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What do you do when an international pandemic temporarily precludes your ability to use a tried-and-true research methodology—in-person shop-alongs—yet a valued client needs information that this methodology would typically uncover?

A vitamin and supplement manufacturer wanted to expand their product line into the adjacent over-the-counter medicine aisle, where they had never had products placed before. As such, they were struggling to get buy-in from their retail partners. To strengthen their case for housing their products in the medicine aisle, they wanted to speak to customers and observe in real-time as consumers shopped the vitamin and medicine aisles to learn where they look for certain products. 

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we could not conduct in-person shop-alongs, the usual methodology we would employ and had planned to conduct. To get our clients the insights they needed yet keep everyone safe, we had to pivot to an online-only methodology.
 

Problem

Our client, a vitamin and supplement manufacturer, had created a new line of supplements that could fit not only in the standard vitamin/supplement aisle but in the adjacent over-the-counter medication aisle. However, they found it difficult to convince their retail partners to stock this new line in this adjacent aisle, even though the client sensed consumers would first search for it in the over-the-counter medicine aisle. The client wanted to understand the consumer’s shopping journey for similar products, including where they first look for these products in store, so the client could persuade their retail partners to stock the line in areas where consumers would see it. The client also wanted to create messaging and touchpoints to make consumers aware of the new product line.

Complicating our mission was the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the social distancing requirements put in place in mid-March 2020 to slow the spread of the virus. The pandemic escalated halfway through fielding the project, rendering us unable to complete in-person shop-alongs—where a moderator and 1-2 clients join the consumer to watch them shop in real-time—that we had planned and recruited. We had to find a way to pivot methodologies to keep our respondents, client, and moderators safe.
 

Result

We learned that while many consumers would expect to find our client’s product line in the over-the-counter medicine aisle, some would also expect to see it in the vitamin and supplement aisle due to its ingredients, making a dual-aisle placement strategy ideal. This strategy would offer consumers the ‘best of both worlds’ and would also ensure they found our client’s product line no matter where they happened to shop.

Methodologically, C+R developed and streamlined an approach for conducting remote shop-alongs to use when the in-person method was not viable. Our client was happy because they could still watch the consumer shop in real-time and ask questions, yet no one had to travel long distances and risk exposure to the virus.
 

Solution

To understand where consumers might look for our client’s product line, we began to conduct in-person shop-alongs at various retailers, including drugstore and mass merchandising chains. However, during our field period, the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, necessitating social distancing measures to prevent the virus’s spread. Once it was deemed safe enough for respondents to return to stores, we pivoted to a remote shop-along methodology.

All interviews lasted one hour, whether in-person or remote. For those respondents participating in remote shop-alongs, interviews took place in the store where they commonly buy vitamins and supplements. Because the moderator and clients could not physically be in store with the respondent, the interviews were live streamed via a research app on the respondent’s smartphone. The research team could see them as they shop, allowing the moderator to probe in real-time on what was observed. As our moderator conducted the interview, our clients followed along live via the research platform and passed questions to the moderator via the backroom area. The interviews allowed C+R to discuss how these consumers shopped both the vitamin and over-the-counter medication aisle and to discover where they would expect to find our client’s products, all without having to be in-store at a time when social distancing was required.
 

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