As a company whose roots lie with in-store intercepts, we have always had an appreciation for the purity and predictability of learning about shopping behavior and testing concepts/packaging in a real retail environment with shoppers who were in the store to shop.
Reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman reinforced the idea that we need to preserve as much of the thought process purity as possible because the brain and the subconscious have a powerful ability to impact what we see and how we respond to things.
Thinking about in-store research in particular, there is a powerful difference between consumers who walk through the doors of a store to shop and those who walk in the doors to take part in a research project. For the actual shoppers, they are thinking of what they shopping for, time constraints, budget, etc. For pre-recruits, they are thinking about who they are going to meet for the research, what questions they are going to get asked, how they will “perform”, etc. Each are primed for very different things.
For research to be truly in-context, the environment needs to be real AND the mindset needs to be real.
The mission and mindset within each category can be critical to understand when learning about objectives like shelf breakthrough and concept understanding. Someone that is in autopilot within a category is highly unlikely to break routine to consider something new or different no matter how impactful the packaging is. Additionally, consumers use a number of subconscious short-cuts when shopping categories to simplify their shopping experience. So, what’s the implication?
There is NO way for results to be predictive IF respondents are approaching the research with the “game” mindset.
- Be cautious when testing within retail “labs” because they consistently only check the “environment” box. The primary issue here is respondents who are familiar with the objective and process and approach the shopping exercise as a game of “find out what is new or different.” Recruitment plays a huge role in preventing this: make sure respondents haven’t done a similar type of activity within the last year at least. Or just do the research in-store.
- Rely as much as possible on intercepts and in-store recruits if conducting research in-store.
- Don’t overuse stores. We recommend waiting several months before using the same store again to prevent running into the same shoppers again who already “know the drill”.
We have appreciated the traction in-context research has gained in recent years. However, we have seen how the focus is almost always on the environment, not the mindset. Make sure your next in-context research project accounts for both.