In a recent meeting a client was sharing with us their frustrations about store loyalty data, and how grocery retailers are increasingly pushing brands to buy into that data in order to understand their shoppers. In some respects you can see the logic. In a world where differentiation is going to be the key to survival, retailers are looking to brands to deliver shopper marketing and category solutions that fit their shoppers needs, and their positioning as a retailer. Is it any surprise they want those solutions to be based on a real understanding of their shoppers – not just a generic picture pulled from household panel data.
The problem with that argument, however, is three-fold:
- Loyalty card data only offers a view of a proportion of a retailer’s shoppers – those who regularly use their loyalty cards. In this day and age, when loyalty itself is waning and shopping patterns are fragmenting surely it is equally, if not more important, to understand the perspective of those less loyal shoppers who are perhaps less likely to hold a card.
- The data collected is about what is bought so it reflects the status quo. However, it gives no insight into what isn’t bought and why not, or what might have been bought if the experience in-store had been different. And fixture conversion, a key metric of success, doesn’t even come into it
- Neither does this data offer a perspective on what influences shoppers in store and how this relates to their pre-store planning, nor on the behaviours shoppers exhibit whilst shopping – invaluable insights if your challenge is to change that behavior in any way
These are just some of the factors that highlight how important it is to complement big data with the reality of what happens in-store, and this can only be truly understood by observing and/or talking to shoppers in situ -however boringly traditional that may sound.The continued development of technologies such as virtual reality, mobile-enabled surveys etc. for researching shoppers is all well and good, and we do use these technologies as and when appropriate; but the fact is, nothing really replicates the good old-fashioned way of doing things – simply being there with the shoppers, observing and exploring what happens when they shop.In doing things this way we are not pre-empting, influencing or attempting to replicate the natural behaviours, goals and decisions we need to explore to deliver the insights you need.
Unfortunately, the elephant in the room is that it can be very difficult to get permission to research in-store, with brand owners struggling to get retail buyers who are unfamiliar with research to buy into the potential offered by in-situ insight. The worst case outcome of this struggle for permission is that second-best research is conducted instead, which can leave many of those key questions unanswered – or worse still, it can lead to the wrong answers! So, whilst we’re extremely sensitive to the commercial realities that can sometime impact on permissions to work in store, and pragmatic enough to know that it, sadly, isn’t always possible – we always do our very best to help our clients jump through the permission hoops and break down the barriers when we believe in store research is needed:
- We can provide supporting documentation to ease the way through the process, including:
- Clearly laid out benefits (to your customer) of the research we want to complete
- Simple expressions of why in store vs. other methodologies (including case studies, if relevant)
- Persuasive explanations to alleviate concerns regarding undue customer/shopper interruption
- We have standard processes for calling all stores ahead of arrival to ensure that any permission given by head office has been communicated to, and agreed with the store managers
- We have standard templates for permission letters which can be used on our own, or your customer’s letter-head for when researchers get to store
- We work hard with our clients to ensure that interviews are as short as possible so as not to delay shoppers too much – the essentials, and not the nice to have’s
- And, of course, we can assure your customers that all fieldworkers are not only professionally trained, accredited, and work to the requirements of the MRS Code of Conduct, but that they also genuinely understand the responsibility of working on our clients’ customers’ premises
Whilst in-store research is not for the faint hearted, we do all of this because it can reveal the nuggets that explain sales or loyalty data trends better than any other approach. Without it, we are left second-guessing the how and the why of purchase patterns, which surely isn’t what insight is all about?