As a market researcher, our job is often to be the liaison between client and customer.  So, market research firms all across the globe are trying to find new methodologies to access the minds of consumers.  What better way to do that than to be there when they are actually making those critical decisions?  There may not be a better way to attain real-time purchasing behavior data than doing so through shop-alongs.

Shop Alongs

The closest comparison to a shop-along methodology would be in-depth interviews or IDIs.  IDIs can prove to be quite valuable, but in some circumstances of market research, conducting an interview in your office or an interviewing facility may not be optimal.  For instance, if you were studying the consumer buying process for Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water, no matter how you recruited for the IDIs, there would have been lag time between time of purchase and when the actual IDI took place.  Therefore, the respondent might forget, misremember, or overstate certain aspects of the buying process because they are not actually doing the buying when they are sitting down with you for your IDI.  IDIs capture perceptions of the buying experience whereas shop-alongs put you right in the middle of the buying experience.

Specific consumer buying situations like these call for shop-along research.  Here at RMS, we believe this is a great methodology for capturing a respondent in their true environment.  Shop-along research does exactly what it sounds like, a research analyst shops alongside the actual consumer.  Whether it is a grocery store, department store, or even online store – the analyst asks questions to the respondents as he/she shops for products.  One major benefit of this modality is that respondents may not be cognizant of the smaller details of their shopping decisions and their choices until they are prompted.  By utilizing this type of research, you are able to capture these small details.  For instance – why did your subject chose Hunt’s ketchup over Heinz?  Was it due to the fact that it was on sale? They liked the display better?  They like the brand better? Or perhaps they have a coupon for it.  Whatever the reason may be, the analyst can prompt to find out why.

There are a few concerns with shop-along research including fear that the consumer will not shop as they would typically shop if they have a shadow.  Secondly, if the market research firm covers the grocery bill (not recommended) – the shopper may purchase more expensive items than they would normally.  Or, if the respondent receives any type of honorarium ahead of time, it could impact their future buying behaviors.

Shop-along research is capable of touching on nearly all aspects of the consumer behavioral process for a specific shopping occasion.  Market researchers will improvise as opportunities or problems present themselves – asking a variety of scripted/preplanned questions including some asked on the fly.  Who knows – maybe a key portion of the decision-making process for the consumer is something that the client has not thought about beforehand.

If you’re interested in conducting Shop-Alongs as a way to provide further insight into the consumer decision-making process, please contact Sandy Baker at 315-635-9802 or e-mail her at