Without realising it, consumers are more likely to choose products that sit in the horizontal centre of a display, a new study indicates.
(Image: Bob Bors, via Wikimedia Commons)
Buyers would probably make better choices if they became aware of this tendency and tried to compensate for it, according to the researchers, who report the findings in the Journal of Consumer Research
"A close investigation of visual attention reveals that consumers do not accurately recall their choice process. Our findings emphasise the relationship between horizontal location, attention, and choice," write authors A. Selin Atalay (HEC Paris), H. Onur Bodur (Concordia University), and Dina Rasolofoarison (Aston Business School).
Many products are arranged horizontally. For example, rows of snack bars in a vending machine, bottles displaying the beer selection in a bar, or jars of peanut butter on a supermarket shelf. How does this influence which option a consumer will choose?
The tendency to pick from the middle is most striking "in the context of low involvement choice between frequently purchased products, when choosing between unfamiliar yet equivalent brands," the researchers wrote.Just five seconds
Using eye-tracking devices, the group investigated how location affects choices for products as varied as vitamins, meal replacement bars, and energy drinks. Buyers had a tendency to increase their visual focus on the central option in the five seconds before a decision, and this determined their choice, the investigators found. They also observed that the key in terms of item location was for a product to be placed centrally with respect to its product category, not necessarily with respect to the shelf itself or the visual field.
Another study in a retail environment demonstrated that the centrally located item within a product category is chosen more often, even when it is not placed in the centre of the shelf or visual field. Consumers would make better choices if they were aware that their attention usually focuses on the centre.
"In the context of low involvement choice between frequently purchased products, when choosing between unfamiliar yet equivalent brands, the visual search process and consumer choice are biased toward centrally located options. Being unaware that our attention is focused on the centre can lead to poor choices," the authors conclude.
Source: Courtesy of University of Chicago Press Journals and World Science staff - World Science, http://www.world-science.net