Photo (c) Noel Hendrickson – Getty Images While many consumers already have a head start on vacation shopping, a new study examines a trend that could lead consumers to make more unplanned purchases.

According to researchers from the University of Innsbruck, consumers need to stay focused when shopping if they don’t want to take unexpected items home with them. Their study found that shopping glances were the biggest factor driving consumers off their shopping lists, and many stores are taking advantage of this to encourage shoppers to put more in their shopping carts.

“In the last few decades retailers have developed many sales strategies that focus on the visual attention of customers,” said researcher Mathias Streicher. “All of these strategies maximize the journey through the business and increase the likelihood of remembering a forgotten need or discovering a new product.”

The power of conviction

To see how powerful it can be to grab consumer attention while shopping, the researchers conducted several shopping experiments that focused on the difference between narrow and broad focus when shopping.

Buyers were shown images of available items on a digital screen. However, the narrow focus group saw the same images in the center of the screen, while the wide focus group saw different images projected around the edge of the screen.

One test involved participants in a supermarket, with researchers assessing how far participants walked through the store and whether they could stick to their shopping lists. The researchers were interested in the total distance traveled throughout the store, as they explained that many stores keep important items a long way from the entrance to ensure customers have to walk more through the store so they can be enticed into more purchases

Researchers learned that participants were more likely to read more items in-store if exposed to them before shopping. This resulted in twice as many unplanned purchases and many more trips across the store.

“When looking at shelves, buyers always see a subset of the range, and which subset they see critically depends on their visual attention,” said Streicher. “We were able to show that attention patterns can be unconsciously expanded or even narrowed down through simple communication in business.”

Stay focused in the store

What does Streicher advise to help consumers shop on vacation? He said it was important for consumers to have a list on hand and stick to it.

“Our research shows that unplanned purchases start at the level of visual attention,” he said. “In order to reduce unplanned purchases, it is therefore better to avoid wandering glances in shopping situations – preferably with the support of a shopping list.”