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The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many Americans shop. And, due to social distancing requirements, many who generally shop with others (e.g., family members, friends) began to shop alone to help reduce the spread of the virus. The pandemic affected all industries, including market research, in particular, qualitative in-person shop-alongs, where a moderator joins a participant in-store to see first-hand how the consumer shops. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, there was still a need to understand the shopping behaviors of consumers. But, how do you conduct shop-alongs during the pandemic and the shopping restrictions?

Our client, a consumer durables manufacturer, has a special in-store display in select stores for a national home improvement chain. The client team desired to learn to what extent the current display reflected the intended product benefits and its ability to make it easy for consumers to shop for the client’s brand. Additionally, the team wanted to identify opportunity areas for improvement in developing a second version of the display. 

Because these displays are located in specific home improvement stores, it was necessary to use shop-alongs, so consumers could go in store, see the display in context, and give their opinions. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, our moderator was unable to travel and join consumers in-person to ask questions. The client was also unable to travel due to their company’s policy under the pandemic. Therefore, we utilized consumers’ smart phones and an online platform with video interviewing technology to conduct remote shop-alongs. 

Problem

A consumer durables manufacturer wanted to improve an in-store display currently set up in select stores of a national home improvement chain. To do so, they first needed to understand the extent that the display reflects the intended product benefits and its impact in making the brand easy to shop. Second, our client wanted to identify opportunity areas for improving the display that they could present at an upcoming meeting with their retail partner.

Because we needed to see how consumers interacted with our client’s in-store display, shop-alongs were the best methodology to employ. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person research was not possible; instead, we pivoted to a fully remote approach, where the moderator observed and interacted with the shopper remotely as the clients followed along from the safety and comfort of their homes.  

Result

The combination of our online platform and consumers’ mobile phones enabled us to gather insights into consumers’ perceptions of the client’s in-store display from across the US. The moderator was able to virtually ‘shop along’ with the participants as they examined the client’s display as well as competitors, asking questions in real time to dig deeper into participants’ perceptions. The client was able to invite a larger client team to log in and also observe the interviews in real time. The clients passed probes to the moderator via the virtual backroom, ensuring their immediate questions were answered. 

The research generated an actionable understanding of the shoppers’ goals and requirements for the in-store display. The client used this information to present revised plans to their home improvement store partner to optimize the display to better facilitate the shopping process. 

Solution

C+R created a two-phase research plan to help our client connect with consumers and obtain feedback on their in-store display. 

For both phases, we recruited twenty consumers, seven who were recent purchasers of our client’s brand, and 13 who intended to buy within the overall category in the next 12 months. Both men and women were recruited; all earned $75,000 or more and were responsible for purchasing the product category for their homes.

First, prior to each interview, participants completed an asynchronous homework assignment. Using an online message board platform, they shared pictures of their home and the space set aside for the product. This allowed our client a contextual understanding of their consumers’ shopping needs. Consumers also detailed their research and shopping process, sharing screenshots and explaining the role of in-store vs. online research within this product category.

In the next phase, consumers participated in a one-on-one remote shop-along interview. They used the same platform they had to complete their homework assignment; this platform contained a method for hosting live remote webcam-based interviews through consumers’ mobile phones. After a brief warm-up in their car, the consumers entered the home improvement store. They used the back camera of their phone to broadcast the aisle to the moderator and client observers. The moderator was able to probe on the store’s particular display and set-up, identifying what was working and not working with the client’s display, as well as the competitors’ displays. The client team watched the interviews in real-time and had the ability to pass questions to the moderator via the virtual backroom. To comply with current pandemic safety precautions, all consumers wore a mask in-store which it did not interfere with the audio quality of the interview, nor the moderator’s understanding of the emotions conveyed during the interview. After each interview, the moderator and client debriefed via the research platform, sharing “aha’s” and refining takeaways as the fieldwork unfolded.  
 

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