Gone are the days of researchers standing outside high street stores trying to find a willing participant to take part in an accompanied shop, the days of following shoppers around with a notepad and cumbersome video camera to ensure key details are captured. Now, thanks to the smartphone, there’s a whole host of ways to achieve that in-the-moment shopper feedback without even having to leave the warmth of the office… yes, I have been that researcher standing there in the snow!
Researching shopper behaviour via mobile provides us with a number of benefits over in-person — anonymity, reach, scale and speed to name but a few. But you have to be careful. Designing these projects to ensure that accurate in-the-moment insight is collected without a researcher physically present requires a considered approach. So let’s have a look at a best practice 5 step mobile research process for that invaluable customer feedback that we have historically donned our woolly hats to access.
Step 1. Start With Structured Tasks
From my perspective, a structured task element is fundamental to the success of any mobile shopper behaviour study. Giving participants a set series of tasks to be completed in-store over a certain timeframe ensures that your objectives are addressed remotely. Each task should explore a different behavioural aspect of interest.
Using store displays as structured task illustration; you would ask participants to visit a shop to purchase a certain product type (baked beans, deodorant, shoes, electricals, etc.). You request that they review the products and brands on display and explain what led them to their ultimate purchasing decision. By inviting photo and / or video feedback also, you will glean a very clear picture of the store display at that particular moment in time. Video clips can be narrated as the participant undertakes their shopping journey. Tone coupled with visual is incredibly important for an accurate understanding of why brand A was chosen over brand B, C or D.
As an added benefit, the collage of photos and videos you collect will bring each respondent to life, making it easier for stakeholders to buy-in, to really appreciate and empathise with what makes your shoppers tick.
Step 2. Add a Mobile Journal
Whilst specific tasks to be completed in-store guarantee accurate in-the-moment feedback at point of purchase, a person’s thoughts and behaviour in the run-up to their shop can be equally as important, whether they realise it or not. It may affect their choice of store, when they visit, what they plan to buy there (whether they do so or not), mood and so on.
This is where a mobile journal comes in. Over a two week period for example, every time your respondents have any experience related to shopping (be it in-store, online, writing a shopping list, seeing an ad, a social networking post, a word of mouth product recommendation, etc.) you request that they complete a mobile journal entry noting what it was, what they are doing, and why (the software will log the ‘when’ of course and potentially the ‘where’ — see Steps 3 and 4).
There’s no structure as to when or how many journal entries participants submit. You can steer them to some extent as to the type of feedback you’re looking for, but on the whole you want off-the-cuff information that supports your understanding of their actions and the thought processes behind — you want to know every little detail about shopping as a part of their everyday lives.
As with in-store tasks, enable photo and /or video upload to enrich journal data further. This open ended real time feedback combined with focused in-store activity provides the detail you require for an accurate interpretation of participant actions.
Step 3. Use Location Tracking
Knowing where people are completing their mobile journals (and structured tasks if not store specific) adds another layer of depth to your research. Much of the mobile research software available nowadays, including our own JournalMR, provides a location tracking option.
Having a record of your shoppers’ whereabouts when they feedback is essential for accurate behavioural analysis. As an example, one particular food study shopper may call into the local convenience store just around the corner from their office every day, do their main shop at a supermarket 10 miles away from their home, and think about their food shopping requirements every time they visit the gym.
You can ask participants to include their location within each entry of course but it’s not terribly helpful to fluidity or the feedback experience when your software can capture the ‘where’ data so easily.
Step 4. And / Or Geo-Fencing
Geo-fencing takes location tracking to a more complex level, allowing you to trigger research activities / structured tasks based on a person’s location at a particular moment in time. Real world examples emphasize the in-the-moment raw feedback that geo-fencing enables most effectively:
1. In-Store Experience — As a participant enters a store they receive a notification about a report card task to complete regarding their in-store experience. They can fill it in as they walk around the store, answering the questions and taking photos and videos as they go.
2. Store Preference — As a participant is walking down the high street, they walk past one store and enter a competitor store three doors down. At that moment a short survey is sent to them to explore what it was that made them choose the competitor store.
By geo-fencing your mobile shopper behaviour research activities, you take away the need for study participants to remember to complete related tasks in real time. In-the-moment context is effectively, automated.
5. Achieving Mobile Ethnography
As our CEO highlighted in his blog last year, introducing a smartphone into your online research studies alone, doesn’t make them ethnographic! Mobile ethnography goes way beyond a photo upload. But by incorporating all of the elements above, the structured tasks and open-ended journal in particular i.e. a multi-methodology, you are well on your way to an effective ethnographic mobile shopper behaviour study. And there is no deeper, nor accurate approach to in-the-moment mobile research that this.
In terms of ethnography, you may want to introduce online focus groups into the mix. Whilst these don’t necessarily need to be conducted on mobile, the information gathered throughout your mobile study should be used to build your discussion guide. Shopper collaboration will illuminate behavioural motivations even further. Passive mobile data collection apps are also an option for added digital context.
As you may have gathered, I am a great advocate of mobile research for shopper behaviour studies. And having been on the front line I know that the same in-the-moment accuracy can be achieved via mobile as long as the methodology is designed effectively.