From the desk of Jo-Ann Ryan
You can ask consumers how they decide what to buy but nothing can compare to observing them in a store and discussing how and why they shop as they do on site. Shopalong interviews enable you to uncover shopper perceptions, influences and motivations so you can determine how effectively packaging, placement and in-aisle marketing efforts are all working to engage consumers. I’ve been with consumers as they have shopped for toothpaste, mouthwash, clothing, bicycles, wagons, bath safety items – you name it, and it has always been enlightening.
At Doyle, there are some things that we have learned along the way to ensure that the Shopalong interview process runs smoothly, and we’re able to gain the insights that our clients are seeking:
- Making a connection. Even though our recruiters call the day before, every moderator at Doyle always calls each respondent the day before a shopalong interview to establish a personal connection. During this call we make introductions, answer questions, confirm logistics, and provide our contact information. This puts respondents at ease regarding what to expect, strengthens their commitment to participating, and greatly reduces the chance of no-shows. We may also ask some preliminary questions (e.g., whether they typically make a list, use coupons, etc.)
- Staying in touch. We provide a contact list for everyone involved in the shopalong research as well as a schedule of interviews with those planning to observe noted. The schedule includes the addresses of the stores, and the driving distance from one interview to the next.
- Being discrete. In order to not call attention to ourselves at the store and ensure a natural shopping experience for respondents, we: 1) Request that just one client join the shopalong. (If more than one, we ask that they meet us at the appropriate aisle and not be right by our side.) We ask that clients dress casually, with no identifying company logos, and mute their cell phones. 2) Have respondents shop at the store where they typically buy the items being researched so it simulates their typical experience. 3) We don’t schedule more than one shopalong interview for the same store in the same day so as not to provide a disruption that could impact sales.
- Capturing the experience. Whenever possible, shoppers are asked to follow our “think aloud” protocol so that we can hear the thoughts that are going through their heads as they complete their shopping excursion. The moderator and/or clients may snap photos with their smart phones, and a small digital recorder captures shoppers expressed thoughts and interactions with the moderator. The moderator and clients also may use small hand-sized notepads to jot down some observations/insights.
- Probing for details. We probe to learn about the ease with which consumers can find what they are seeking; what they reach for first; what draws their eye; the purchase dynamics if more than one person is involved, any frustrations they experience, etc. We work to identify all factors that influence a purchase decision and probe for further clarification. Depending on the objectives, we also will evaluate the checkout experience, and walk the respondent to their car to see how they load purchased items into their cars.
So the next time you really want to know what happens at point of purchase, consider shopalongs for gaining invaluable insights. And don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes!