Reinventing Shopper Research: Blog


In this episode of our Lab Leaders podcast, we are looking at shopper research and customer behaviour. Are you intrigued why certain items sell better in one store location than another? Let’s unpick why…

Shopper research reared its head in the late ’80s and early ’90s, with very simple but effective formulas for capturing these insights – think control stores, clipboards and a lot of observation. Retailers would re-merchandise a fixture in store to see if it drove more conversion into sales and would use EPOS data and intercept interviews to get feedback.

Shopper research unlocks many growth opportunities for brands and categories, looking at how people behave and most importantly WHY. The core principles have stayed the same, but the technology and techniques have moved with the times. Innovation can and should remain at the heart of shopper research, which is exactly what our teams over at Walnut UNLIMITED believe.

With technology now being used in shopper research, you can get much more insightful data through online communities, passive metering, online interviews, behavioural filming, eye-tracking and GSR armbands, to name just a few technologically driven techniques. This evolution means that we can now tie together attitudinal and behavioural science or employ a blend of techniques (rather than single techniques in isolation) to capture more dynamic and useful insights than ever before.



The goal in shopper research is to reach the ‘holy trinity’ – recognising what the shopper needs, helping them with their task, and understanding if it is category additive (something for the retailer). But there is a relevant argument that we should not rely solely on claimed behaviour when it comes to shopper insights.

It’s acknowledged that asking questions in store with a classic clipboard method may not necessarily garner the results you need because people post-rationalise their answers. Moreover, neuro and behavioural science tells us that the experience of shopping draws on a mix of memories, emotions, and context – much more than can be accurately and meaningfully articulated verbatim.

Brands need to access the subconscious mind of the shopper to nudge people to buy products they didn’t know they needed. Many companies such as IKEA curate their retail space through a network of arrows navigating you in the way they want you to shop, placing key impulsive products at certain points of the journey. This visibility of product triggers a need and makes us feel we have had a more productive trip than planned. If you can instigate this impulse-buying properly, this could be a growth factor for your brand.



The landscape of shopper behaviour has been completely changed by COVID. With retail space having changed dramatically, people are modifying their shopping behaviours as a result – and this is likely to stick. They are questioning whether they want to be in an enclosed space with people, waiting in queues. Do people grab and go, or do they loiter? In-store surveys have become a thing of the past as they take up too much headcount and time. 

Because of COVID and the lack of in-store data collection, different techniques have emerged. The challenge lay in how to use technology to get better insight – online communities were used more, while VR became a route to testing new layout and solutions. People are more willing and have more time to participate in surveys and focus groups when they can do so from their sofas. These techniques offer more valuable insights and are easier to collect than virtual testing. They also seem to be here to stay.

Research is descriptive and does not really identify growth opportunities. In order to drive growth, Ivan believes we need to get closer to the purchase decision. Finding more implicit and behavioural-based metrics unlocks more opportunities. Direct questioning explains the behaviour. This makes us truly understand what motivates shoppers, identifying growth opportunities and helping retailers, manufacturers and shoppers achieve the ‘Triple Win’ which improves chances of retail activation.


To listen to the podcast in full, click here. Or, to discuss all things shopper research and find out more about our implicit solutions – from VR to online communities – you can reach out to our host Faye Hawkins at