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The COVID-19 pandemic increased consumer awareness of and desire for products that would strengthen immunity and help keep them from contracting the virus. Vitamins and supplements, in particular, became important tools for those seeking to stay healthy. 

A vitamins and supplements manufacturer sought to understand how consumers were shopping for vitamins and other over-the-counter (OTC) products, both pre-shop and in-store. Specifically, they wanted to know how shoppers make decisions on what immunity-boosting products to buy and use, from awareness of products to final purchase. They also wanted to know what behaviors, if any, had changed due to the pandemic and what behaviors might remain, post-COVID. 

C+R created a robust research program with both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to answer our client’s questions and aid them in improving the shop-ability at shelf of immunity products.

Problem

Our client, a vitamins and supplements manufacturer, was in the process of developing products for an immunity-based solutions line and wanted to better understand how consumers shopped for these items. Specifically, they wanted to know any barriers or delighters consumers faced, as well as if the shopping experience differed based on retailer type (drug, grocery, online, and mass) and/or aisle type (vitamins vs OTC). 

Additionally, they wanted to ascertain the role of COVID-19 with consumers’ use and purchase of immunity products. Were consumers using more/different immunity products? Were they shopping in different locations? Our client wanted to understand any changes in shoppers’ behaviors and which behaviors might remain, post-COVID.

With this information, our client wanted to develop merchandising strategies for new products, including those that would have dual placement in stores (both in vitamin and OTC aisles).

Result

The research provided our client with a snapshot of their consumers and how they shop for immunity products. Most immunity shoppers stick with one brand when they can, but ultimately, they will buy what is available at their preferred retailer, as long as the products are high quality and are perceived to help keep them healthy.

Regarding COVID-19, the research showed that most immunity solutions shoppers had not drastically changed their buying or usage habits due to the pandemic. They bought the same products and used them in virtually the same ways. Some shoppers did report they used the products more often, and many who, prior to COVID, would shop in-store had switched to online or curbside pick-up options. Reasons given for switching to online shopping included reducing the risk of infection by venturing outside and lack of availability of products at their preferred retailer. 

The discrete choice exercise identified multiple features/factors that are important when choosing immunity supplements at the shelf, but three distinct features stood out. The client was able to focus on these features specifically to help their product stand out on the shelf. Moreover, the shopping journey identified two primary paths in immunity supplement selection, which reinforced the results of the discrete choice exercise, giving the client a clear path for new strategies and tactics. 

Solution

C+R created a multi-phase research program using both qualitative and quantitative methods. 

The first stage was the qualitative, which included both an online community and remote shop-alongs. Using a combination of text, video, and photo activities on an online message board, forty immunity product consumers led us through their strategy, mindset, and baseline expectations when it comes to shopping for products in the vitamin and OTC aisles. Participants were split among males and females (with slightly more females) and by retailer they purchased immunity solutions from (grocery, mass, online, and drug).

In the second phase of the qualitative, a subset of 14 participants from the online community were invited to participate in one-on-one remote shop-alongs. The research team and clients followed the participants in-store (via an app on their mobile phones) and were able to observe how they navigated the aisles and how easy or difficult it was to find immunity solutions. The moderator was also able to delve deeply into the participants’ perceptions of the offerings. These remote shop-alongs were conducted both in brick and mortar stores, as well as online for ecommerce shoppers

For the quantitative phase, an online survey was conducted with 700 adults aged 25+ who purchase immunity solutions products and were non-rejectors of the client’s brand. Survey click-throughs were balanced to match Census data based on age, gender, income, and region to ensure a representative sample. The survey was also balanced by where shoppers typically purchase immunity solutions products (drug, mass, grocery, online). 

The research team used a discrete choice approach to understand what features of immunity solutions products are most important in shoppers' decisions of which products to buy. We also employed Bayesian network analysis to help develop decision trees to map how customers choose immunity products. Finally, we surveyed consumers to uncover brand preference, brands purchased, how frequently they purchased and took immunity products, and how long they had been using immunity solutions products.
 

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