Shop-alongs: Customer Feedback on the Front Lines

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Guest Post By: Kelly Heatly:
Marketing research is commonly conducted outside of the retail environment, before or after purchase transactions occur.  Research objectives might include measuring awareness and usage; testing concepts; or understanding attitudes, behavior, and perceptions.  These objectives may be accomplished through quantitative, qualitative, or a combination of research methods.

What happens on the front lines?  What is going through a customer’s mind at the point of purchase?  How does the retail environment impact purchase and loyalty?

The first question can be answered via mystery shopping: evaluating the customer’s experience in the retail environment by checking that marketing and operational standards are met.  Mystery shops are conducted by pre-recruited “shoppers” who are equipped with customized checklists and assigned tasks.  Mystery shopping is vital to upholding the company’s carefully planned strategies and improving on areas of concern.

ShoppingCartThe second and third questions can be answered by actually talking to customers in the retail environment via shop-along interviews.  “Shop-alongs” are conducted by a professional moderator who observes and interviews customers in the retail environment.  Like mystery shopping, shop-along interviewing seeks to optimize the retail/point-of-purchase environment.  How shop-alongs differ: they are designed to pinpoint influencers and barriers to the purchase process, vital to generating sales and building loyalty; this requires in-the-moment, in-the-environment discussions with consumers.

Whether your company offers consumer packaged goods on a grocery store shelf or a white-tablecloth dining experience in a five-star restaurant, consider how much you know about the critical customer experience on the front lines.  Understand it, measure it, and improve it.

To learn more about shop-alongs, from my recent article in GreenBook, click the link below:

http://www.greenbook.org/marketing-research.cfm/traditional-shop-alongs-with-a-twist-35051

Kelly Heatly is principal of Heatly Custom Research LLC, specializing in qualitative research.  With over 18 years of marketing research experience, she conducts on-site retail research, building on a foundation of mystery shopping and quantitative research. You can reach Kelly at Kelly@HeatlyCustomResearch.com.

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