Shop-alongs in Market Research | A Definition and the Process

Companies are all in competition for consumer attention. Why wouldn’t they be? There are numerous products and services that are comparable and similar on multiple levels, but every company wants the consumer to buy their product or service over the competition. How does a company, brand, product, or service stand out against to the competition? They effectively market to their ideal customer by grabbing their attention and guiding them to a buying decision.

There are numerous factors that influence the way a consumer shops and what leads them to purchase. Market research is used to help companies understand their customer on a deep level, and the information market research provides is later used to create effective marketing campaigns.

Shop-alongs in Market Research | A Definition and the Process

Shop-alongs are an informative way to capture in-the-moment feedback and top-of-mind thoughts of participants during the most relevant time: when they are purchasing products.

Reasoning Behind a Shop-Along

There are many strategies and methodologies that are used in market research. A focus group is a commonly used market research methodology. It involves gathering a group of participants together to engage in a guided discussion about a product, service, or concept. Focus groups provide an opportunity to learn about needs, preferences, and opinions in a controlled setting. Although focus groups are popular and beneficial, a shop-along is another way to conduct research and provides different insight for a company, brand or product.

In psychology, ethnographic research is a qualitative research method where the researcher observes a participant in a real-life environment. A shop-along involves the researcher literally “shopping along” with a research participant and asking questions during a real-life shopping experience. The purpose of a shop-along is to uncover thoughts, influences, preferences, and motivations when customers are shopping for a product. These aspects can be explored during a focus group, but by taking the research on-location, a researcher can gain knowledge about packaging, placement, customer experience, and in-aisle marketing efforts, offering a different perspective in comparison to traditional focus groups.

Step 1: Define Objectives

The objective or purpose of the market research project is identified. This is often crafted into a market research proposal and further discussed at a kickoff meeting. Strong and clear objectives set the stage for all future steps.

Step 2: Design the Methodology

Design the shop-along strategy and methodology. Designing the study is a complex and involved process. For a shop-along, the methodology is technically referred to as the on-site research and what is discussed as art of this process.

Step 3: Sampling

Define the sampling pool. With any market research project, the sampling involves recruiting ideal customers to participate in the study. Another option is to visit a store or location and randomly recruit on-site. For example, if you are conducting a shop-along for shampoo buyers, you may randomly screen participants as they walk-in for what they plan to buy today. You can mask or hide the true reason of the market research but ensure you recruit the right participants.

Step 4: Fieldwork

The next step is the data collection or the fieldwork. This shop-along the process involves the on-site market researcher greeting the recruited participant at the door of the store. The researcher accompanies the participant while they browse and shop for items, asking questions as the real-life experience moves along. The researcher remains with the participant throughout the entirety of the shopping experience, from entering the location to exiting after purchasing.

Step 5: Analysis and Reporting

Now it is time to analyze the data and prepare a report. This last step is about delivering the results and presenting the findings. In the market research report, the shop-along company summarizes the results, key insights, and takeaways from the project. Ideally the report should recreate the experience for those who were not on-site. By reading the report, the client can almost understand exactly what took place and what was learned at the shop-alongs.

Summary and Contact Information

Shop-alongs are an excellent methodology to gain knowledge about packaging, placement, customer experience (CX), in-aisle marketing efforts, and offer a different perspective in comparison to traditional focus groups or other forms of qualitative market research. Shop-alongs provide real-time data with real-life experience from entry to a location to point-of-purchase (POP).

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