Imagine you are standing in aisle looking for a box of chocolates to buy. You don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, but you’ll know it when you see it. How would you prefer the category be sectioned or “blocked” out on the shelf, vertically or horizontally? What would make it easier for you to find your perfect box of chocolates?
According to the latest shopper research, horizontal product blocking is the best option for shoppers in the majority of cases. You might be wondering “why does it matter?” well it’s because of how our brains and bodies have developed. We have two eyes that sit side by side in our heads, meaning that we have better horizontal view than we do vertical. This means it’s easier for us to scan shelves horizontally than vertically, something confirmed in research conducted by Xiaoyan Deng, Barbara E. Kahn, H. Rao Unnava, and Hyojin Lee.
The researchers analysed how horizontal, continuous displays versus vertical displays of alternative products influenced range processing, perceived variety, and subsequent choice. They concluded that horizontal displays are easier to process because of a match between the human binocular vision field (which is horizontal in direction) and the dominant direction of eye movements required for processing horizontal displays.
They also identified that horizontal blocking allows people to browse information more efficiently, which improves mental processing fluency, increases their perception of a wide assortment and ultimately leads to more products being bought.
Horizontal displays are not always preferable however. When shoppers browse horizontally blocked displays they are able to process variety and choice far more effectively, in these instances shoppers find choosing easier and have a higher level of satisfaction and confidence about their purchase decisions.
But what if variety isn’t a positive for that product category? For example, when you’re looking for your favourite brand of hot sauce or mayonnaise?
In situations such as this, vertical blocking actually becomes preferable. The vertical cut-off points created by the end of category blocks increase preferred product visibility – more of the product category can be viewed from one place and specific products are easier to find. So blocking definitely isn’t a case of one size fits all.
Product categories that are regular shopper destinations and “Grab & Go” in nature should be blocked vertically. However, categories that account for a more considered and browse focused shopping experience should be blocked horizontally.
How do you know whether a category is more considered or more Grab & Go? The answer: analyse actual shopping behaviour at the fixture!
For example, here at SBXL we segment shoppers by behaviour: Grab & Go, Considered, along with Experiential, Impulse and Inexperienced too. Each of these modes is determinable by behaviour alone, no subjective shopper interview responses or flimsy, algorithm based formulae; just indisputable, actual behaviour of real shoppers genuinely shopping.
In conclusion, when you want shoppers to browse the category and perceive that there is a wide range, then go for horizontal blocking. But when you want to optimise shopping efficiency by making frequently repeat purchased brands easier to find, then opt for vertical blocking. It’s that simple.