What is a shop-along?
A shop-along is a form of market research where an interviewer accompanies a consumer while they browse and shop for items, asking questions as the experience moves along. The interviewer greets the recruited shopper at the door or recruits participants at the door for the market research. Much like IHUTs, shop-alongs are an excellent methodology for collecting real-time, in the moment, and point-of-purchase (POP) feedback.
Retail stores and grocery stores are often the most popular locations for shop-alongs. Shop-alongs work best if the consumer is planning on spending some time in the store as part of a bigger experience. For example, the value of conducting a shop-along with a grocery shopper who spends 30 minutes buying groceries and housewares is more powerful than trying to run shop-alongs at a local gas station where shoppers run in to pick up beef jerky and a Mountain Dew after filling up their tank.
One of the largest benefits of shop-along market research is the ability to ask questions as consumers pick and choose products. The in-the-moment nature of the research allows you to pick their brain and explore the psychology of decision-making as it is unfolding.
Is a shop-along qualitative or quantitative market research?
A shop-along project could be designed for both qualitative or quantitative benefits. It depends on the number of shop-alongs which take place for the market research. If you are conducting over 50 or 100 shop-alongs across the country, you may be entering closer to quantitative territory. However if you are conducting 8 shop-alongs at a local grocery store, your findings will be exploratory and subjective.
Not sure which path to choose? Do you want to explore or measure?
How does a shop-along project work?
All shop-along projects work a little differently. Each one has their own unique set of circumstances which drive the process and outcomes. However, like many market research projects, they follow a similar process. The process typically involves a kickoff meeting, set up, fieldwork, and then analysis and reporting.
Step 1: Kickoff Meeting
Much like any market research project, the study starts with a kickoff meeting between the client and the market research company. The kickoff meeting will help both parties understand objectives and expectations from the market research. Understanding these will ensure the project gets off to the right start. The discussion at the kickoff will guide next steps in both recruit and shop-along interview guide design.
Step 2: Recruitment
The next step of a shop-along project is to determine who to recruit for the shop-alongs. Recruitment needs to review the type(s) of demographics you'd like to conduct research with. This can range to include genders, ages, incomes, types of products purchased, types of stores visited, etc.
Step 3: Choosing Locations
Locations of stores can also assist with the type(s) of demographics you are looking to study. For instance, cities in Upstate New York like Syracuse, Rochester and Albany are top test markets in the United States because of their ability to mirror demographics of the country. So if you are looking to launch a product nationally, test marketing it in Upstate New York will give you a realistic idea of demand and appeal. These Upstate New York markets also have isolated media markets and affordable advertising and marketing, which all adds up to an ideal test market.
Step 4: Begin Recruit
If you choose to pre-recruit participants for the shop-along, you'll need to do this before the planned dates for the shop-alongs. This would involve your market research company using phone calls, an online panel, or social media to recruit shoppers to come to Store ABC on Date D at Time E for a 30-minute shop-along.
Another option if you have more flexibility with on-site shop-alongs is to manage the recruit at the door as participants walk into the store. Here you run them through a short screener and see if they qualify to participate for the shop-along. If so, you conduct on the spot. If not, they would continue into the store as normal.
Step 5: Shop-along Guide Design
This is the core deliverable of the shop-along project outside of the report. The shop-along guide is used by the interviewer as he or she walks around the store with the consumer as they shop. The guide lists out all of the questions and conversations that need to happen to address the key objectives and marketing research. The shop-along guide is the most important step in the process.
A strong guide results in strong results. You can have a strong guide but deliver a poor report but you cannot deliver a good report without a strong guide. The effort that goes into the planning and questions impacts the results that come out. Garbage in, garbage out.
Step 6: Fieldwork
This step is when the interviewers complete the shop-alongs. The shop-along fieldwork includes both features of an in-depth interview (IDI) as well as ethnography research. In a shop-along you want to promote as natural of a shopping experience as possible. Many times during the shopping experience the interviewer should drop back during the non-critical aisles or portions to give the respondent some room to breathe and relax.
Step 7: Analysis and Reporting
The final step is to review all of the feedback and data from the shop-alongs. In some situations it may make sense to digitally record the shop-alongs so the interviewer can focus his or her full attention on the interviewee. This avoids the interviewer from having to take voracious notes and instead listen to the feedback and probe when necessary.
Interested in a shop-along market research project?
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