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Understanding Shopper Reality: The Role of Next Generation In-Context Research

Research needs to marry the observation and documentation of consumer behavior, with proven technology, to capture and measure behavioral drivers and influences in environments that come closest to approximating "shopper reality".

These days it isn’t uncommon for a run of the mill conversation around our office to lead to an unscientific straw poll around the question of “So how do YOU shop these days? In-store or online? Order for delivery?  Pick up Curbside? Browse or replenish?”

First – I know what you’re thinking – yes, we geek out about this stuff and second – the result of the poll tends to be . . . ALL OF THE ABOVE!  

It is a complex world these days in shopper marketing, especially for our clients in FMCG and Grocery products. We have increasingly heard from clients who struggle to wrap their heads around the fundamental question of how to succeed in the first moment of truth: getting the consumer to reach for their product on shelf or to put it in their digital cart.  With all the competition and noise out there, the holy grail for marketers seems to be achieving a deeper understanding of consumer behavior in order to understand the increasingly complex “shopper reality” and influence consumer purchasing habits.

In order to do this we have to start with the science of choice.  

One thing that behavioral science tells us is that consumer choices are not made in a vacuum.  Consider your typical trip to your preferred grocery retailer: few of us love the experience, we often go on autopilot driven by habit, we are distracted by multiple factors and we make choices by what has been described as System 1 factors:  emotion, loss aversion, familiarity, instinct, and unconscious associations. When we ask people about their purchase behavior outside the context that comes close to their “shopper reality”, or evaluate a product in isolation, we risk making decisions without understanding the whole story leading to the purchase behavior which can result in flawed assumptions and predictions.  

Research needs to marry the observation and documentation of consumer behavior, with proven technology, to capture and measure behavioral drivers and influences in environments that come closest to approximating shopper reality.  Our methodologies, both quantitative and qualitative, must be grounded in a behavioral framework that decode habits of choice and drive advantage for the brand. If we do that, we give client marketers the insights needed to create successful packaging, shopper marketing, and category management strategies that establish habits and drive sales growth and increase market share.  

But the other “reality” for brands is the unprecedented pressure for speed and efficiency to make decisions that can drive business for category leaders and accelerate the adoption of new products for category disruptors, in a market in which the average retailer is carrying thousands of SKUs.  Next Generation In-Context research tools demand simplicity, flexibility, and efficiency that can be tailored to answer specific business questions and fit all budgets. The best in-context shopper research needs to be delivered in weeks rather than months; it should be modular and reliably cost effective.  

We have always believed that innovative technology is the servant of effectiveness, ultimately producing paths to business outcomes rather than gimmicky research outputs.  The evaluation of which technology to integrate into in-context research needs to be scrupulous in the consideration of whether it enhances the ability to approximate “shopper reality” rather than introducing an incongruous distraction.  

Our approach to Next Generation In-Context research includes an AI-driven system to provide guidance on which pack optimizations will produce the greatest ROI, a completely non-intrusive biometric bracelet to capture emotion at shelf and during the second moment of truth, in conjunction with our proven eye-tracking and video capture of in-store customer journeys. Finally, we have added an e-commerce module to every study, as retail is no longer just brick and mortar.  

This next generation approach to understanding “shopper reality” fundamentally changes the way brands can think about achieving closer consumer connection. Connections that take place in an environment that most closely replicate actual shopper experiences will undoubtedly yield the most accurate, actionable insights, and cement the lifetime value of the consumer.  

The world of retail will continue to change and grow in complexity, affecting shopper behavior.  If we commit to innovating in-context research to get closest to “shopper reality” even as it evolves, we can assuredly help clients understand the ways to influence consumer choice, win and drive growth.

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