Skip to main content

Shopper-Pathways ‘Heatmaps’ Can Identify Marketing Opportunities


When retailers and architects design store layouts, beyond designing for aesthetics they attempt to control the path that shoppers take through the store. Ideally, shoppers follow the most convenient path to find the products they seek, one that is lucrative for the retailer and that gives shoppers the opportunity to notice the maximum number of products during their time in store.

The latest generation of portable eye tracking technologies record shoppers’ complete in-store experience, from their viewing perspective. Heatmaps, which are produced as output from eye tracking data, enable retailers to readily understand where shoppers focus their attention. The maps show each shopper’s pathway overlaid onto a store layout then translated into a pathway.

Shopper store pathway maps show where shoppers walkways converge in any type of store. The greatest convergence, obviously, occurs around checkouts. The color-coded maps instantly illustrate which path(s) shoppers take through the store, which provides marketers a key indication of location where dedicated messages will likely have the greatest impact.

Greatest Shopper Convergence at Checkout

As expected, the most convergence occurs around the checkout area. While it may seem that this would be the best place to communicate to the most shoppers, messages at checkout are generally ineffective, as most shoppers have already selected their purchases. At that point, any communication for products found elsewhere in the store will have little relevancy to the customer. Therefore, messaging that is placed around checkout should pertain only to products available in that immediate area if the retailers hopes to influence the purchase of impulse items.

Pathway heatmaps, however, show all areas of the store with heavily trafficked areas presenting opportunities to engage shoppers with in-store messaging. Considering shoppers’ journeys, 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.

Don’t make shoppers work to act on messaging. Also, product categories closely aligned with impulse purchasing should be placed along the path of highest convergence so the majority of shoppers will notice. Conversely, destination categories, products certain shoppers seek out no matter what, can play a role in drawing shoppers to an area of the store they might otherwise miss.

Heat Up Back Corners With Destination Categories

The back corners of the store, areas furthest from the entrance and checkout, are often missed when discussing shopper paths, a finding from dozens of eye tracking studies in varying retail environments. 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 corners draws shoppers, while increasing the number of product categories they have the opportunity to notice on their shopping journey. Depending on the store layout, drawing shoppers to these areas may strongly influence their path through the entire store and back to checkout. Changing category placement within the store to reflect this reality is a relatively low cost investment with the potential to increase basket size, while improving the shopping environment to better resonate with customers.

Smooth Out the Shopper Experience

Occasionally, heatmaps uncover erratic paths that shoppers take. Typically erratic paths mean that the store layout is not conducive to finding desired items. It can also mean that the way products were shelved confused customers who had to work harder to find them. While erratic paths often mean consumers spend more time shopping, which might be inferred as a positive. However, it nets negative as their behavior suggests they are having difficulties completing their task, which can lead to decreased overall satisfaction with the in-store experience.

Improving category placement increases customer satisfaction. Other subtle investments in store design may also improve shopper paths. A classic example is how Ikea moves customers through the store via guide arrows painted on the floor. This creates a consistent and controlled shopper path that produces high convergence throughout the store. Ikea shoppers who follow the designed flow don’t miss a single department as they make their way toward checkout.

Other design elements and messaging can assist in smoothing shopper pathways. Brands and retailers often attempt new messaging around wayfinding signage in-aisle and on-shelf. The key to ensuring that these messages work is consistency. Shoppers historically have found wayfinding signs hanging from the ceilings or at the end of an aisle angled toward the advertised products. Moving the placement of wayfinding signs to the floor, for example, forces shoppers to relearn where to locate these signs. On-shelf signage that organizes product categories for ease of location should be consistent within the category, and throughout the store.

In sum, store pathway heatmaps are a simple and effective visual tool to ascertain where shopper paths converge. As a byproduct of eye tracking studies that chart consumers’ attention, these maps pinpoint key areas for messaging, depict overall consumer browsing behavior, and identify areas of potential improvement in store layout and design.

Kirk Hendrickson is CEO of Eye Faster, a leading provider of shopper research. He developed his expertise in eye tracking and shopper research while leading worldwide field operations for EmSense Corporation and product management for MarketTools.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds