PTG’s President, Dan Morris, was recently interviewed for the September issue of Online MR Magazine. In the interview, Dan shared his thoughts on the evolving demands of shopper insights research and how advances in technology are making it possible for marketers to passively observe shoppers in a natural environment.
Dan Morris: From my vantage point, the biggest change in the collection of Shopper Insights data is simply the increased number of potential sales channels that need to be monitored. Today’s marketers need to engage their customers, and that means not only understanding their customer experience in a retail environment, but also having a pulse on their digital shopping experience. For instance, in-store, mobile and online shopping environments each come with their own unique sets of challenges and research requirements. This is no simple task.
This evolving dynamic demands we introduce non-conscious biometric measurement into the Shopper Insights space. PTG’s patented Saccadic Eye Movement Recording System uses micro camera technology to record how fast shoppers’ eyes vibrate. By measuring this cognitive response we can objectively determine consumer engagement and interest with in-store stimuli such as packaging and communications.
What are some of the major challenges that you face in collecting insights from shoppers? How do you overcome these challenges?
Dan Morris: I would say the biggest challenge that we face is passively evaluating shoppers in a natural shopping environment or “in the wild” as I like to say. It’s widely agreed upon that the best research comes out of situations when consumers aren’t aware that they are being evaluated. Our mission at PTG is to inconspicuously capture consumer engagement to advertising and marketing stimuli in highly contextual, real-world environments. To accomplish this we leverage passive, patented technology.
Specifically, how do you leverage technology to better collect shopper insight?
Dan Morris: Technology offers the power of discretion. For example, our on-shelf micro cameras are the size of a fingernail and can be hidden in a pricing tag on a store shelf. These powerful little devices capture consumers’ Saccadic Engagement and facial activity while examining in-store displays and/or product packaging. The resulting data includes how many shoppers viewed a test product and then approached it on-shelf, how engaged the shoppers were with what they saw and, finally, how long the shopper spent with the product. This holistic view of the shopper experience enables marketers to identify what consumers can’t articulate.
Today with substantial amount of shopping being done online – how are you connecting with shoppers in the online domain?
Dan Morris: More and more clients are turning to us to measure their e-commerce channels. And, again, technology is the key. We apply our inconspicuous research tools to measure the performance of online and mobile stores as it pertains to closure rates, time spent shopping, click-thru and purchase data. In addition to the diagnostic information that’s captured, our eye tracking and Saccadic Eye Movement Recording System determine the pattern of element examination including which elements are most noted and read. We also measure the level of engagement for each webpage as well as line-by-line copy readership. We have found specific treatment impact varies by size of the digital device, type of e-commerce shopping and layout of specific webpage.
Shoppers – especially the dissatisfied ones are very vocal in social media domains – so is it the right platform to gather shopper insight?
Dan Morris: We leave social insights to the social listening companies and rely on our pre-market research initiatives to give clients the information they need to avoid social mishaps and disgruntled consumers in the first place.
Can we reduce/remove human intervention when it comes to analyzing data we collect?
Dan Morris: I think we’re already witnessing low-touch and no-touch techniques when it comes to collecting and crunching data; however, in my opinion, when it comes to delivering real insights there’s no AI out there that can replace human analysis and reporting.
One aspect of our business that we’re most proud of is when a client says to us – “Wow, we had no idea”. By passively observing shoppers in a natural environment, we go into projects with a clean slate and an open mind and simply watch them by using our unobtrusive cameras. We capture human behaviors that have a major impact on our clients’ businesses. At PTG we like to say “we see what you don’t” and what we see on behalf of our clients is pretty powerful.
What changes have you seen in the observational techniques to collect shopper insights in the past decade?
Dan Morris: The most massive change has been in the sheer sophistication of the data collection methods. No longer do qualitative researchers need to evaluate customer experiences with a paper and pencil or rely on outdated technology that makes the shopper feel conspicuous while in a store. Today, we can intercept hundreds of shoppers on the way into a store and invite them to shop as they planned to shop while wearing our inconspicuous audio and video recording glasses.
PTG’s truVu glasses are equipped with patented auto product identification technology and built-in HD and high frame rate recording capabilities. The technology has been successfully used to understand shopper buying behaviors immediately before and after interaction with a test shelf or product; or we can even follow their entire path-to-purchase. For example, are there “hidden influencers” that are impacting noting and selection of a product such as display height, FSIs and/or similarity of surrounding colors? Is a product’s signage being seen? Are shoppers reading promotional messaging and taking action? Are shoppers being influenced by certain areas of a store? Are shoppers skipping certain aisles or even an entire section of a store? In addition to shoppers wearing the glasses, we have also designed research projects where interviewers unobtrusively record shoppers and qualitatively probe about their experiences without the need for video cameras.
Can you suggest some changes that will help market researchers better collect shopper insights?
Dan Morris: The most important change that I can suggest is making sure that shopper insights have been discovered by research that’s been conducted in a real-world environment. We’ve seen clients make decisions based solely upon research that was collected via virtual or simulated studies only for them to find out that the basic premise was wrong.
Can you share some examples where you have helped provide better insights about shopper behavior to your clients?
Dan Morris: Sure, we had a health and beauty client struggling with the sales of an organic version of one of their products. In response, we designed an in-store study where shoppers went about their business wearing our truVu glasses and identified that shoppers were undoubtedly looking for the organic product in the organic section rather than among the regular category section.
We have helped a side-dish manufacturer discover the best placement for signage – in a totally different section – which increased follow-up purchase in their section of the aisle.
PTG also helped a major appliance manufacturer better understand their big box store promotional needs by recording the specific “ah hah” moment when simple customer browsing of appliances and related in-store signage turned into serious examination and follow-up questions with a salesperson.
We also measured the impact of the location and display for a consumer electronic device by discovering which types of displays worked best in different types of store layouts. For instance, some displays are too large to be seen without sufficient distance and some are too small to be engaging in larger stores.
What will be some of the major changes that we will see in the market research future?
Dan Morris: The future is going to be marked by research passivity. Consumers will no longer have to be asked to answer surveys because researchers will be able to gauge consumer behavior, engagement, emotional response, and facial recognition without asking a single question. At PTG we’re well on our way to making this future a reality!