Unsold is unseen … or is it? Examining the role of peripheral vision in the consumer choice process using eye-tracking methodology

Erik Wästlund

Poja Shams

Tobias Otterbring

In visual marketing, the truism that “unseen is unsold” means that products that are not noticed will not be sold. This truism rests on the idea that the consumer choice process is heavily influenced by visual search. However, given that the majority of available products are not seen by consumers, this article examines the role of peripheral vision in guiding attention during the consumer choice process. In two eye-tracking studies, one conducted in a lab facility and the other conducted in a supermarket, the authors investigate the role and limitations of peripheral vision. The results show that peripheral vision is used to direct visual attention when discriminating between target and non-target objects in an eye-tracking laboratory. Target and non-target similarity, as well as visual saliency of non-targets, constitute the boundary conditions for this effect, which generalizes from instruction-based laboratory tasks to preference-based choice tasks in a real supermarket setting. Thus, peripheral vision helps customers to devote a larger share of attention to relevant products during the consumer choice process. Taken together, the results show how the creation of consideration set (sets of possible choice options) relies on both goal-directed attention and peripheral vision. These results could explain how visually similar packaging positively influences market leaders, while making novel brands almost invisible on supermarket shelves. The findings show that even though unsold products might be unseen, in the sense that they have not been directly observed, they might still have been evaluated and excluded by means of peripheral vision. This article is based on controlled lab experiments as well as a field study conducted in a complex retail environment. Thus, the findings are valid both under controlled and ecologically valid conditions.

This publication uses Eye Tracking Glasses which is fully integrated into iMotions Lab

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