“My Store is Not Your Playground” – How to Get Permission for Shop Alongs
When I was a new shopper insights manager I made the mistake of asking a merchant with 25+ years of experience if I could do shop alongs in his chain. He looked at me and said, “My store is not your playground.” This was a big blow, because I prefer to do in-context qualitative research over focus groups. Unfortunately, as I discovered, retailers are often reluctant to grand their vendors permission to do research in their stores.
As a result, many shopper insights managers are left with less desirable options for getting in-store insights. Yes, there is virtual reality. Yes, you can mock-up shelves at a facility. But nothing quite captures the chaos and the irrationality of shopping like observing your shoppers in true shop alongs. Therefore, if you are going to request permission for in-store research, you need a strategy.
Why Requests for Shop Alongs Irritate Retailers:
Most retailers want to know more about their shoppers. But can you imagine how many requests they must get for in-store research every year? If they said “yes” to every request for in-store intercepts, shop alongs, and route-mapping, shopping would become impossible. Would you want to shop at a store where a routine trip for bananas and milk requires navigating around research groups all the time? No. And neither does anyone else. And retailers recognize this.
Secondly, retailers are often (rightly) suspicious that vendor requests for shop alongs are mostly self-serving. Retailers are merchants. They are not in the business of satisfying someone else’s curiosity. This is especially the case if they sense the project isn’t for their own exclusive benefit. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, it’s their store.
7 Elements of a Successful Request for Shop Alongs:
Being a good vendor-side shopper insights manager requires the ability to create value jointly. As a result, when you ask for permission to conduct shop alongs, approach the request from a joint-value mindset:
- Commit to do the research for the retailer’s exclusive benefit.
- Make the case that there is no other way to get the information.
- Set a small, maximum number of people who will be in any aisle at one time. Promise that this small group will leave the store if you become too disruptive to the shopping experience.
- Select specific stores and have a clear rationale for why the research is in those stores.
- Show how you will minimize disruption to other shoppers through a limited scope.
- Allow the retailer to jointly design the research objectives with you.
- Invite the merchant or his or her internal shopper insights manager to join you live for the research.
If you can demonstrate all 7 of those criteria, it will be hard for a retailer to say “no” to your request. The most difficult of these 7 is showing that there is no other way to get the information. Shop alongs are a privilege, not a luxury. Simply wanting to do your research in a store isn’t a good enough reason. Make sure you can show that panel, POS, and other qualitative research methods have already been exhausted. If you do this due diligence first, your request for shop alongs will have a higher chance of success.
Shop Alongs, Conclusion:
Discovering that the “store was not my playground” was a good lesson early in my career. I learned more as a result of that rejection than I would have doing the research. Since then, I haven’t even bothered trying to request in-store research or shop alongs if I can’t promise and make good on all 7 points above. As a result of those 7 principles, my personal rate of getting permission to do research in-store has been much higher.