Editor’s note: Kirk Hendrickson is CEO of market research firm Eye Faster, Walnut Creek, Calif.

The retail experience is evolving at a rapid pace. Everything from the store environment to consumer perceptions is being radically altered by the information age. Customers have brand tools at their fingertips when making purchase decisions.

Consumer research is more important than ever to ensure that brands and retailers understand customers’ beliefs, perceptions and behaviors. In this article I will explore six shopper myths, providing a research-based perspective for each.

Myth #1: Signage at the entrance informs and entices shoppers.

In many retail locations, a myriad of signs, displays and announcements at or around the entrance are intended to stimulate shoppers to act on that message at some point during their shopping trip. There is a very fine line between communication at the entrance being noticed or being a waste of money.

Eye-tracking research conducted at dozens of retail locations shows that shoppers are not ready to look at any one communication until they are prepared to start their shopping journey. The optimal time for communication is once the consumer has grabbed a shopping cart or basket (and possibly has their list in hand). In a study that took place at a large grocery chain, shoppers were intercepted and asked to start their shopping at one of two entrances to the store. Both entrances had a seven-foot sign located in the same position. One entrance had the carts located outside and the other had the carts located inside the door. The study found that when shoppers walked through the door with the carts inside the store, entrance signage was viewed by 10 percent of entering shoppers. On the contrary, twice as many shoppers viewed entrance signage when the cart was located well outside the door.

Myth #2: Getting a shopper to spend time in a category increases the number of purchases.

Often, planogram layouts and on-shelf communications aim to influence shoppers’ decisions by trying to attract and keep them in the category for longer periods of time and – hopefully – spend more money in the category. This strategy assumes shoppers are making purchase decisions in-aisle or at the shelf site.

The reality is that shoppers search for products they know they want. Data from a TNS report shows that 69 percent of supermarket shoppers buy the same brand they did the last time they purchased from the category. In Figure 1, from an eye-tracking study performed and analyzed by Eye Faster, the data shows that the time shoppers spend in a category does not directly correlate to the quantity of products purchased. Size of category and number of SKUs may affect the time spent in the category, but across all categories, shoppers purchase on average only two to three products.

It may seem counter-intuitive but assisting shoppers in finding the product they’re looking for actually does not decrease time spent in the category. TNS research shows that shoppers who find their first item quickly are more likely to buy additional items from the same category.

Myth #3: With more options to choose from, consumers purchase more.

Stores, especially big box and supermarkets, have tens of thousands of SKUs, driven by brand and retailer aspirations to meet each shopper’s specific needs, by presenting shoppers with the largest number of products to choose from. Shoppers have more choices than ever throughout the store, including, but not limited to: salty snacks, soft drinks, candy and products like shampoo, detergent and toothpaste that are available in many flavors and variations.

Eye-tracking study results from many categories have shown shoppers are overwhelmed by the number of choices in most retail categories. The decision-making process involves three mental tasks: knowing what you want; understanding the options available; and making trade-offs between options. As the number of options increases, people tend to process less information about each.

To put it another way, it takes much more time and brainpower to compare and contrast 10 similar products vs. five. This is part of the reason why many new products and brands find it hard to compete in established categories. When feeling overwhelmed, consumers will go back to what is most familiar, even if it’s not the best available option.

Myth #4: Mothers, influenced by children they shop with, purchase more.

Advertising directed toward children is based on the idea that children influence their parents’ buying behavior. And this can be true: when observed shopping with parents, children were successful in influencing their purchase of cereal and candy, 61 percent and 52 percent of the times attempted, respectively. Such data permeates the idea that mothers will purchase more because of the influence their children have on them while shopping together.

But the idea that kids have influence doesn’t necessarily mean that their parents do purchase more. In a recent eye-tracking study, a comparison was made between mothers shopping with their children and without. Mothers spent more time in the juice category and purchased 29 percent more units while shopping without kids, as opposed to with kids. In the cereal category, mothers shopping alone purchased 14 percent more units. The truth is, mothers shopping with their children may not be focused solely on making purchase decisions.

Myth #5: Consumers shop each category differently.

Brand manufacturers and category managers treat each brand and category differently when it comes to merchandising, displays and communication. And rightly so – different categories have different price points, fulfill different needs and have different perceptions in consumers’ minds.

Using eye-tracking methodologies in varying retail environments, a clear pattern emerges in terms of a general purchasing process, which can be thought of as the basic building blocks of consumer decision-making, as shown in Figure 2.

Brands need to perform well in each of these stages to make it from shelf to purchase. While the length of time spent performing each stage may vary from category to category, the process for selecting an item can ultimately be broken down into four stages. Concentrating on how a product performs at each stage can be the difference between it being left on the shelf or taken home.

Myth #6: As shopping migrates to digital, brick-and-mortar stores are in big trouble.

The retail experience is changing quickly. More and more transactions happen online and on mobile devices, which some analysts believe spells trouble for physical stores. And they are right to some extent, as shown by Walmart’s announcement that it will close over 150 stores in 2016. Items are purchased on Amazon and delivered next day that would have been purchased on the next in-store shopping trip just three or four years ago.

The truth is, for successful retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are as important as ever. Apple, a company that could probably exist completely online, operates one of the most successful brick-and-mortar retail chains of all time. New brands can find an initial customer base online and grow to a size that ultimately offers an opportunity to expand into brick-and-mortar stores – this is something that eyewear retailer Warby Parker has done.

Moving forward

As the omnichannel retail experience continues to grow, shift and change, researchers and marketers must take nothing for granted and continue to reexamine and dive deeper to better understand the motivations behind shopper behavior. Studies that incorporate eye-tracking have proven to be particularly useful in revealing what actually happens vs. what marketers believe. Insights gained from quality research can impact store environments, packaging design and shelf placement, giving brands and retailers a clear understanding of the information-age shopper.