Today qualitative researchers have a wide array of options for mobile ethnographies, with smartphones and tablets as willing (if inanimate) intermediaries to view consumers in their daily routines. One innovative technique deployed increasingly is the consumer “shop-along.” If you’re considering mobile shopper insights for your repertoire, I invite you to follow the trail of those brave early adopters – careful to avoid the dinged shopping carts – and benefit from some proven best practices.
Recruiting is key to the success of any project, and mobile shop-along studies are no exception. During the recruit be certain the right “enlistment” communication is provided to clearly articulate to potential recruits about what will be in store during the study. Sometimes simply stating that the research is “for shoppers like you” isn’t enough and can lead to drop-offs once participants realize the scope – causing a scramble to find alternates and potential project delays.
Clearly indicate to potential study participants that they’ll be submitting videos about their shopping experiences both at home and during normal trips, and if you can share with them the likely dates you’ll be collecting shopping trip videos. Ideally have screened recruits submit a “test” response prior to the study to help you identify any technical issues. The added benefits of a test exercise are visual and articulation confirmation of recruits, and the participation in a test exercise is an added confirmation of their intent to participate throughout the study duration.
If respondents will be using a smartphone app – or if your partner is shipping flip cams – make sure to include guidance for participants via a Study Overview – whether in written form or provided via the platform you choose. In the case of a mobile app, ideally the software is project-tested and stable – and you are assured on-call tech support for users when necessary. No researcher I’ve met yet enjoys troubleshooting iOS or Android late at night (or any time for that matter)!
Use discretion in how many distinct questions you incorporate into shop-along assignments. Too many details for participants to consider can impact the normal routine and behavior of a typical trip to the store. Rather, think about guiding participants to normal, natural situations, with concise direction to “voice every normal thought aloud as you go.” While you may direct them to a particular isle, or comment on a particular opinion in store, the objective is to illuminate the nuance of those experiences for insight vs. a laundry list of questions to answer survey-style. Let participants get lost in the research – rather provide you a glimpse of their normal thoughts and reasons for each routine. Sometimes if you over-do it with specifics, the irony is you’ll gain less of what you are really looking for.
Some mobile apps allow for the participants to view on-screen guidance (bullet points) in the app simultaneous to recording their videos. You might also consider a printable document such as a .pdf that participants will take with them on shopping excursions. Also related to studies in which participants will use their own mobile device, consider that video file sizes can be rather hefty – so optimally use a smartphone app that allows for the utilization of WiFi networks vs. mobile data plans, to avoid the potential burden of additional data fees for study participants.
You may consider asking participants to recruit a friend or family member to join them on store trips. Some situations (e.g. trying on clothes in a department store) can be difficult for the participants if on their own. If it is important in the research to see participants’ hands, remember that your project can be optimized by another set of hands.
If your study participants are indeed encouraged to bring a partner along to help record, include additional instructions to ensure video quality since the respondent may wander away from the camera. For example, emphasize they stay close enough to be heard if necessary, and instruct them to speak loudly enough to capture their audio sufficiently (this can be particularly important in large store environments, where peripheral noise might cause problems).
If using smartphones, consider supplementing the video experiences with photo images and text notes. These tidbits can be key to capturing spontaneous impressions in between videos, and can be nuggets of additional feedback and content for the report to validate certain findings.
Consider providing participants a “research purpose” letter they’ll take with them in case they are approached by a manager or store personnel. It should include your company name, the purpose of the research, and contact information where you can be reached with additional questions. Make sure the letter is printed on your company letterhead, and often your client will be happy to provide a research purpose letter on their letterhead. These letters provide everyone involved a sense of comfort.
Generally the laws favor the ability to film inside stores, however you should seek legal guidance if you have particular concerns. We always recommend that researchers inform participants that if they are approached, offer no resistance and agree to not record video if an employee is uncomfortable with collecting footage inside the store. For those participants asked to stop recording, you can advise them to continue their shopping exercise, and record their thoughts as soon as possible after the shopping activity, even if it’s outside in their vehicle.
Lastly, remember that the “before and after” videos and blogging assignments are important “book-ends” to the project – allowing you to delve deeper into key conceptions, thoughts and experiences within the shopper journey.
In shop-along studies, be ready for a lot of video data. The upside of mobile video interaction is that you’ll receive a wealth of in-store vignettes upon which to base your analysis. The potential downside is that you haven’t accurately anticipated the level of effort to view, organize and analyze the output.
Incorporate a credible multiple for review and analysis time (that is, an assumed number of hours of analysis and report writing as a ratio to the number of raw video hours anticipated). If you’re interested in more detail on expectations, 24tru can share calculations for what to expect, such as typical recording duration for archetype recordings (exploratory pre-shopping questions, mobile shop-along videos, etc.) and multiples utilized for analysis based on report type. You’ll want high confidence in your anticipated time commitment (and margin!).
Think about structuring codes up-front – rather than only reacting to the video submissions and creating codes “on the fly.” For reference, codes are simply the virtual buckets of unanswered findings, or the data structure you’ll use in analysis. Certainly new codes will emerge as data is reviewed as nuggets of “new” angles that often drive the most valuable insights. However there are benefits to creating these codes up front.
Structuring the basic code structure in advance is a great means to optimize assignments and flow, and can be a key efficiency gain during analysis. Codes help you keep the in-store experiences focused on key objectives, and at the same time minimize the risk of missing key points crucial to your client’s needs. Since mobile ethnographies are an asynchronous method, rarely do you get the chance to send participants back for another shot at it, and pre-structured codes are a means to ensure the key questions are articulated and addressed.
On the backend, pre-structured codes are an efficiency life-saver when poring over raw video responses. You’ll be able to more efficiently organize your data during the first pass, and the resulting codes provide an organized view of the shopping experiences across your sample. This level of organization helps you stay focused on the key objectives amongst the rich data, plus illuminate the “unexpected” for initial theme development.
Since shopping data is so rich – the resulting videos include feedback that is important however beyond the specific project scope. Accordingly, shopper video data will likely be requested later by client teams as other questions arise. This is another benefit of coding your video data, as codes provide a structured framework allowing fast retrieval of particular consumer experiences throughout the shopping journey.
Think about how the video output from your mobile shopping study will be preserved as a data mine, accessed easily, and searchable. These considerations can create long-term value for your research efforts, and ensure your work considers the long-term value of shopper insights for yoru clients.
New mobile qualitative technologies are a virtual innovation diving board into the pool of shopper insights. If you’re thinking about adding mobile projects to your firm’s toolkit, consider these tried-and-true best practices to optimize your studies.
- Clear communication during recruit means clear success in-field
- A Study Overview helps keep participants on-track and focused
- The app you use should be time-tested and stable
- Less is more; don’t over-do assignment details
- Use the on-screen stimulus in app or document of guidance for the in-store experience
- Video files = big files, make sure app can ensure WiFi-only uploads to avoid participants data fees
- Consider another set of hands – the “friends & family” recruit
- Add text and images to increase in-store feedback
- Provide participants with a Research Purpose letter for inquiring store personnel
- Don’t forget the “bookends” – the before and after video sessions
- Expect a lot
- Make sure you’ve done the math on the “raw video to analysis time ratio”
- Codes created during design can save time during analysis, and help identify new angles
- Codes can also help focus assignments, and ensure you get what the client is looking for
- Think about how your data will be stored, structured, and searchable – creating long-term value to shopper insights work