Eye-Tracking Research Uncovers What Garden Center Customers Really See

This multi-level display gages whether customers look to the top, center or bottom.
There has been a lot of press on new technology that can track where people look when given a specific object to study. We wanted to learn how this technology would work in the garden retail setting.

People do not buy what they don’t see; so there is potential to improve the shopping experience by using this technology.


To conduct our experiment, we set up two displays at three garden centers. There were 53 participants total who wore special eye-tracking glasses.

Display One: A large, varied height display of multi-plant containers.

Display Two: Included hardgoods as well as plants.

Where Customers Look
In general, we saw more customers view displays from left to right and from top to bottom. It did not appear as though many looked deeply into the display until there was something that captured their attention and drew it in further to the center of the bench.

Most customers preferred the middle of the display when looking at displays with three large, complex, multi-plant containers (Display One).

Likewise, heat maps from the eye-tracking results for a Display Two (comprised of flowers and hardgoods) show that most of the activity was concentrated on the top two shelves and mostly in the middle of these two shelves.

This display had three levels. Each shelf had different types of containers but all containers had some type of gerbera daisy.

When reviewing the footage and the heat maps, it was interesting to see that not many people even looked at the bottom of the display.

This suggests it’s important to locate key merchandise in an area that customers are more naturally going to look.

Is The First Plant Seen The Most Popular?
At a one retail outlet, we had 13 volunteers. We set up a geranium display of four-inch plants. We also used a large endcap display with mixed containers, with plants displayed on the ground.

One woman, looking at the geraniums, ended up selecting the first one she saw as her favorite, even though she viewed other plants. Another woman immediately selected her favorite plant without looking at other plants.

The canna in the display attracted a lot of attention and was noted several times in the verbal comments. This unique element was often a first focal point when participants viewed the display.

Color Can Be A Wildcard
One display had pink geraniums and light green foliage colors. This seemed to draw the customers’ attention the most. Many noted that it was most eye appealing. They enjoyed the color combination and said it was easy on the eyes.

The red geraniums on the right side of the display did not attract the visual attention of any customers. Most people thought the red color was too extreme or they just did not enjoy the color red when looking at flowers.

We had 20 participants at another retailer where Display One was an end-cap with lilies. Display Two was a larger mixed display of containers and hard goods.

One woman said one pink lily in particular went with the colors of plants she had at home, whereas others just described pink as one of their favorite colors. For the mixed containers, the lobelia attracted a lot of attention due to the blue color and another favorite was a mix of lobelia and ageratum. Some people selected the geraniums, which were also in this large mixed display.

Another interesting finding was from a woman who selected geraniums because they would stand out from a distance or could be seen from the road.

More people used descriptive words, especially when they were looking at the lilies. They talked about warm versus cool colors, compact plants that were not too leggy. One woman who was looking at Display One said she would select her favorite (which was a jasmine) because it was most accessible.

We were able to glimpse inside the consumer’s mind a bit by seeing exactly what they did and did not see when shopping. However, we still need to better understand how this relates to purchases, so we’ll likely have more studies in the future.

Tips To Take From The Study

  • If you have a multi-level endcap, make sure the front row has the same types of products as the rest of the display, since customers often ignore the row.
  • Place those products you most want to draw attention to in the middle and at eye level in a multi-level endcap.
  • For a single-level display, the front row is the most important.
  • Don’t rely too heavily on bench signs. Customers do not pay much attention to them.

Bridget Behe, Allison Jones, Kristin Getter, Tom Fernandez and Thomas Dudek are with the Michigan State University Department of Horticulture, MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension.