The Science of Shopping
Professor of Marketing
Intuitively we all know that men shop differently than women, or so we think. Ray Burke knows men and women shop differently; he also knows people don't like to walk down aisles that have a dead end. And they definitely don't like to wait in line to check out. In fact, Burke knows a lot about how people shop. That's because he's made a science of studying what he calls "shoppability"—the capacity of the retail environment to convert consumer demand into purchase—using tracking devices, customer interviews, and 3-D simulations of retail environments.
Burke, the E. W. Kelley chair of business administration, is the founding director of IU's Customer Interface Laboratory where much of his research is conducted. In the lab, Burke, his colleagues and students can simulate actual shopping experiences, test theories, and analyze tracking data collected in the field. "The lab serves two purposes," says Burke. "We explore new ways to use technology to enhance the consumer shopping experience-through digital signs, kiosks, handheld and mobile devices, and self checkout. And we use technology as a marketing research tool, to record and analyze shopper behavior."
Burke investigates how to improve product organization and presentation by manipulating shelf displays and signage and measuring how consumers respond in a computer-simulated store environment. "Then we take the insights from the lab into the physical store, using video cameras and tracking technology to capture how shoppers interact with the actual products, displays, and employees. We have developed software tools that can automatically and anonymously analyze the video tracking data, providing detailed information while preserving shopper privacy." As Burke explains it, "shopping is a journey. We look at each separate stage in the process." By observing where people go when they enter the store and how long they spend at each display, it allows us to map out the points of engagement and friction for consumers. This knowledge helps retailers make store environments more shopper-focused.
In one instance, Burke was invited by a major apparel retailer to use one of its stores as a lab. "We did some analysis and found that men have trouble putting outfits together," he relates. "Men also hesitate to pick up clothing items because they can't fold them back the same way. With this knowledge, the store changed two things-it merchandized items together as solutions and folded items more simply. These two changes increased product display interaction by 85 percent and item sales by 40 percent.
The Data Game
Technology has changed the way manufacturers and retailers interact with consumers, says Burke. Thirty years ago, product and brand management was the focus of product marketers. Marketers identified consumer needs and created products to meet those needs. Product and brand decisions were made based on quarterly sales data.