It’s still rather surreal to comprehend how much daily life has changed in a period of a few months. From bustling streets and stores, to schools and workplaces brimming, we are now getting “used” to things like wearing masks in public, working from home, and – for many – financial and job insecurity (or feeling overwhelmed if you’re in the medical community).
The financial picture for the U.S changes daily and feels like the news keeps getting grimmer: Record numbers who are filing for unemployment, companies furloughing or laying off workers, and people falling behind on their rent and mortgages.
With many stores having been closed, shopping behavior has radically shifted, as well. Whether you have a physical store or sell online products or services, don’t try to assume anything about changing customer behavior and motivations at this point. Your best bet is to conduct market research so that you can understand how you may need to redesign your offerings to help customers find what they need – and feel safe.
Fortunately, market research can be conducted online easily. From online focus groups, to mobile ethnographies that allow people to answer questions in the moment, to individual interviews, there are a plethora of ways that you can understand how to best adapt for your customers in a pandemic environment. Here are some ways a neutral market research firm can help.
Tip #1 for understanding your customers: Don’t just use surveys
Surveys are faster, and can be more economical than qualitative research, but it’s only one part of the picture, and in an environment as complex as what we’re living in now, you simply won’t be able to fully grasp customer preferences and needs to through closed-ended questions and likert-scale questions. Surveys can be used in conjunction with qualitative research techniques, if you’re looking to statistically validate themes you learn from qual research, but in an environment where we’re all still trying to fully grasp what’s going on and how we want to change our behavior, you simply can’t predict what people are going to choose as a response in a closed-ended format.
Tip #2 for understanding your customers: Explore what they’re feeling first
It may be tempting to redesign your store, online shopping site, or even the products you are offering based on anecdotal evidence in patterns, but without understanding what’s behind people’s changing behavior, you’re only getting half the picture here. This is where qualitative research comes in – and is so effective. Through online focus groups, one-on-one interviews (video webcam or phone), or group online panels, a research team can explore the anxieties and wishes that people have as they return to in-store shopping experiences. For online shopping experiences, a research team can do journey mapping exercises – through screensharing – and see how people navigate a site. This helps identify areas they may get stuck or frustrations that could arise as they try to find products or check out. Once the research is complete, the research company will provide a full-picture, through an actionable report, about what customers feel and how your company can make improvements in light of these insights.
Tip #3 for understanding your customers: Adapt your messages accordingly
Once you’ve conducted quantitative surveys and qualitative research, your team will have a rich understanding about how to physically redesign store experiences and, for online sites, data on where to improve the user experience. Your marketing team can now come in, and using the insights from the research, craft messages that speak to people’s opinions, fears, and wishes. Messages that are developed based on true consumer insights are far more effective than “marketing speak” that may completely miss the mark of how people feel.
Tip #4 for understanding your customers: Virtually go along with their shopping experiences
For customers who are coming into your physical stores, you can virtually follow along with what they’re looking for, how they go about finding it, and how they’re feeling by using mobile ethnographies. A mobile ethnography is a virtual shop-along: The customer downloads an app that sends them questions while they’re in the store. They respond, in the moment, with video responses, written text responses, and pictures of what they’re seeing. This is a highly effective method to measure the in-store experience, as it’s happening.
The world of shopping has changed, but you can prepare
Whether we like it or not, the world – and your customers – have changed. Using strategic market research techniques, and partnering with a trusted market research company, you can provide a seamless experience that meets your customers where they’re at.