Inattentional Consumer: Part 3

Unlocking Shelf Standout:

A Guide to Capturing Customer Attention

Enter any retail environment and you are bombarded with a multitude of products, all competing for your attention. Even when you know exactly what you’re looking to buy, you often need to scan through hundreds of products to find what you’re looking for. Fortunately, the human brain has mechanisms that filter through a myriad of sensory inputs, ensuring that only select stimuli enter conscious awareness.

These cognitive mechanisms have significant implications for consumer behaviour. Brands must ensure that the packaging for their products can cut through the noise and capture the attention of customers in the face of many competitors. Achieving ‘shelf standout’ is thus essential, but how can brands assess the effectiveness of their packaging? Let’s delve into methodologies that allow us to assess how easily and rapidly products are able to attract consumer attention.

Visual Heat Maps

Visual heat maps such as those generated through eye-tracking studies, offer tangible insights into where consumers’ gazes linger the longest. This technology identifies which aspects of packaging design draw attention and which are overlooked, allowing brands to refine visual elements to enhance product visibility.

Split Testing in Online and Real Environments

Deploying different versions of packaging in select retail locations is costly but can offer real-world data on consumer preferences. Sales data and customer feedback on these variants provide concrete evidence of which designs perform better, guiding future packaging decisions. 

A more cost effective solution is to conduct pre-testing in an online environment. A/B testing  different packaging routes on factors such as visual standout, findability and product associations is a great way of validating many designs with a broad demographic in multiple markets.

Bottles on a supermarket shelf, with blobs of colour over the top demonstrating a heat map.

Automatic Standout: The Principle of Change Blindness

One critical aspect of capturing shelf standout is what we call “automatic standout.” This concept revolves around how effectively elements, such as products on a shelf, stand out next to similar elements, ultimately measuring how likely a product is to capture attention. Visual salience, a key component of automatic standout, can be quantitatively measured using an online test.

The underlying principle of this test draws inspiration from the phenomenon of change blindness, or inattentional blindness, which describes our brain’s occasional inability to detect seemingly obvious changes in our visual field.¬†

In our own standout test, respondents are presented with scenarios, like a mock shelf filled with various products. The test typically consists of multiple trials where respondents are tasked with spotting changes in their visual field.

Automatic standout is quantified by calculating the average time it takes for respondents to locate a given product in relation to its competitors. This test offers insights into people’s unconscious visual biases, shedding light on which elements of packaging naturally attract attention. However, it’s important to note that attention tends to gravitate towards the centre of the screen, giving products placed there an advantage. To overcome this limitation, it is important to randomise the layout of elements between trials, ensuring a fair evaluation of standout potential.

Findability: Ease of navigation

Another crucial aspect of capturing consumer attention is “findability.” It assesses how easy it is for people to locate different products or packaging designs among competitors, particularly at the point of sale. To gauge findability, we employ a visual search task.

In this task, respondents are presented with similar products from various brands and are instructed to locate a specific product as swiftly as possible.


By placing respondents under time pressure, we encourage them to rely on mental shortcuts, mirroring real-world shopping decisions.

The less time it takes a respondent to correctly find and select a given product, the higher the findability score for that product. This test proves especially valuable when brands are considering changes to packaging designs.

Young child in a yellow coat picking sweets from a shelf


Capturing the attention of consumers in a crowded marketplace is both an art and a science. By understanding the principles of automatic standout and findability, brands can fine-tune their packaging designs to make a compelling first impression on the consumer’s mind, increasing the likelihood of their products being chosen in a competitive landscape.


By Duncan Smith

Related posts

Subscribe to the Academy

Sign up for emails from the Mindlab Academy.