How to understand shopper behaviour during a pandemic - Inside FMCG

How to understand shopper behaviour during a pandemic

Covid-19 has changed many things this year, and shopper behaviour is high on the list.  With the pandemic still hanging like a dark cloud over the brick-and-mortar retail environment, shoppers’ expectations have shifted. 

Relaxed in-store browsing has largely given way to a more focused approach. Consumers are now more likely to arrive in stores with a clear shopping agenda, and they expect a higher level of focused service when they are there.

Understanding how shopper behaviour is changing through the Covid-19 crisis is vital for retailers. But capturing these shifts in behaviour while still remaining ‘covid-safe’ has become a challenge, particularly for accompanied shops.  

In the pre-covid world, physically shadowing a shopper and observing their behaviours during an in-store visit provided many valuable insights into consumer behaviour. However, following a shopper around a store has become socially unacceptable during the pandemic and perceived as being risky. 

But that doesn’t mean Covid-19 has put an end to this valuable research tool. Here at The Growth Activists, our research team was recently challenged with undertaking pandemic-affected accompanied shops for a client project. So we tapped into that ubiquitous device – the mobile phone.  

Our researchers connected with shoppers on a mobile-based video call, and asked shoppers to direct their phones at what they were seeing in-store.  There was a low barrier to getting  research participants on board with this methodology as many had already had the experience of shopping and video-calling a friend or relative to get their opinion on a potential purchase. 

We found that conducting mobile phone-based accompanied shops provided surprising benefits. In fact, it was so successful that we’re not even considering going back to the traditional in-person approach.

Here are five key benefits of conducting mobile phone-based accompanied shops:

  1. Greater intimacy with the respondent: Physical accompanied shops can leave the respondent feeling that they are being ‘watched’. Communicating via mobile, on the other hand, creates a much more relaxed shopping experience for the respondent. Subsequent insights are therefore much more representative of true shopping behaviour.
  2. Borderless connections: Faced with state border restrictions, The Growth Activists team conducted accompanied shops across multiple cities and states in one day. This saved significant time and travel costs. But most importantly it enabled nation-wide insights to be delivered rapidly for a retailer with a national footprint.
  3. Following the shopper’s eye: We asked respondents to flip their camera around while they were in-store and describe what they were looking at in real time. This enabled our researchers to identify what caught the shopper’s eye, and determine not only how but also why they were navigating the retail space in the way they were.
  4. Accurate capture of the experience: Using digital-recording tools, such as the record function in Google Meet, enabled our team to create highly accurate recordings of the retail space, pull out fantastic video snippets, and transcribe shopper comments within minutes.
  5. Complete honesty in the responses: Chatting on a mobile phone is second nature for most people. This familiarity enabled our team to build greater rapport with each respondent, and gave us the ability to freely converse with shoppers and prompt them through their headphones to drive truthful and frank anecdotes.

If your organisation has put qualitative research on hold due to the pandemic, or has not yet trialled new research methodologies, there is good news for you. The innovations in methodology coming out of the pandemic are delivering insights that are better for your business across multiple fronts – faster delivery, greater geographic breadth, cost-effectiveness and improved reliability of insights. 

There has never been a more important time to be attuned to changing customer behaviours – these insights can make the difference between your brand just surviving or actually thriving in 2020 and beyond.   

  • Rob Shwetz is a Partner at growth strategy consultancy, The Growth Activists, and leads the Research & Insights practice. Rob can be reached at rob@growthactivists.com

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