Is it better to understand the shopper journey in the moment?

Discussion
Sep 08, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the monthly e-zine, CPGmatters.

Unilever believes that understanding the shopper’s path to journey requires a shift from traditional recall studies to research "in-the-moment," said Aske van der Werff, the company’s global shopper insights director.

When they are queried after the purchase, she says the results are likely to be flawed or wrong. When asked "why" they made a selection, "they post-rationalize. They don’t know or can’t articulate. They are just human beings."

Using shopper intercepts and mobile technology at the time of purchase yields more accurate results.

"Recall research has its purpose, but if you really want to dig into what happens in a certain moment, it’s flawed at best. It can give you generalizations in recall, and that can be very helpful," Ms. Van der Werff said, but may not reveal what they were actually thinking. For example, when a recall survey asked about a beer purchase, shoppers mentioned an average of 3.8 influences per respondent, such as price, a special offer, a well-known brand or friends.

"This shows that people post-rationalize afterward and add many more elements than what actually happened because human beings like to build a larger story," she said. "They want to please the interviewer, or they can’t articulate the influences."

Ms. Van der Werff recently spoke at the Shopper Insights in Action Conference in Chicago in a session titled, "What Shoppers Can’t Tell You: The Role of ‘In the Moment’ Research and the Implications for Shopper Marketing."

Using mobile technology to ask the same question "in the moment," shoppers mentioned 1.4 influences per respondent with "well-known brand" cited most often. "The price and special offers are much less influential in reality than a big brand name. Awareness and reminders are much more effective than the results from the recall research indicate. This is one example why in the moment research can give you massively different answers," she explained.

She listed three principles that must be considered to understand shopper journeys:

  1. "First you have to be in the moment—not too far away from the actual occasion to prevent post-rationalization and stories that just aren’t the real deal."
  2. People have a better and a more accurate memory for what they did rather than why they did it. "So focus on the ‘what’, not on the ‘why’"
  3. "Then use modeling to understand some of the whys by looking at the sequence of whats, and what interactions led to a purchase, or a change in the purchase."

Are brands and stores too reliant on traditional recall surveys in determining path to purchase? Are mobile technology and shopper intercepts a feasible alternative? What’s your ideal technique?

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17 Comments on "Is it better to understand the shopper journey in the moment?"


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Gib Bassett
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

For CPG, I think what’s interesting is the opportunity to measure shopper behavior within the context of a broader, ongoing direct relationship effort. Particularly when you consider Unilever’s experience suggesting brand means more than the widely-used price or a special deal carrot, how do you engage shoppers in a way that helps you measure their behavior, at scale, without the limits placed on small sample in-store research? Because behavior changes over time, it’s probably more effective to have a pulse on shoppers over time. That’s where the brand marketing storytelling strategy should come into play.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Watching what people do has always been far more accurate than listening to what they say. Rationalization, posturing and self-preservation are all factors that shoppers use when asked about their “path to” and purchase decision. Far too often marketers believe they can manipulate shopper behavior when they would be far more successful if they concentrated on developing their brand at all levels and customer touchpoints.

I recently contacted customer service through a brand’s website regarding a product flaw (exterior door was unfinished and needed to be stained). To date I have not heard anything back. Yet when I called the customer service call center, the agent had the answer for me within 30 seconds. Unfortunately the experience and damage had already been done. Video, when implemented and used, properly and professionally, is a very revealing medium. It’s like Candid Camera for shoppers and shopping.

David Biernbaum
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

In as much as each purchase of a consumer good item is so important to those of us in the retail consumer goods industry, we should come to grips with a certain reality that many consumer purchases are not well thought-out. Many consumer purchases are not really “decisions” in as much as they are “reactions” to any given need, want or impulse, at any given time, and consumers might not even recall 20 minutes later why a given sSKU or brand was selected over another. For that reason I agree with the premise of this article.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

“In-the-moment” proponents cite problems with recall as the reason why we should be asking questions closer to the point of purchase. This misses the main point of a lot of our research on purchasing—that it is driven by habit or unconscious motivations. In psychological theory, post-rationalization happens when you ask the question, it doesn’t matter how long between the behavior and the question.

It’s possible that the reduced number of reasons mentioned by shoppers is as much a function of mobile methodology as it is reduced number of causes. We know that prices and promotions affect shopper behavior. Just because someone doesn’t mention them doesn’t mean they didn’t have an impact.

We created virtual reality shopping research for just this reason—that shoppers are not good at telling us why they do what they do. So instead of asking them, we test hypotheses about why they buy what they buy.

Joan Treistman
Guest
7 years 8 months ago
Having worked in shopper insights for well over thirty years this subject is near and dear to my heart—and the heart is where the answers reside. I agree with much of what Ms. van der Werff has to say, except for the part about modeling the “why?” Yes, in-the-moment research opens the window to understanding so much more than recall. If you enhance in-the-moment with eye tracking and core biometrics you reach the heart of the matter in terms of what generates attention and emotional engagement. Emotional engagement drives consumer behavior. Indeed 90 percent of brain processing happens below conscious levels. So when we integrate neuroscience measures with traditional market research methods we are well on our way to identifying the “what” portion of the in-store experience and “why” it happens. Modeling solutions will be flawed without knowing how the purchase decision is made and what on the shelf (package, price, promotion) gets attention and resonates emotionally. Modeling will focus too much energy around the path to purchase rather than the actual journey. Studies that… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
7 years 8 months ago

Ms. Werff, Ms. Werff—you might be correct that stores and brands are too reliant on traditional surveys in determining the path to purchase. Perhaps that’s why new techniques are now being sought daily for everything that exists in marketing and retailing, whether potentially feasible or just keeping today’s digital age mechanics busy and their work interesting.

As for my technique, keep your objectives straight, execute them consistently, stop claiming that additional items in a category are both really new and better, make shopping more comfortable and create truly new brand generation. That is the best paradigm for future purchases.

Jason Goldberg
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

In-the-moment research techniques are a significant improvement over post-experience recall methodologies, but still flawed when it comes to consumer decision-making research.

Shopping decisions are influenced by a huge number of subconscious factors that research subjects are simply unaware of. When we ask them to describe their decision making factors, we are really just asking them to rationalize a largely-irrational decision.

Using new technologies to gather implicit decision making data is the way to go. Shopper tracking, proximity detection, gaze tracking and two-tail A/B marketing experiments are much more valuable shopper marketing research tools than the typical shopper intercepts.

Ian Percy
Guest
7 years 8 months ago
If you believe the adage that “people buy on emotion and justify by reason” then tapping into that emotion “in-the-moment” makes a lot of sense. The intent is to catch the purchaser between the emotion and the reasoning. On the other hand the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah said “the human heart is deceitful … who can know it?” Then again, Jeremiah was known as “the weeping prophet” and was miserable about pretty well everything. Understanding human behavior and thinking will always be more art than science, much to the chagrin of market researchers. And the truth is marketers and advertisers devise their strategies out of emotion too and then try to justify them by research. They won’t admit that of course. But what “research” came up with the Geico gecko or the Aflac duck? Every dimension of how we position products hoping consumers will purchase them was born out of this mysterious thing called imagination. That’s what scares us so. Rather than learn how that actually works and use it more powerfully, we fall back to… Read more »
Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

There is not much true shopper science in the world, you know, actually observing and measuring shoppers’ behaviors. The best way to understand shoppers is to look through their own eyes (eye-tracking) not listening to their tongues, which are poorly connected to their actions. See: From Opportunity to Final Purchase.

Anne Howe
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

How refreshing that big CPG companies are moving in this direction. I’ve said before in this forum that decades of brain research show us that many decisions are made in the subconscious mind, which has no voice box. Post-consumption rationalization comes from the conscious mind, and is typically not as related to the underlying emotion that really drives many purchase decisions. That’s why in-the-moment research, what our company calls “deconstruction,” really does make a huge difference in uncovering and applying insight into purchase design.

It’s a new world out there in marketing. The closer we are to human behavior the better we can be, not only in influencing purchase, but truly solving for shoppers to make their experiences more productive and effective.

Chuck Palmer
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

There’s a reason we call this qualitative research. When we try to turn this into hard science we sound like fools. I applaud the valuation of ethnographic research.

We call them “shop alongs,” the idea being that a highly trained and intuitive researcher can set her own bias aside and interpret observations on behalf of the client and consumer.

I’ve seen this done well and done poorly. The more rigor and discipline we can apply (get the client to pay for) the better, but sometimes it takes focused talent and creativity to develop insights worth investing in.

When done right, this can be magic.

Dan Frechtling
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Great question and great discussion today. Joan, Jason, Anne and others raised the challenges of measuring non-conscious processing. Stephen nailed the flaw in the premise if, in fact, post-rationalization is time independent.

Most of the BrainTrust comments took the brand perspective. For retailers, the question is broader than just the purchase decision. The path to purchase involves the store or channel decision as well. Deciding which store to visit for a particular shopping trip is a more rational, conscious, and in-the-moment decision.

Traditional research is one option, but mobile technology offers us higher recency, quantity and fidelity of response for retailers. Mobile survey delivery via SMS and mobile browsers and mobile targeting using geo-fencing and iBeacon for iOS open new opportunities for short, specific questions.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
7 years 8 months ago

I agree with the premise of David Biernbaum’s comments, but it doesn’t convince me in the end that the “shopper in the moment” recall is any better than with recall techniques. I have, as a publicist, seen instances where the person takes an action, but has no idea why, when, or what motivated them.

Shep Hyken
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

The ways consumers buy today are much different than in the past. Traditional surveys are not as relevant as they once were. While you can still get great data from traditional surveys, the data you can get today from watching a mobile or online consumer’s activity leading up to (and after) the sale can’t be ignored. The data will help retailers make better decisions, understand their customers’ buying patterns and allow for better testing.

Norrelle Goldring
Guest
Norrelle Goldring
7 years 8 months ago

You need a combination. Intercept interviews typically last 5 mins and only 10-12 questions before the shopper fatigues or has to go elsewhere. You can only get a limited amount of info from intercepts. And even then they will be recalling the prestore Need and Plan purchase journey stages. Mobile technology is great for self surveying and you can get photos and videos as well. We also use online communities where they do mobile tasks and post the results, and recruit people at different stages of the purchase journey (Need, Plan, Search & Compare, Decide, Buy, Use & Tell) to get in-the-moment for each stage. As with anything there is no one-size fits all technique.

aske van der werff
Guest
aske van der werff
7 years 8 months ago

Agree that all recall on “why” is flawed in some way or other, in our presentation Barry and I highlighted three of the reasons why, but I’m sure there are many others. Mobile and in-the-moment in that aspect are not the be-all-and-end-all. The bigger point in our presentation was that exactly “why” is in many cases less accurate in nature, and that we should focus on the “what” and then use modeling—both on what people say and the more intrinsic, objective factors that are there—to get to the real underlying “why.”

Alexander Rink
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Stores and brands should be embracing the technology made available to them, especially if it provides more insight into when or why a consumer bought the product they bought. That being said, consumers are notorious for not knowing the real reasons behind their actions and many of them may be subconscious. For example, a customer may tell you they bought the sweater because of the price, but they may have actually seen it on a model or they may simply love the brand. Or perhaps it’s a combination of impacting factors that led to her purchasing the sweater, but she was only asked for one during the survey.

Still, it is better to get some information, as long as we are willing to look deeper and beyond.

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