Monday through Friday I spend most of my time speaking about, thinking about, or helping my clients in the retail space, but—because I made the leap several years ago to buy a turn of the century home—come Friday at 5PM, much of my time is taken up by home repair, remodeling, and general DIY work. My weekend projects have taught me that in-aisle data collection is paramount to improving the customer experience. Below you’ll learn why.
Painting has become one of my least favorite tasks because how a color looks online will be vastly different on the wall. What does seem to work for me is going into the aisle, standing in front of all the other paint colors, spending time contrasting manufacturers, finishes, and color gradations. Even then, once I’ve narrowed my choice, the real test is getting home and seeing a couple of samples painted side by side on the wall.
As retail moves past the first part of 2018, there seems to be a rapidly growing focus on shopper sentiment. This manifests differently across various retailers and brands, but the frequency at which phrases like VOC (voice of the customer), CX (customer experience), shopper-centric, and more are popping up illustrates a growing interest in understanding the shopping experience and in-store shopper sentiment, both of which are possible to gauge through in-aisle data collection.
Much like the paint example above, this is not something that can easily be collected in a vacuum. Trying to garner in-aisle sentiment in an online questionnaire, while the user sits at home, in pajamas, answering from the comfort of their couch may prove as difficult as discerning between seven different shades of grey-blue.
Here is how the Wiser team thinks about the benefits of subjective in-aisle data collection, much the same way as I’ve come to think about paint selection.
Tactile and Present
For our brand clients who want to understand how they fare in a shopper’s mind and what presence they have in a potential customer’s consideration set, there is a lot to be said for standing in the aisle and staring at the product “face-to-face.” Answering shopper preference and consideration questions typically will look very different for our clients when the shopper has a chance to pick up the item, turn it over in their hands, interact with a display, and see it among the competitive set.
Two questions brands might ask mobile mystery shoppers are:
“In looking at the other products in the category, would you consider this brand to be premium?
“Does the in-aisle messaging impact the way you would perceive the brand or product?”
Even the way other shoppers relate to the product can impact responses. Time and again we’ve seen that the in-aisle feedback varies significantly for our consumer electronics, CPG, and apparel clients, and we chalk it up to the in-store component making all the difference.
Research and Development
Last year, one of our clients in the snack food space sent our “Bees” into their key retailers to identify how they were merchandised, how their logo was perceived, and where in the store they were actually located, in comparison with where they had specified in a contract with the retailers. As part of the in-aisle data collection process, we inadvertently discovered that our clients’ packaging was a barrier to purchase. It was not only hard to see when stock counts were low, due to the bag’s dark coloring, but also the sheen/finish on the bag gave off a shimmer that made it difficult to read under certain lighting.
I liken this to getting home and discovering I’ve purchased a glossy paint instead of eggshell or flat. Without hearing that from the customers performing in-aisle data collection, we would have never realized that sheen impacted sales. The client is now able to work with their R&D team to work on a better packaging solution that is not only clearly visible when stock is low, but that doesn’t create a glare in certain lighting. These are insights that they would not have been able to capture from online surveys alone.
Get Your Walking Shoes Out
Recently, I had a conversation with a brand client interested in learning about the overall shopping experience at a key retail partner. They wanted to show their partner that the store layout, brand blocking, category organization, and more impacted a shopper’s ability to successfully shop that store, as well as impacted the overall time spent in its four walls. Additionally, they wanted to confirm or negate their hypothesis that they were losing sales by being in a category that (best practices dictate) should be located closer to the perimeter of the store. In order to accomplish this, they needed to put in-aisle data collection to work.
What we learned was that a shopper’s experience in the aisle is greatly impacted by the store’s “flow” (the ability to move freely in and around the store) and that even a handful of cardboard boxes, pallets, or broken “shippers” (stand alone cardboard displays) can mean the difference between a shopper sticking around or choosing to abandon their shopping trip. That type of analysis cannot be tracked online and needs to have a user inside the store, navigating the aisles in order to illustrate the importance of “flow.”
Ideal vs Real
There is a lot to be garnered from asking a current or potential customer to sit down and have a conversation with you. There is a drastic difference in the amount of time and attention a customer will provide you with when asked to answer questions in the comfort of their own home, versus in the store, navigating boxes, pallets, and other retail obstacles. At the same time, however, there are factors of the retail experience that, similar to paint selection, simply don’t translate or be collected until you are “face-to-face” with the aisle, the product, or the store environment.
In-aisle data collection is key to understanding shopper sentiment and a way to improve your in-store presence. As I’ve learned from buying paint over the years, exploring products in-store is a different experience than shopping online. There are certain insights that retailers and brands can only tap into in-store, so going to the source (the aisle) is key to gaining a full understanding of how to serve shoppers better.