5 Steps to Actionable Shopper Research

One of the most challenging aspects of designing research is making sure that the design you land on will lead to actionable insights. This is particularly true for later stage research like shopper insights — a place that I've spent a lot of time over the last few years.

The key to successful shopper research is revealing how to make the shopping process easier, less stressful, and like a former colleague of mine likes to say, less lonely. Sometimes, amazingly small shifts in language or positioning can make a huge difference. When designing the research, it's helpful to consider how the research you're doing might look on the other side. Could it lead to a more compelling claim on a package? Could it be a bullet point on at-shelf signage that addresses a key shopper barrier? Will it be the one benefit to get into the TV ad that tells the shopper the one reason why they should buy this brand over another?

Marketing teams get a lot of disparate information: search program effectivness, website performance, sell through rates, etc. But often, they don't have a way to look at those in aggregate, alongside in-store metrics, and at the behavioral level by channel. It's even harder to know what the right message is for each of those channels. In absence of that knowledge, it can be difficult to ensure that marketing programs are as successful as they could be.

The five-step technique that I've deployed over the past several years was developed with a former retailer who was tired of getting research results with limited actionable insights. Over the years, I have been honing these key questions to yield highly actionable results for clients:

1. Time as a measure of consideration

The first place to start is to understand how considered a shopper's decision is. A good way to do this is to understand how long it took them to make their decision. There's a tendency to think that high value purchases are inherently longer decision cycles and low value decisions are inherently shorter. While that is sometimes true, often, it's not a good measure for what or how long the shopper will spend thinking about their decision. For example, sometimes people buy even cars on impulse! Or spend months thinking about a $20 item (see: my decision to buy an aroma diffuser, nine months and counting). So, this is a great question to reveal consideration across all types of categories. Chances are you'll be surprised by the results even in categories you may have studied extensively.

2. Where are they getting their information?

The next step is to look at all the places that shoppers may be getting information to inform their decision, whether passively or actively. Ideally, you want a very comprehensive list – for many clients, we have benchmarked against 45+ sources. It's useful to know what kind of scale each of those channels has so that as a marketer you can make decisions about whether or not you want to invest there. But just because a shopper engages with a particular channel does not necessarily mean that channel was particularly helpful or trustworthy or influential.

3. What source is making the biggest impact?

For a long time I successfully used the usage and influence combination for stated data which provided a sense of where shoppers said they were going and then how influential each of those sources were on a purchase. However, you can apply your own metrics as well. In healthcare categories, trust is an important measure, so hospitals and pharma companies may choose a trust metric in tandem with source usage.

4. What type of information is being sought from particular sources?

Understanding what type of information the shopper is seeking from a particular source is often a missed piece of the equation. As you might imagine, we seek and trust different information from a television ad versus a web search versus a conversation with a family member. This is a critical step to help your marketing team "program" each of the channels they are responsible for.

5. What's keeping them from moving forward?

Finally it's useful to understand the barriers facing shoppers. That may seem like a "duh" but a couple of caveats, here. First, to take barriers to another level I recommend being exhaustive about it. Often there are barriers that pop up and surprise us, which, if we had narrowed to the usual suspects we might have missed. Next, similar to combining stated usage and influence data, it can be helpful to look at stated barriers and ease or difficulty of overcoming each of these barriers. Combining these insights helps marketers to more easily make choices and trade-offs when trying to address gaps or overcome obstacles hindering shopper decision making.

I'd love to hear if this approach aligns with your experience, and if it yields any new surprises.

Visit the Shopper Trends Report page to get access to the latest research on shopper archetypes, behavior and attitudes.