Editor’s note: Devora Rogers is chief strategy officer for market research consultancy Alter Agents, Los Angeles.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw this joke on LinkedIn: 

Who is leading your digital transformation strategy at your company?

A. The CEO 

B. The CTO 


I loved the joke because I think of how many digital transformation sessions I’ve facilitated and none ever created the impact that a global pandemic has in just a few months.

We’re changing now because we have to change. It’s not what we imagined in our glossy futurist trends decks. But here we are.

The same is true of market research in a time of COVID. While more qualitative tools are available than ever before, the majority of us are stuck at home trying to figure out consumer shop-along research in a quarantine environment.

What strategies can researchers employ to best support in-store and shopper projects, providing alternatives to more traditional methods? The first thing to realize when looking at this problem is that we’re not in control. Unfortunately, the virus is running things. 

This means that there is no point in trying to replicate the work we would have done in our previous reality. Things are going to change for good, whether we like it or not. After we accept this, we can start to look at safe options for teams and respondents that can guide us into the future. 

Here are a few techniques that I recommend for those seeking shopper research methods:

  • Instant app-driven feedback. In most places, essential stores are open for business with basic safety measures in place. Tap into those shoppers through mobile tools like WhatsApp and iMessage to capture in-store experiences and send these experiences to your team in real time. This gives an opportunity to collect valuable in-the-moment data. 
  • Distributed neuroscience. Yes, that’s a thing. In market research, neuroscience can help us measure and predict behaviors. There are companies using wearable technology to collect in-the-moment data in order to garner insights surrounding consumer attention and emotions. 
  • Virtual interviews. Schedule virtual interviews with your mobile app shoppers within 24 hours of their store trip. There is value in collecting in-depth data quickly to avoid pitfalls surrounding faulty recall of actions taken too far in the past. 
  • Capture online behaviors. Top retail sites have seen a 125% increase in traffic since the beginning of the pandemic. As a researcher, you should plan for at least half of all shop-alongs to be surf-alongs to capture the online behaviors of shoppers and the dramatic shifts in the shopper journey during and, eventually, post-COVID.
  • Small focus groups. With virtual focus groups, I recommend smaller groups to allow researchers to follow individual shopper tasks and discuss the details of in-store decision-making. A more intimate setting allows shoppers to dive into all aspects of their shopper journey. 

Qualitative and shopper research methodologies have been completely turned upside down by the pandemic. In this sense, COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink and accelerate digital transformation. There are powerful options for market researchers to continue reaching important audiences – audiences who are more digitally connected than ever before.