To Be (In Store) Or Not To Be (In Store)

That is the question. I’m paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Hamlet, obviously, but this question comes up fairly often when deciding on the best research approach to tackle various marketing or business objectives.

In-Store Research

In fact, earlier this year we interviewed customers onsite at locations in different markets in order to gain real-time feedback on various store point-of-purchase (POP) features. The results were very interesting, because talking (really talking) to consumers is very different than simply asking them questions with preassigned answer choices (i.e., survey research).

Now, the trip I’m describing above was qualitative in nature, as it involved smaller numbers of lengthy interviews. Onsite interviewing is often qualitative in scope. Respondents can either be pre-recruited beforehand and asked to show up at selected times, or they can be intercepted at the store while they are shopping. You can always mix the approaches, too, and do some of both (as we did in the above example).

Not everyone will appreciate the opportunity to interrupt the flow of their day and sit down with you to talk about the vagaries of shopping, but as a researcher you learn to swallow your pride and soldier on. I can honestly say I’ve been cursed at, glared at, shied away from, and more when I tried approaching people in stores. You might even say I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or not. But when you find those fantastic people who are willing to spend a few minutes telling you about their experience, it is glorious. If I’m waxing a little too poetic on that point, I’ll blame it on Shakespeare (sorry, Will!).

The main benefit of store intercept interviews (or even pre-recruited respondents) is to get feedback in the moment—live, and in color. These interviews don’t rely on recall of a store visit that took place a week or a month ago. They literally just happened. Those top-of-mind insights are very useful to decision makers who are trying to improve their business.

Not all store interviews have to be qualitative in nature, however. Given enough time and store traffic, quantitative research can also be completed onsite. We have done store research where one team was doing quantitative intercepts and another team was doing shop-alongs at the same time. Granted, that was with a retailer that had large store footprints, but it can be done. Store intercept surveys generally need to be short and to the point so you’re not disrupting the respondent’s trip overly much. Design your questionnaires and set internal expectations accordingly. Also, people are more likely to agree to participate if you can honestly tell them it will take less than 10 minutes of their time. Don’t forget to mention the incentive! People like instant gratification and being rewarded for their insights. I know I do.

Keep asking the question, my fellows, and may noble truth be your reward!


Tom Allen

Tom Allen

Senior Vice President

Tom has over 20 years of research experience spanning several industries, including retail, restaurants, consumer packaged goods, and financial services. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from The University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from The University of Texas at Arlington.

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