Looking is buying. How visual attention and choice are affected by consumer preferences and properties of the supermarket shelf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


There is a battle in the supermarket isle, a battle between what the consumer wants and what the retailer and others want her to see, and subsequently to buy. Product packages and displays contain a number of features and attributes tailored to catch consumers' attention. These are what we call external factors comprising the visual saliency, the number of facings, and the placement of each product. But a consumer also brings with her a number of goals and interests related to the products and their attributes. These are important internal factors, including brand preferences, price sensitivity, and dietary inclinations. We fit mobile eye trackers to consumers visiting real-life supermarkets in order to investigate to what extent external and internal factors affect consumers' visual attention and purchases. Both external and internal factors influenced what products consumers looked at, with a strong positive interaction between visual saliency and consumer preferences. Consumers appear to take advantage of visual saliency in their decision making, using their knowledge about products’ appearance to guide their visual attention towards those that fit their preferences. When it comes to actual purchases, however, visual attention was by far the most important predictor, even after controlling for all other internal and external factors. In other words, the very act of looking longer or repeatedly at a package, for any reason, makes it more likely that this product will be bought. Visual attention is thus crucial for understanding consumer behaviour, even in the cluttered supermarket environment, but it cannot be captured by measurements of visual saliency alone.


External organisations
  • Lund University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Eye tracking, In-store decision making, Point-of-purchase marketing, Visual attention
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Sep 1
Publication categoryResearch