What do car buyers pay attention to in the showroom?

An eye-tracking study reveals some insights into which promotional materials and parts of the vehicle draw in consumers.


Car dealerships can be an overwhelming place for consumers. Besides already having their own research on dozens of vehicles rattling around their heads, they are also being bombarded with promotional materials and shiny new models showing off all of their latest and greatest features. So what among that is actually holding their attention?

During the Dx3 conference earlier this year, Toyota created a simulated showroom and invited 92 participants to explore it while wearing eye-tracking glasses from research firm Tobii Pro Insight. The showroom featured the latest models of the RAV4 crossover and Corolla car, digital displays, tablets, a booth manned by Toyota representative and a variety of promotional material like brochures, signage and TVs playing commercials. During their five to 10 minutes in the mini showroom, the glasses tracked where participants paid the most attention, and was followed by a short interview asking them which vehicle they were more interested in buying.

During the tour, the most attention was paid to the vehicles themselves. On average, participants spent 11.2 seconds examining the exterior and 18.2 seconds on the interior of the RAV4, and 8.6 seconds on the exterior and 12.3 seconds on the interior of the Corolla. They generally spent the most time examining the driver’s side door, before moving on to the rest of the car – however, the most time was still spent on the sides of the vehicles, such as the windows and hubcaps.

Once inside the vehicle, close to the 70% of the time is spent on the gearshift, features in the centre console and the instrument panel. The remaining time was spent looking at the passenger seats and examining the space of the trunk.


The learning the study pulls from this is that the drivers side door and front console should be easily accessible to car buyers and viewed easily from the showroom floor. On the flip side, the study also pointed out that almost no attention was paid to the hood of the car or what was under it. Brands who want to put a focus on performance features need to find ways to direct consumers there and explain why it is something they should be excited about, because they can’t count on consumers popping the hood on their own.

Aside from the vehicles, all of the promotional materials in the showroom were seen and noticed by the participants, but few captured attention long enough to have any impact. What participants did find engaging were the interactive elements, like the touchscreen TV or information displays next to the vehicles, which had the greatest level of engagement.

However, promotional materials don’t need to be high-tech to be engaging. After the interactive materials, a “safety tower” that featured print materials and creative assets related to the cars’ safety features was one of the most-viewed materials in the showroom. Despite not featuring engaging interactive elements, the tower gained a lot of attention because it was placed in a central, upfront position in the showroom, a prominent place it was given because of Toyota’s reputation for “family vehicles,” where safety is a key consideration for buyers.

The study concludes that this means promotional materials don’t have to be sophisticated to grab attention, but they do need to be positioned thoughtfully, especially when it comes to features that are a major part of the brand positioning or play to a consumer insight. For example, TVs playing commercials featuring images of families were in the background behind the vehicles, so participants couldn’t help but see them as they examined the cars.


In terms of demographics, there was almost no difference in the things older and younger buyers paid attention to, but there was a difference in how long they spent reviewing them. Older participants spent more time reviewing almost all of the promotional and informational materials. Younger participants were also more likely to gravitate towards interactive displays to get information about the vehicles, while older ones paid more attention to textual elements, like stickers on the window of the car and brochures.