Using technology for shopper research
Technology – isn’t it amazing to think of the advancements that have been made even in our lifetimes. There have also been some amazing technological advancements when it comes to how we research shoppers. We are no longer limited to in-store interviews and traditional focus groups. We can track the paths of shoppers using RFID mobile technology, we can build virtual aisles and stores to test new concepts, we can `scrape` your web screen to generate purchasing data and we can even scan shoppers’ brains as well as their till receipts!
These advancements open up many different opportunities when it comes to conducting research, and if used correctly, can provide cost and time savings; two crucial currencies in our industry. However, with this choice comes decision paralysis, and as research buyers, we need to be sure we are using research-based technology in the right place at the right time. A good shopper research agency should be cherry picking different methods and technologies for you, by considering the three crucial factors which will dictate where and when technology is relevant …
1. What is your Business Issue?
Your business issue should always be at the heart of any research solution. Too often even as research buyers, we get fixated on the method rather than the business issue. This often governs who the brief is even sent to in the first place – instantly limiting us if we have jumped to the wrong method for our issue.
Any good agency should be working with you to diagnose the various elements of your issue which will subsequently determine the methods, platforms and technologies that will be most relevant to you…
Consider the following questions before deciding on the right technology…
WHAT are we trying to understand? Identifying what business levers you are trying to pull is crucial as a starting point. If for example you are looking to better inform in-store merchandising, you need to understand how a fixture is shopped in the moment, which means on-line platforms/technology aren’t going to deliver.
If you are trying to test a shopper marketing concept that is very futuristic or confidential, then a platform such as virtual reality is ideal; allowing you to test shopping behaviours in a controlled, private virtual environment.
There are even different types of eye tracking technologies which are suitable for different business issues. One might be more suitable if you’re issue is about packaging, and are most interested in how and what shoppers look at on packs. If you want to evaluate navigational signage, there are eye trackers better suited to measuring visibility whilst in motion.
WHO are we targeting? Which group of shoppers are you trying to talk to and in which category? If for example you’re researching a sensitive category such as Sexual Wellbeing, then a face to face group is going to be uncomfortable for the majority! In this scenario, technology can play a huge role – conducting qualitative research via on-line bulletin boards for example, will feel much more comfortable, encouraging more honest responses.
WHERE we want to research will also dictate the use and role of technology. For example researching in discounters can prove challenging, but that shouldn’t prevent us from learning … mobile technology can help document behaviour as it happens. Equally if we are trying to understand transient forecourt behaviour, then pre-recruited research will be almost impossible, so similar technology can be applied to understand what, when and why shoppers buy. So technology can really help overcome the barriers that are apparent for traditional techniques in such channels.
Understanding your business issue is one thing, but doing this in isolation of your time scales will not always provide you with the right end research solution. Again technology can be used to speed things up … for example a quick read on some basic questions from an on-line omnibus can be turned around much more quickly than an in-store survey. An in-store mobile survey whilst limiting in terms of the granularity and detail provided, can provide almost instantaneous results if you need some headlines back more quickly.
Going hand in hand with timings is budget. Be mindful that using technology does not always provide the cheapest option. For example, in-person observations for a small area of a store are likely to be more cost effective than using a camera solution. A set of traditional accompanied shops may be cheaper than some mobile qualitative research.
A good shopper research agency should be finding the best blend of method, platform and technology to meet your issue, budget and timings. Technology opens many doors, but is not always the right solution for these three parameters. Let’s not forget – when we commission research, we are actually paying for actionable insights, not technologies or methods. If technology allows us to get to these insights more quickly and cost effectively, then all is well and good. But don’t throw away those traditional techniques just yet, as they are sometimes just as powerful at getting to the end result! If you work with an agency that truly understands shopper behaviour, then they will find the right solution for your needs.