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Tales From a Parking Lot: How to be a Shopper Insights Superhero

Recently, while carting my bi-weekly Costco stockpile to the car, I took a quick visual scan of the parking lot. To the typical observer, it would seem uneventful. But in the eyes of a researcher, it was a ‘backstage pass’ to some very insightful consumer behaviors.

Here’s what I found:

  • A mother-daughter duo on a “getting ready for college” stock-up. While loading their car with a plethora of items — toilet paper, snack bars, cases of sports drinks, a large standing fan, a slew of notebooks and pens — they discussed plans for other stops on their back-to-school shopping route. Sounded like a mass merchant was next.
  • Two friends, as they loaded an SUV, splitting up the goods…half of the paper towels for you, half for me; half the limes for you, half for me; half case of San Pellegrino for you, half for me…and so on…
  • A mother of two, opening up a bag of Veggie Sticks, handing a few to each of her kids (already strapped into their car seats). As she got into the driver’s seat, she indulged in her own snack – seizing a healthy handful of Skinny Pop — just for her.

So this begs the question, do you know what your shoppers are doing after they’ve perused or purchased your goods and services?

Uncovering post-shop behaviors can create both strategic and tactical opportunities in the relationship shoppers have with you…both in the store and out.




Here are a few ways to ‘go further’ and really capture the essence of the post-shop experience:


Similar to my action, truly observe your shoppers after they leave your store.

Are they…

  • struggling to get their purchases into their vehicle?
  • having parking lot transactions with others (i.e. sharing or splitting up items)?
  • checking their receipt?
  • zooming off to their next destination (possibly finding what was not available with you)?
  • calling a friend about their ‘great find’?
  • accompanied by a carload of hungry kids?
  • consuming products in their car? (shopper turns into the consumer)

Understanding your shopper’s mindset at these crucial moments can help shape engaging post-shop platforms. It can also provide qualitative insights into who your shoppers are and what else your store might be competing against.


An exit interview can help understand trip type, motivators, etc.

Enlist experienced researchers to ask shoppers about their trip and probe specifics about their goals/mission. This can provide deeper understanding about how their visit that day plays into all their other tasks for that trip.

Hone in on key logistics, such as…

  • Did they leave home to buy something specific?
  • Or were they already out and decided at the spur of the moment?
  • What made them decide to visit your store?
  • How many stops did they make before?
  • Will they be making more stops?

Capture this information as it occurs since it is easier for the shopper to articulate versus recalling the trip after a day, week or even a few hours later.


Your employees know your shoppers. Ask them.

Conduct brief interviews with sales associates who work near the entry/exit areas of your store. This provides insight from those who see and interact with your shoppers every day.
In addition, by making your employees part of the process, they will feel valued for their insights. A two-fold benefit: great insight and great for morale.


Really participate in the shopper experience. Tag along.

Jump in on some or all points in the process. This can include:

  • Meet at their house, before shop
  • Accompany from their house or meet at the store and shop with them
  • Go on their errands, pre/post shop
  • Visit their home, post-shop

This is a good opportunity to understand the specifics of what the shopper has to deal with — preparation, shopping with children/others, eating as they shop, loading their car, sharing purchases, use of coupons, shopping multiple retailers, parking experience, etc.


Don’t stop with post customer service questioning, but rather look deeper into understanding the post-shop nuances which can identify opportunities that you may use to create better relationships with your shoppers.

About the Author

At Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm, I specialize in probing the minds of consumers and professionals -- revealing what truly matters to them...and why. Find me on LinkedIn.

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