Getting into your customers’ minds is a key goal of online market research. But if market research is done after the fact, participants have to try and remember what they were thinking and feeling while in a store or when shopping. And you know how fickle our memories can be.
So researchers found a way to catch the shopper in-the-moment: the shop-along. This market research methodology provides data that’s more accurate, candid, and real. These days, mobile or virtual shop-alongs and other “mobile ethnography” apps have enabled safe and cost-effective online market research.
A shop-along is a type of on-site research that uses real-time observation to learn about shopper behaviors. Market research companies and brands collect information about customers throughout the shopping journey and at point of purchase. The goal is to identify things that influence or impede the consumer’s decision at the time of purchase.
Much like in-home usage tests (IHUTs), shop-alongs are an excellent methodology for observing people and products in their “native habitat”. They’re an effective methodology for gathering customer feedback on:
Shop-alongs are ideal for retail and grocery stores, where shopping is part of an overall experience (versus a quick run into the gas station to grab a Coke). But this type of market research can work in any setting that sells goods and services.
Even before COVID-19, there were a number of tools available related to virtual shop-alongs, mobile shop-alongs, and “mobile ethnography.” Given the rising safety concerns amidst a global pandemic, they’ve become a game-changer. With mobile shop-along platforms and mobile ethnography apps, shoppers can capture their thoughts and send them directly to the researcher in an instant.
Here’s how it works:
Only so much can be recreated in a focus group room or in a planogram. Sometimes it is more helpful to test or observe on-site. Besides, watching people shop is more exciting than you might think!
The ability to hear people’s reactions and thoughts during the experience, not after the fact, was crucial to these discoveries. Shop-alongs let you explore the psychology and physicality of decision-making as it unfolds. You can also conduct follow-up interviews (individually or in groups) to dig deeper into any insights that arose from the initial data.
Shop-alongs are not the cheapest way to do market research. Nor are they the simplest. But there’s no question the outcome is incredibly valuable. And thanks to digital tools, it’s becoming easier to collect observational data in real-time and from a safe distance.
A market research company can help you recruit participants, design research questions, and moderate post-shop focus groups or interviews. Most importantly, it should be an experienced market researcher who helps you analyze the resulting data from your shop-along.
To find the best partner for your online market research project, by all means, consider your project scope, budget, and timeline. But don’t overlook experience, reputation, and quality of work. Make sure the research consultant handling your project is a bona fide expert in their field.
Related articles: How to Find the Best Fit When Choosing a Market Research Company