, remote (screen based or desktop) which tracks activity from a distance and head-mounted (mobile) which tracks activity at close range. I have included features of both types below as per Eye Tracking: The Ultimate Pocket Guide:
- Mounted below or placed close to a computer or screen
- Respondent is seated in front of eye tracker
- Recommended for observations of any screen-based stimulus material in lab settings including pictures, videos, and websites, offline stimuli (magazines, books, etc.), and other small visuals (small shelf studies, etc.)
- Mounted onto lightweight eyeglass frames
- Respondent is able to walk around freely
- Recommended for observing objects and task performance in any real-life or virtual environments (usability studies, product testing, etc.)
Both types of eye tracking device have advantages and disadvantages (e.g. distributary, environmental and the ability to record spontaneous results) but ultimately are available for the use of tracking eye movement in market research purposes.
Application of Eye Tracking Technology in Digital Research
Our eyes are the portal through which we determine what we choose to pay attention to. To unlock both the conscious and unconscious patterns of customer and potential customer interest is a very powerful ability for any brand’s marketing department.
Market researchers use eye tracking technology for various reasons across a variety of stimuli (websites, packaging, advertising, and many more) and situations, the behaviour of a shopper in-store for example. Using eye tracking technology allows the researcher to literally see through the eyes of the participant and what either captured their attention and/or what was ignored in any given situation. In turn this data can be analysed to identify patterns between participants to predict the success of the stimuli (whatever form it may take). Depth can be added to studies involving any type of visual using this technology.
If the researcher did not use eye tracking technology, when asking a participant to describe their feelings towards a piece of stimulus, in what order they viewed it, how long they lingered over certain areas, etc., the researcher is relying on participants conscious recall to give an accurate account.
With eye tracking technology the researcher has the physical data from the real-time experience, not only making the research more reliable, but also more detailed.
Virtual reality is also a consideration here. It has the potential to save both businesses and researchers time and money. Virtual reality allows the participant to be submerged in a situation where their surroundings (360 degrees) are determined by what is showing on their headset, so instead of your participant physically going into a store to experience it, you can take them there virtually.
Fove, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2014, has developed a headset that combines virtual reality and eye tracking. This has a strong application in the gaming industry currently, where the eye movements are used to control aspects of the game. However, as this technology develops and other companies enter and establish their position within the market, the applications for such a methodology in market research are endless.
Adding Value to Digital Research
Analysing the visual path of participants in response to stimuli can identify patterns of both similarities and differences in participant behaviour. It can be used to see what was viewed and when as well as what was ignored giving an overall perspective of how the participant ‘saw’ the stimuli or experience.
In the context of a market research project where stimuli is reviewed or an experience has been studied, eye tracking technology can provide the researcher with physical knowledge of what is attractive and attention grabbing and what is less likely to provoke a response or action. To be able to present evidence like this is a powerful tool for researchers.
In the context of business application, companies can use the insight from virtual reality and/or eye tracking technology in the development of their marketing strategies, website designs, in-store layouts and displays — the list is endless.
Eye tracking technology has a lot to offer market research and as the capability and popularity of virtual reality grows, I think the use of these technologies combined will also, both for business and pleasure.