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A cleaning supplies company partnered with C+R to better understand shoppers’ potential shifts in perceptions and preferences at shelf for its brand/products in the home cleaning category. The competitive set was growing quickly with new brands and SKUs, and the team needed to make the case to a large national retailer that their consumer products deserved in-store shelf space for years to come. 

In addition, the need for conducting this research was amplified amid the tumultuous landscape that the COVID-19 pandemic created, which famously impacted shoppers’ needs and priorities in this category. 

To help our client while adhering to the COVID mandates to keep consumers safe, C+R developed an online discussion board incorporating virtual shelf sets.


Our client, a cleaning supplies company, needed to understand if shoppers’ perceptions of their brand and products had shifted during COVID-19 and how these perceptions stacked up against competitors in the space. The brand also needed to persuade a retailer partner that their products deserved dedicated in-store shelf space. 

With this research project occurring during the global pandemic, sending shoppers into stores only to find abnormally bare shelves was disadvantageous for this research. There was also an ethical matter of considering shoppers’ safety and comfort for completing in-store shopping exercises. 

In light of the research objectives and considerations, we knew it was important for shoppers to be able to see a full array of core brands and product SKUs on shelves – co-existing – in order for this research to resonate with the national retailer and its stores. Consumers’ situational context, as well as the perceptions of using cleaning products during COVID-19, was a lower-priority objective for this research.

As an alternative to shoppers physically visiting brick and mortar stores, C+R proposed an innovative way to conduct research in a controlled, online environment with the illusion of fully stocked shelves. 


The findings enabled us to provide our client with evidence for the importance of carrying multiple categories of products in the aisle, including their products. Our recommendation was to not remove many items from the shelves., as many consumers expect to be able to find and purchase all products.

In addition to providing valuable confirmation to build the brands’ case for keeping its products on store shelves, we also identified an opportunity for further retail and product optimizations, including more intuitive organization and product pairings that stemmed from these shopper-focused concerns or challenges.

Additionally, participants enjoyed completing the research activities online in a more controlled environment, from the comfort of their homes, without dealing with the typical issues of product availability, reduced store hours, mask-wearing, screaming kids, etc. Their resulting videos were a powerful tool to share what they were clicking to see close up; it also captured their verbal narratives of any motivations, hesitations, and barriers for how a product stacks-up vs. other products. 


We recruited recent and lapsed purchasers of this cleaning supplies category for a broad look at the retail situation, as well as to paint a picture of their current needs and usage. We created a three-day qualitative online discussion board for these shoppers to share their information and experiences asynchronously, by completing a series of activities at their own convenience (24/7). To avoid groupthink and bias, none of the shoppers were able to see other participants’ responses until the final co-creation and innovation stages on the third day of the study.

After the initial in-home activities and tours of current cleaning supplies, one of the activities was set-up as a screen-recording for the shoppers to browse and shop in a virtual shelf set. Notably, the virtual shelf set activity included 4-5 rows of front product facings with prices listed under each item; there are also +/- signs to add or remove products from their basket or cart.

We utilized a detailed 2-D planogram from the client that reflected the retailer’s current strategy and organization, including popular/relevant assortments and brand blocks. The client also included shopper data that identified the most popular SKUs per category. 

In the final week prior to launch, we worked closely with the client to identify and curate a list of core brands/SKUs that could be shown in the virtual shelf set – with one product facing per SKU that was “stocked” vertically and horizontally (seen via scrolling), similar to browsing down a real aisle. This would help to focus shoppers’ attention and time on comparing different products instead of shoppers inadvertently clicking to “pick-up” several units of the same product. 

While this level of accuracy is not entirely necessary for building a virtual shelf set, in this instance these were helpful documents that allowed us to match the retailers’ suggested strategy for their in-store shelving in our online model.

During the research, shoppers were able to virtually browse products on the shelves at their leisure. As they shopped, they shared specific details on the packaging that caught their eye. Simulating a retail shopping experience online without entering brick-and-mortar stores was a powerful and memorable way to capture shoppers’ top-of-mind triggers and feelings across brands and products that they saw. 

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