Background: In order to better understand endcap usage by shoppers, a national advertising agency engaged Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) to conduct a series of in-store intercepts and shop-alongs regarding its client’s items in a local grocery store. (What are shop-alongs? Click Here)  The end-client was a Fortune 50 multinational consumer goods company.  The intercepts and shop-alongs were designed to provide the advertising agency and the client with an assessment of consumer shopping habits, behaviors and preferences.

Methodology: Over the period of an eight-week timeframe, RMS conducted four intercept interviews and four shop-alongs every two weeks at a grocery store in Syracuse, NY. The frequency coincided with the change in endcap products every two weeks at the grocery store. The customer intercepts were conducted by randomly selecting shoppers to participate in the store through ethnographic research.  Intercept interviewers stationed themselves in the store to observe particular interactions with the endcaps and then determine whether an intercept was warranted or not, based on pre-defined criteria.

RMS also recruited individuals to participate in shop-alongs, which were either pre-scheduled through phone or screened and conducted on the fly.  RMS and the client created a recruitment screener, which blinded the intent of the research (purchases in the product category of endcaps) by creating a larger list of random items and only selecting those shoppers who considered making a purchase in the endcap category.

In addition to our role in the market research, the end-client also employed a number of hidden cameras and eye-tracking technologies to further provide quantitative information on behaviors.  The store also created separate UPCs for (1) items purchased directly off endcap items, (2) the same items purchased but not from the endcap, and (3) non-related items.  Our qualitative research findings were used to support the data.  

consumer behavior research case study

Linking observational research to consumer behavior is key. Shop-alongs and intercepts allow you to understand shoppers’ behaviors, not just observe them.

Both the intercept interviews and shop-alongs had a separate moderator guide.  However both guides honed in on questions specific to endcap usage.  The guide was customized to provide answers to the following objectives:

  1. Do shoppers engage/notice endcaps?
  2. Why do shoppers engage endcaps?
  3. Why do shoppers purchase from endcaps?
  4. Why don’t shoppers purchase from endcaps?
  5. What are the benefits of endcaps for shoppers?
  6. Do shoppers have a plan of how to walk through the store ahead of time or do they decide on the fly?
  7. Do shoppers check the store flyers, use coupons or use the shopper kiosk?
  8. Do shoppers use a grocery list? Are the majority of their purchases planned or unplanned?
The hypothesis of the study was:
If the multinational consumer goods company worked with grocery stores to feature well-branded items on the endcap, these endcap products would push sales of that brand in particular but also push sales of that product category.  As a result, the grocery store would sell more private label brands within that product category and earn a greater margin.
A theoretical example would be featuring Heinz ketchup on the endcap (I don’t know why we reference ketchup examples so much on our blog, but I digress.)  The fact that Heinz was featured would generate more awareness and acknowledgement of the ketchup, encourage more sales of Heinz, Hunt’s and the store brand ketchup.  Basically, it’s a win-win for all parties.

Results: The results were incorporated into a comprehensive final report for the end-client.  The final report included a case-by-case breakdown of each experience (both intercept and shop-along) in a matrix format.  The qualitative research gathered by RMS was incorporated with the observational, eye-tracking and sales data to support components of the hypothesis.  Our market research provided the key link between observational research and understanding consumer behavior.  Results of the RMS research were incorporated with observational videos of shoppers, so that the end-client could not only watch how shoppers engaged endcaps but also know what their thoughts were at that time.  Linking observational research to shop-alongs or intercepts is key.  If you use only ethnographic research, you can view actions but not understand the reason behind those actions.  One without the other leaves you with inadequate findings.