Imagine that you are in your local supermarket and want to buy a can of Cola [feel free to insert your category name instead]. Which would be more appealing? A horizontal block of products or a vertical one? In other words, should the brands be blocked (displayed together) vertically or horizontally?
According to the latest research, usually horizontal blocking is the best option for shoppers. Why? Because of the way our brains and eyes work. Our 2 eyes are positioned horizontally, side by side. That means that we have a wider horizontal view. And research conducted by Xiaoyan Deng, Barbara E. Kahn, H. Rao Unnava, and Hyojin Lee confirmed that most of the time, horizontal blocking is the better option.
The researchers analysed how horizontal versus vertical displays of alternative products influenced range processing, perceived variety, and subsequent choice. They concluded that horizontal (vs. vertical) 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 that horizontal blocking allows people to browse information more efficiently, which improves mental processing fluency, increases their perception of a wide range, and ultimately leads to more products being bought.
In summary, when shoppers see variety in a horizontal (vs. vertical) display, they browse and mentally process the range more efficiently and extensively. But this is only a benefit when more variety is a positive category attribute. When this is the case, shoppers find choosing easier and have a higher level of satisfaction and confidence about their purchase decisions.
But when more variety is not necessarily positive, for example, when a shopper is just seeking out their favourite brand of ketchup, [or insert your category name here] the benefits of horizontal blocking disappear.
In fact, a vertical block becomes more preferable. Why? Because as shoppers scan the category horizontally, the visibility of their preferred brand increases by way of it being a vertical, visual ‘barrier’. So blocking definitely isn't a case of one size fits all.
Categories that are a destination and Grab & Go by nature should be merchandised with vertical blocking. But the categories that account for more Considered purchases should be horizontally blocked. The question is: How do you know whether a category is more Considered or more Grab & Go? The answer: Analyse actual shopping behaviour at the fixture.
When you want shoppers to browse the category and perceive 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.
And one thing is for certain, with both vertical and horizontal blocking of the same categories in different supermarket chains, both can’t be optimal. Check out Soups, Carbonated Soft Drinks and Pet foods to name but 3.
Adcock Solutions have been improving the marketing communications of leading brands and retailers for more than 25 years. We explain how your customers think and make decisions so that you can engage with them more effectively.
Come to us for Behavioural Science insights and expertise that improve your brand's visibility, appeal, engagement, and sales.