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Recently I finished an in-store in-depth interview project that captured shopper insights on video.  The project examined issues related to how a product was selected, brand preference, labeling, in-store strategies, and attitude and usage amongst shoppers who happened into the store at the time.  While a legitimate criticism of the technique as a quantitative method can be made based on its “convenience” sampling, this argument overlooks several strengths in the technique.

One strength is the immediacy of the interview.  Observing and interviewing the shopper in the store while shopping can help to evaluate strengths and weaknesses related to the product on the shelf.  Of key importance is how easy is it for the shopper to quickly understand what the product does and what the product is communicating (or not communicating) to the shopper.  Are the benefits of the product adequately stated?

Another strength is approaching hard to sample populations.  For example, where incidence of buyers in the general population is low and recruiting a panel-based sample unlikely, one can use intercepts at the shops in question to interview shoppers that meet rigid sampling requirements.  One recent example of this was work I did for a company that made decaffeinated coffee beans for upscale third-wave coffee shops.  The client wanted to know how they could better market their product to millennials who purchased coffee in these shops.  I interviewed millennial decaffeinated coffee drinkers in third wave coffee shops in eight cities.  The project produced some interesting findings that helped the company understand the challenges ahead of them to appeal to this age segment.

Video in-depth interviews offer another strength – they can be compiled into video reports that clients can use to “inculcate” their employees.  Furthermore marketing can use the video reports to put top management in touch with the consumer.  Learning about the consumer can produce innovative ideas for more effective marketing.

Another great use of this technique is with B2B executives.  Take, for example, a distribution chain involving distributors and large retailers.  Asking these executives how they decide to carry product X instead of product Y can produce important insights. 

A well-structured interview can also examine how business executives select a company to use for given projects.  Uncovering strengths and weakness of the competition and the client relative to the competition are important benefits of the technique.  Additionally, understanding transactional satisfaction can lead to insights that might result in substantial competitive advantages for the client. 

One other key benefit to B2B in-depth interviews – risk management.  A company may be interested in launching a new B2B service that requires a substantial investment.  By conducting in-depth interviews with prospective clients, the company can understand whether the concept has a market, whether the market would readily accept the service (or product) being considered, and what modifications can be made to address issues related to viability.  For example, I’ve used this technique to help clients manage risk involved in cell tower infrastructure, drone-based agricultural applications, pharmaceutical compliance services, and industrial hand wipes to name just a few.  The findings produced substantial risk reduction (and costly investment) to the client.

In conclusion, in-depth interviews should be considered a viable and important method for gathering data on both household and business consumers.  Their greatest strength is the ability to understand decision-making at the business and product level.  When combined with video, in-depth interviews offer the client the opportunity to hear directly from the consumer.  When used in a B2B context, in-depth interviews provide competitive and risk management benefits that can be extremely useful in decision-making.