Measuring Consumer Shopping Preferences: Why Do They Buy?

Consumers use internet shopping concept

Consumer shopping preferences are constantly changing. A million different factors play a role in making someone buy a certain product. 

We’re all consumers of something. What makes you buy a product? Is it the packaging material? A snazzy tagline? A sleek design? 

For instance, 67% of consumers prefer paper/cardboard packaging to other popular materials. Details like this are important to take into account when studying consumer buying patterns. 

This and related factors are key elements that need to be measured. Thankfully, they can be found through two types of market research

Shop-alongs and mobile missions. 

Below, we’ll give you a rundown of each, and how accurate consumer metrics can be discovered through both. 

First Off, What’s a Shop-Along? 

A shop-along in market research involves a moderator following alongside a shopper as they navigate through a retail location.

You’ll want to make sure they fit the criteria of who your target audiences are, and if they’re likely to purchase your product. 

And then shopping begins! 

A moderator may utilize visual research and ethnography to understand the steps shoppers are taking.

Example consumer preference questions a moderator can ask on a shop-along include:

  • Why did you look at this product? 
  • What attracted you to the product design? 
  • Why did you grab this product? 
  • What are you looking for when you're making a purchasing decision?
  • What ended up being the deciding factor with your purchase? 

At its core, a shop-along is fairly simple. It’s a fascinating way to understand what motivates purchasing decisions. 

What stores are ideal for this? 

Any store is fair game. 

It’s very important to make sure you get approval from the stores where research will be conducted. It's hard to go into the shop-along when store management has no clue what’s going on. 

This ensures that employees won’t come up to those involved, throwing a wrench in the research. 

Types of products covered 

Ideally, you’ll want to zero in on products that are tangible and have a strong visual component. But the actual product type doesn’t play a huge role.

Questions about the product in question will start broad, and then narrow down to more specific topics like packaging and so on (the list above is a good example). 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Shop-alongs are a unique and hands-on approach to understanding why customers buy certain products. They provide an insightful way to gather consumer shopping preferences

Tips for Measuring Consumer Shopping Preferences with Shop-Alongs

1. Make participants feel comfortable 

Participants will always have the sense that a researcher is looking over their shoulder, but there are ways to make it feel (more) natural.

Understanding accompanied shopping trips and relaying that sentiment to the participant will only help the process. 

2. Build a rapport with the shopper

Of all the tips to successfully engage market research participants, this could be one of the most important. 

Letting participants know that shop-alongs are not a test is key in the process. 

This will work to make the trip feel closer to shopping with a friend rather than a complete stranger.

And the more comfortable a shopper is, the better your feedback will be. 

3. Start with the easy questions

This strategy is ideal with any type of research, but starting with a slew of basic questions will also help ease the shopper into the process. 

Additionally, having a casual back-and-forth with the participant will do wonders for the project. 

During these introductory chats, it's okay to give the shopper a little bit of pushback.

It’s okay (and preferable) to ask them the “why” questions. For instance, they might offer negative sentiments about a specific product. 

In this case, you can dig a little deeper with them. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Consumer preferences research all leads back to one main goal: gathering relevant feedback from shoppers. Additionally, the shopper needs to be made to feel comfortable. 

Exploring Mobile Missions

Now onto another form of in-store surveys, with a twist: mobile missions. 

In short, you're sending participants on a hopeful mission to complete your in-store activities. This could be simple, like looking for something at the grocery store.

This strategy is just another way to gather real-time sentiment on consumer shopping preferences. In this case, participants would be pre-screened and then sent off to the store in question. 

Mobile missions are sometimes preferred over shop-alongs for the following reasons:

  • Shoppers don't feel the pressure of someone watching them buy. There's more comfort in knowing they're shopping by themselves and therefore will shop closely to how they shop normally.

  • Mobile missions allow the participant to enjoy more of a natural environment. This is amplified when you send someone to a store they’re familiar with. 

  • Participants will shoot videos and take photos of areas in the store. This can help brands understand the differences of cleanliness, organization, and other factors between store locations for national research. 

Something to note! Questions asked in a mobile mission play more of a crucial role because there is no moderator walking alongside a shopper. Therefore, it's important to get more detailed with the questions you are asking.

For example, sometimes stores are messy. Shelves aren't stocked. Things can get a little crazy. And it's important your company knows these things! 

The way a store is organized plays a huge role in consumer shopping preferences. Because of that, it’s key to ask questions related to these topics while running mobile missions research. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Mobile missions are another great way to measure consumer preferences. Instead of having a moderator accompany the shopper, they go in with a smartphone to answer questions.

Other Ways to Measure Consumer Shopping Preferences

Shop-alongs and mobile missions aren't the only ways to measure consumer shopping preferences.

Another traditional type of qualitative research to gather data would be intercept surveys. 

A researcher will sit in a store and wait for a shopper to exit the store or complete a specific action. If the time is right, the researcher will approach a shopper and ask them a set of questions related to what they’re buying.

It’s important to note that intercept surveys are still a viable methodology and a great way to learn about consumer shopping habits

You can read more about this method in The What, How, and Why of Intercept Surveys or watch our video below.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Intercept surveys are in-store evaluations of consumer habits. Ideal locations for this may include malls, grocery stores, and retail locations. 

Benefits of a Hiring a Consumer Insights Company

Do you need to work with a third-party team to discover consumer shopping behavior? Absolutely.

These projects can be very complicated. But why? 

There may be hundreds of people sent off to go search for products. The programming that goes into this type of research is very broad and needs to be handled by experts.

A lot of time has to be spent measuring the data and implementing the correct research processes. Proper steps need to be set down before you dive into the research. 

The biggest thing to consider is how time-consuming this type of research can be. Not to mention, it's a pretty large-scale process. In turn, it needs to be handled by a team with large-scale capabilities. 

There are many benefits of using a third-party market research firm

  • A team can look at data objectively 
  • Market research teams have access to advanced tools 
  • The (right) team will have years of experience in the industry 

And these are just a few. 

The bottom line is this: leave measuring consumer shopping preferences to the experts! 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Conducting research with a third-party team is a must for gathering the right consumer data. 

Contact Our Market Research Company

Measuring consumer shopping preferences can reveal key data points about why customers choose to buy certain products.

Through different interactional research techniques, the proper information can be obtained. 

Drive Research is a market research company based in New York. Our team has years of combined experience in consumer research and will work with your business to create a customized project. 

Curious about the rest of our market research services? Get in touch with us today.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040


Chris Coville

As the Director of Research of Drive Research, Chris has 10 years of experience in the market research field and has completed projects with organizations across the globe. He was also named a 2017 40 Under 40 Award winner.

Learn more about Chris, here.


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Consumer Behavior