Fixing Shopper Research


Shopper research
Market research

Over the last six months we’ve concluded a number of shopper research projects with clients and each one has left me more and more concerned about the way research is being conducted around the world. To be clear my ‘beef’ is not with the principle of conducting shopper research, which I think is essential. Rather I’m more frustrated with the process itself.

Here’s my top three peeves and what I think should be done:

Shopper research is too broad!

Have you ever sat through a research presentation? Wow, are they boring! Research presentations can run to hundreds of slides, many of which have very little practical value. In most presentations I read one chart in 20 has something useful on it and even then the data can be hidden or miss-presented.

It would be easy to blame the agencies who produce the presentations, but in reality it’s often the managers who commissioned the survey who are at fault.

Agencies in the main do a fair job of providing the information they believe the client wants. Often the client wants a lot. Many studies have objectives that are extremely broad (in the shopper space a common objective is simply “To understand shoppers”), few articulate clear hypotheses that have been evaluated before the brief and in many cases additional questions are added to make commissioning a survey ‘more efficient’.

All of this means that the agency tries to cover every eventuality and meet as many needs as possible. The end product? Ten charts out of 200 that tell you something useful.

Shopper research is too slow!

Big studies seem to take forever. Think about it, a major study can take up to twelve weeks to conclude. But that’s just the field work, add to this the time it takes to get the study of the ground: from internal approval, through briefing, into procurement then there’s questionnaire design, training and recruitment – all of which need to be done before you start field work. Accounting for data processing, ‘insight’ development (see below) and presentation it might take 24 weeks to conclude a study. That’s 6 months! Before you can do anything!

When one considers how much change there’s been in the last six months, surely there must be a way of speeding things up?

Shopper research is not insightful!

I remember a conversation with a client who’d just finished an extended piece of work into shopping behavior and when I asked how it had gone he said, “We didn’t really learn anything”.

“You mean you didn’t learn anything new?” I asked.

“No” he said, “we didn’t really learn anything at all!” Imagine the disappointment! Months spent conducting a study and you learn nothing! But the reality is that research presentations rarely do tell their recipients anything valuable. This is because the research presentation is not the end of the road, it just the beginning.

To drive real value from research, managers often have to combine the new findings with other pieces of secondary data to create insights upon which they can act. This a painstaking task which can add further delays to actually realizing business gains from the research that’s been conducted.

3 ways that make shopper research work

I believe there are three things that can be done differently to deliver better results, faster and at lower cost:

1)      Focus research on learning how to realize business opportunities:

Research projects should begin with the development of clear research hypotheses based on what is already known. For instance, we encourage our clients to focus on testing hypotheses that if true would enable teams to increase sales. These focus on learning how to drive new shoppers to the brand, how to encourage shoppers to buy more often or to spend more. By selecting only the most valuable hypotheses two things happen: 1) Research projects become more focused and therefore potentially cheaper and 2) The returns the company enjoys from acting on research can be much greater.

2)      Apply methodologies that deliver answers quickly:

With focused research hypotheses, it’s easier to apply methodologies that give accurate responses more quickly. By seeking out technical solutions that minimize the time lag between data collection and analysis teams can get into developing insights faster. For instance, we recently worked with a client who used a tablet-based app to capture traffic data in stores and to capture shoppers’ responses to focused questions. The data were instantly transmitted to a dashboard so our client could work on the outcomes of the survey immediately.

3)      Spend time and effort on creating business impact

Much of the time and effort put in by agencies after a study is directed at tabulating data and creating a presentation, which as we’ve seen above, no-one will use! It would be so much better if effort and time were spent on creating actionable insights instead.
For instance, in the shopper space, much of the work done in implementation is done by the sales team, working with customers. Sales people don’t need lengthy presentations on what the research says, they need pragmatic solutions they can discuss with their customers. Converting research findings into a compelling commercial proposition that illustrates the business benefits that your customers might enjoy helps you sales team realize business gains from research quickly.

If you’re contemplating your next research program and would like some useful tips to getting the most out of your investment, why not read our ebook “The Introductory Guide to GREAT Shopper Research” 

Shopper research methodologies – The best of the rest


Rest of the Best
Rest of the Best

A couple of weeks back, I listed my favorite five shopper research methodologies. Needless to say a number of research methodologies didn’t make my list and of course a lot of readers offered additional suggestions. So this week I want to think about my pick of the shopper research methodologies that I didn’t include.

Focus groups

Being in Asia, where some marketers often struggle to access more technically sophisticated shopper research methodologies, I often come across the use of focus groups to understand shopping behavior. Focus groups do provide valuable insights into what people perceive they do when they shop and perhaps more critically why they do it. This qualitative understanding of motivation is tremendously useful in configuring programs. Focus groups also create valuable directional insights into where more focused research might be conducted. For me though focus groups are best used in the configuration of research hypotheses. In this case directional insight can be converted into potentially more focused and indeed quantifiable outcomes.

In-store observation

One correspondent was amazed that I hadn’t included in-store observation in my initial article. I guess my omission is a little surprising following the step-change in understanding of shopper behavior that pioneers like Paco Underhill spearheaded in the nineties. Of course there is a huge amount to be gained from all the modes of observation that now exist today. Observing actual behavior has an inherent advantage over learning about claimed behavior and it can create a very clear narrative around what people actually do. The data collected through observation allows shopper marketers to pinpoint potential issues in-store for further exploration using say eye-tracking work or virtual simulation. A caveat though is that observational work should not be the start-point of any research unless you first fully understand the target consumers and shoppers and the channels you need to prioritize.

Neuro-science and bio-metric based approaches

Thanks to my ex-colleague Sean Raw for asking about neuro-science and particularly combining it with other approaches like eye-tracking. The cool thing about these methods is they allow us to image shopper’s subconscious engagement with their environment. As yet portable brain-scanning tech is only available in limited markets but bio-scanning technology is rapidly becoming more accessible. Highly portable units are now available commercially which, like lie detectors, allow us to measure a subject’s response to environmental stimuli. Whilst neuro-science purists might discount bio-metric approaches, they are telling us a lot about shopper behavior. A pioneer in this area is Ken Hughes in Ireland who often delights audiences with demonstrations of the lack of engagement shoppers have with grocery environments. Combining brain scanning or bio-metric scanning with eye tracking and in-depth interviews can bring fabulous richness to shopper research programs, especially when they are used to really get to grips with understanding a specific target shopper’s behavior in a priority space (note also that these methods work fantastically in both offline and online environments).

Combining shopper research methodologies

The truth behind shopper research is that no one methodology is perfect and each methodology plays a quite specific role. As a result, we never suggest an approach which depends purely on one method alone. We are therefore always wary to advise marketers as to which shopper research methodology they should use without first determining the hypotheses they actually want to test. I know that this sounds like I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, but in the last six months I’ve seen more than 20 pieces of shopper research that were conducted without this key stage.

With so many marketers entering the market for shopper research at the moment, its easy to be swayed by agencies proposing sexy new methodologies, if you need help navigating this feel free to reach out to me for advice.

My Top 5 Shopper Research Approaches

Eye tracking
Tobii eye tracking glasses







Over the last few months I’ve often been asked what shopper research approaches are essential to help build effective programs . Here’s a summary of my top 5 and why I think they are useful to shopper marketers

Shopper Research Approach 1: The Usage & Attitude Surveys

It might seem odd that I start with an approach that is often more closely associated with consumer behavior than shopper behavior. Usage and attitude surveys however are essential for shopper marketers because they help identify which consumer priorities shopper activities need to address. All shopper marketing activities should be aimed at changing shopper behavior in order to drive greater consumption. As Mike Anthony and I wrote in our book “The Shopper Marketing Revolution”, “Without an increase in consumption, any increase in sales is likely to be short-lived”.

U&A studies help identify potentially valuable consumer segments; they enable marketers to benchmark consumption behavior and identify growth opportunities. As such they help shopper marketers begin to establish which shoppers they need to target. Often such studies inform shopper marketers who buys and which channels are used. In all, a good U&A is a great starting resource.

Shopper Research Approach 2: Household Panel data

Household panel data, such as Kantar’s World Panel is my second key research approach for shopper marketers. Panel data describes purchase behavior in terms of penetration, frequency and average weight of purchase. This data can be cut and diced to identify how product does and does not enter the home. This helps understand where to focus more detailed investigation of shopper behavior, define hypotheses for deeper research and to potentially scale the size of opportunities at retail.

Shopper Research Approach 3: Exit interviews

Whilst exit interviews may not always provide the most meaningful insights into why shoppers behave in a certain way, as a resource they do have a place on my list. When exit polls are targeted at the right groups of shoppers, in the right channels, they help to understand the levels of influence a store has on a shopper’s behavior. Well-constructed surveys force shoppers to recall how a retail environment has affected their plans. This helps us identify the degree to which one might be able to change a shopper’s behavior in certain store types, and this helps us prioritize channels.

Shopper Research Approach 4: Eye tracking

Eye-tracking is often tacked on to shopper research proposals as an afterthought. But when it’s used to follow target shoppers in a potentially important channel it serves to highlight key touch points in the store and perhaps more importantly, what your shoppers miss. Valuable insights can be gained into why people behave in the way they do when eye-tracking work is supported by well managed in-depth interviews. This can be invaluable in developing subsequent activities.

Shopper Research Approach 5: Virtual store simulation

For me virtual store simulations provide ultimate closure on which activities are likely to deliver the best results. All the previous approaches create the potential for teams to develop hypotheses about what might work in-store. Virtual store testing helps teams validate these hypotheses. More importantly virtual store tests help teams calculate the potential impact an in-store activity might have on the sales of their products and the products around them. This is not only great insight into the potential R.O.I. for your company but it’s also great insight to support a business case for a retailer.

If you are stuck trying to work out which shopper research approach is best for you, why not read our “Guide to GREAT shopper research” available free here?