New Research Reveals Blind Spots in Online Menus

Revenue Management Solutions, in partnership with the University of South Florida’s Center for Marketing and Sales Innovation (CMSI) and CMSI Director and Study Primary Investigator Dr. Rob Hammond, has released preliminary findings from its newest study using remote eye-tracking technology to analyze how consumers navigate online menus. TGI Fridays volunteered to participate in the first phase of the study.

heat map online menuEarly results could mark big learning for restaurants:

  • Distinct search patterns revealed blind spots when customers review online menus on a desktop.
  • Suggestive selling opportunities within the “buyer’s journey” of online ordering identified, a set of discrete phases uncovered during analysis.

The research, which began in May 2021, marks the first remote eye-tracking study of online ordering behavior. New technology developed by iMotions in collaboration with CMSI allowed researchers to use participants’ own webcams to gather eye-tracking data as they ordered from TGI Fridays’ online test menu via their desktops or laptops. Data was analyzed using Emotional Artificial Intelligence tools, and pre- and post-study survey responses assessed participants’ recall of their ordering journey, behavior and total spend.

“In the past 18 months, we’ve undergone a seismic shift in the way our customers interact with our menu,” said Sara Bittorf, Chief Experience Officer at TGI Fridays. “The research has already given us tools to improve the guest experience and increase menu profitability. We’re looking forward to exploring further menu engineering insights as the research proceeds.”

Blind Spots Revealed

According to the eye-tracking data and the research team’s gaze-path analysis, preliminary findings indicate a persistent blind spot on the left side of the menu.

Though each respondent had a unique path, respondents started with a site’s main menu categories (appetizers, sandwiches, etc.), reading across from left to right. Respondents’ focus then shifted down toward the center of the screen, like a “T,” and navigated predominantly to the right of the center. Results show that approximately 50% of the time, respondents missed items displayed on the left of the screen altogether.

Suggestive Selling

The RMS and USF research team also uncovered a distinct buyer’s journey within the online ordering process, revealing untapped opportunities for suggestive selling. They observed four discrete phases with mental tasks and outcomes for each, including:

  • Familiarization: Respondents scanned the entire menu/website.
  • Exploration: Respondents narrowed and evaluated choices.
  • Affirmation: Respondents began adding items to the cart while toggling back to menu options to add or search additional items.
  • Confirmation: Respondents completed checkout.

“We found that respondents were more likely to change their mind or add items during the exploration and affirmation phases of the process,” said Ryan Garner, data architect for Revenue Management Solutions. “Yet most suggestive selling happens during checkout. If these results translate across many menus — and we anticipate that they will — it could be a game changer for operators.”

Researchers are finalizing the next phase of the ongoing research, which will be open to interested brands. Subsequent phases will investigate how consumers navigate brand menus with different designs across various media, including online, mobile, and physical menus. Analysis will also include age and gender demographics, compare cost/spend recall to actual cost and evaluate other ordering behaviors. The research will conclude this changes

RMS first partnered with CMSI in 2019 to conduct in-laboratory eye-tracking research that revolutionized how the industry thinks about the way we read physical restaurant menus.

For more than 25 years, RMS has served restaurant industry leaders with data analytics expertise and profitability solutions. This research is true to RMS’ roots — using restaurant industry science and data and translating highly academic insights into practical solutions for restaurants.