Ripped from the Headlines: “Big Data + Small Qual: Amazing Best Friends"

Filed Under: Data Trends, Shopper, Qualitative Research


I had the great pleasure of attending a presentation by Walgreens and a Vendor at the Quirk’s Event in Chicago in April, titled: “Big Data & Small Qual: Amazing Best Friends.”

There were three takeaways from this presentation:

  1. Dig Deeper
  2. Keep Asking Questions
  3. Combining Big Data + Small Qual = Real Power

Let me first tell you the story that I heard from the presentation and then focus a little more on the third point. 

Walgreen tested some store redesigns and achieved sales lifts versus control in line with, and actually a little better than, pre-set goals. In the midst of the high fives, someone in senior management sent an email suggesting that the stores should be doing even better. With that, the insights team delved deeper into their frequent shopper card data as well as a quantitative survey among shoppers. Nothing stood out and, in fact: 

  • Basket data showed no category underperforming in the baskets, and 
  • The survey showed high satisfaction with the shopping experience regardless of what shopper group they analyzed. 

They didn’t want to go back to senior management with that response, so they felt it prudent to continue asking themselves questions and really digging deeper into the shopper experience. In order to do that, they conducted ride alongs with Walgreen’s shoppers living in the area surrounding the redesigned stores. In initial conversations, a nugget emerged from which they further probed in subsequent interviews. The nugget? Some shoppers were approaching the redesigned stores for a fill in or quick trip, but they saw how crowded the parking lots were and decided to forgo their Walgreen’s trip because it would take too long. Walgreen’s took this information and rectified the situation using different tactics to alleviate crowded parking lots.

Having spent a fair amount of my career in the shopper world both on the client as well as supplier side, it was drilled into my head that retailers needed to be persuaded, and persuading retailers often required hard data. Retailers like to see commercial arguments, based on data. Increasingly, retailers like to see these arguments based on their own data (loyalty card, scan data, etc.). Often the perception is that ‘soft data’ such as focus groups is no longer enough evidence to support a retailer making significant changes in their stores.

The Walgreen’s example illustrates that is no longer the case. In fact, in our experience at C+R Research, we had been developing multi-modal designs for some time to address increasingly more complex business issues where one approach no longer provides the best solution.

Syndicated/panel data and other quantitative techniques excel in telling us what happened, when it happened, where it happened, and who did it–the “what’s of behavior.” Quantitative techniques are less effective in explaining why things happened and why not. While these questions can of course be asked in a questionnaire, respondents often find it difficult to articulate their reasons and rationales for their behavior. Often the responses are post-rationalized. And it is in this area of why, and why not, that we find the greatest insights: the insights that create the leaps that transform performance. 

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