Speed vs. Value in Shopper Insights

by Andrea Durning | published on July 23, 2018

Why a little slower can be a lot better for your shopper insights

Too often, important shopper insights research is done in a hurry, often on a limited budget. As researchers, we all understand the need for conducting faster and better research, but there is a case to be made for slowing down the process somewhat in order to uncover deeper, more impactful insights and provide meaningful recommendations.

Let’s recall the two most important objectives for an insightful and impactful shopper insights project

  • Understand all of the whys behind the shopper path to purchase

  • Understand the impact of those whys in the marketplace

In order to fulfill both of these objectives, a well-rounded shopper insights project should use both qualitative and quantitative techniques. This approach takes a bit more time to execute, but in the long run, the benefits are numerous.

Typically you want to start off the process with one or more qualitative techniques to get to the whys. You want to spend time talking with a cross section of shoppers, visiting shoppers in their homes, or shopping with them one-on-one. Listening to their stories and experiences and observing their behaviors give you a rich amount of data to sift through. In doing so, patterns and trends emerge and hypotheses can be developed. But, it is then important to validate these hypotheses with a quantitative research phase to ensure accuracy and reduce risk.

Pausing slightly between the qualitative and quantitative phases to get consensus on the learning is necessary. This takes some additional time but is worth it in the long run. The insights from the qualitative phase provide the starting point for the quantitative instrument, so making sure you have prioritized all of our preliminary insights properly ensures the effectiveness of the quantitative phase.

In the quantitative phase, you want to interview a much larger group of shoppers, either in person or online. If done in store, you want to understand shopper behavior with quantitative observations that measure category traffic flow, interaction rates, and conversion rates. You also want to interview a robust sample of shoppers in store at the point of purchase to quantify drivers of planned vs. unplanned purchases, and a variety of other metrics.

Sometimes it isn’t possible to conduct the quantitative phase in person and you may need to conduct an online survey. You have to adjust the approach slightly when switching from in person to online, but you can still achieve your objectives with a properly designed questionnaire using this method.

Let’s look at a recent example of how this can work. A major grocery retailer asked for our help to better understand its wine-purchasing shoppers. They wanted to improve the wine section in their stores, but had a number of knowledge gaps.  These included, how many of its shoppers were actually purchasing wine in their stores, how much wine was purchased and how often, for what occasions, where else were they purchasing wine and why, and last but definitely not least, how they were actually shopping for wine in the store.

We decided that qualitative in-person shop-alongs would best help us understand what the shopping process looked like for the retailer’s wine customers. The shop-alongs were instrumental in not only defining the wine shopping path to purchase and helping us provide recommendations to improve the wine section, they also helped us understand what was most important to wine consumers when considering where to buy wine – what their wine retailer consideration set was, why/when specific retailers were chosen, and how the client retailer fit into the overall consumer consideration set. Barriers to purchasing wine at the retailer were also identified in this phase; these barriers included price, assortment, and organizational issues.

A quantitative online survey among the grocery retailer’s customers was used to assess key objectives, such as quantifying how many customers primarily shopped at the retailer for wine, how many infrequently shopped there for wine, and how many who purchased all of their wine elsewhere despite being loyal grocery shoppers. Barriers to purchasing wine that were identified in the qualitative phase were also quantified in this phase, as was the competitive set of wine retailers. The quantitative phase allowed us to better understand the distribution of and reasons for wine purchases at competitive retailers among the various groups of wine customers. For example, many of the retailer’s loyal wine customers purchased the majority of their Friday night/weekend wine at the retailer because of convenience, but they shopped at a specialty wine store for wines served at special dinners, get-togethers, or the holidays because of the assortment and expert advice. For some, going to a specialty wine store was an infrequent but special trip, because they learned about wine while browsing a wider assortment—plus, they sampled wines, talked to wine experts, and enjoyed a unique ambience while in store.

Because we were able to quantify our many qualitative learnings, we could then develop a playbook for our client retailer to help them create the ideal wine section in terms of selection, organization, ambiance, education at the shelf, and purchase incentives. We also were able to identify which shoppers to focus on to increase wine purchases at the retailer, and what improvements and incentives could increase purchase frequency and loyalty. The client used our playbook to inform the development of wine sections and incentive programs in new stores that were slated for opening in the following year.

Taking the time to get deeper insights with an integrated qualitative and quantitative approach will usually provide a greater return as the incremental time and investment will yield better insights and drive more effective initiatives.