While it may not be as easy as Amazon’s Dash button, shopping for in-store insights is worth the time and effort.
The opportunity to shop and observe your consumers in a retail setting is a journey that increases our understanding of all the influences and emotions that affect your consumer’s path. This is most valuable for renovating retail categories or departments, influencing shopper behavior and informing innovation around your products, packaging, and promotions.
Consider utilizing some of the following activities and tips, and asking them of your research partners, next time you embark on your own in-store journey. Using one or all of these methods can lead to those powerful aha moments.
1. Observe and approach AFTER the purchase
Shop with patience and you will discover treasures worth more than gold (well they’ll at least make you shine in front of your boss). While we are all eager to talk to shoppers as they approach an aisle or section of a store, it’s even more important to engage in silence and observe first.
Watching a consumer scan and touch merchandise before making their final choice is kind of like watching a wildlife documentary. I’ve watched shoppers spend over 10 minutes choosing coffee, nutrition bars, you name it, and just as I’m about to intercept they stop again, pick up yet another product off the shelf and compare it to what’s in their hand.
It’s these moments of second guessing that gives us a glimpse into what goes into a shopper’s consideration set, something we would not normally hear or notice if not observing a consumer in their environment and in real time. It also sparks curiosity and lines up questions for us to ask. The gold is discovered as consumers narrate what we observe.
2. Shop FOR the consumer
One of the most eye-opening shopalong activities affords our clients the opportunity to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes and do the shopping for them.
A perfect example of this scenario occurred when a client was struggling to make choices (while shopping as the consumer) and the respondent was there at his side really schooling him on why this and not that.
Putting yourself in the driver’s seat will unveil how well you think you know your consumer and help to really understand decision making from shelf to basket. It also tests our hypotheses and almost always uncovers that which we do not know.
3. Welcome the kids
While we sometimes dread (or even avoid) the conversations with crying babies and kids in tow, shopping with kids represents real life. You’ll learn more about the emotions and challenges that influence your consumer and how they shop with kids.
During a shopping excursion with a mom and her four kids between the ages of 1 and 10, the conversation was full of interruptions. This ultimately led to us all developing a deeper empathy with her and her shopping journey. And with knowledge like this, you’ll likely uncover opportunities for your business and solutions to ease the process for your consumers.
4. What they SAY vs what they DO
Getting into the store with our consumers is often like touring an extension of their home. It gives us a glimpse into their values and beliefs, and helps us differentiate their aspirations from their actions.
A shopper might say she is concerned about sugar in her foods, but as we round the bakery aisle, the brownies and cookies are flying into the cart. The contradictory behavior doesn’t make her a liar it makes her human. And more importantly, it helps us understand the moments when certain things are important and top of mind vs. those times when they’re not a priority.
5. Signs of success
Our clients are often surprised to see the impact of signage and store displays on their consumers. What we think is hitting shoppers in the face is sometimes barely noticed.
Recently, I was engaged in a shopalong project with the goal of trying to understand the impact of a rewards program.
There were signs promoting the program on the door, on the floor, on the displays, and even hanging from the ceiling, but the recognition was low because consumers were focused on the merchandise, and not on the words. It helped our clients rethink promotions beyond visual announcements.
Despite the rise of online shopping, consumers still willingly sacrifice time, money, and energy to make the effort to shop outside the home, traveling to stores and interacting with the world around them. Why do they do this? Well, you just might find your answers the next time you shop with them.