by Heather

In-Person Consumer Research During COVID-19

By Greg Stucky, Chief Research Officer, InsightsNow 

As we continue to recover and work through pandemic-related changes to consumer research, we have seen a steady increase in the number of research requests—both quantitative and qualitative—where in-person executions are preferred or necessary due to stimulus/product handling requirements.  Finding ways to balance consumer safety while maintaining high quality in-person research has been a priority for InsightsNow and our clients. By continually monitoring news, local and national guidelines, we are able to advise ways to make in-person research safer during the pandemic. Here are some ways we have managed to continue onsite testing—and some options which can be considered to continue providing high levels of safety while conducting in-person and face-to-face research.    

agile gymnastics

Creating Flexible Plans

First and foremost, create flexible back-up plans. Things are changing day-by-day and sometimes we need to pivot to an alternate plan, like a change to serving schedules, moving to a different market or adjusting timelines. Agreeing on a back-up plan early allows you to flex quickly when changes arise. 

People group

Limiting In-Person Group Size

Reduce the number of consumers per timeslot or session to adhere to the national and local COVID-19 safety guidelines. This ensures consumers experience less contact in the waiting room, while participating in a CLT or even within a focus group. Ideas for implementation include more sessions in a day or considering spreading sessions across multiple days. Pay special attention to overlap time periods where people are arriving and leaving and plan for the least number of people overlapping as possible. By having fewer consumers come in at once, facilities can provide more personalized attention for quantitative studies, and moderators can probe deeper during qualitative studies. 

Person at cafe table

Adjusting Facility Room Set-Up

With smaller sessions, you can consider changing the room setup. Pulling inspiration from restaurants, we have been spreading consumers throughout the room for in-person sessions. The room, tablets, and any supplies are sanitized thoroughly between consumers. By leveraging news and following safety guidelines your participants may have heard about regarding how restaurants keep people safe, you make everyone more comfortable with the study and the in-person parameters.


Conveying the Right Mask Message

Any consumer completing onsite testing is required to wear a mask at all times, except when they are seated and actively tasting or drinking samples. The mask requirement can bring both comfort and fear, so researchers must carefully consider what subconscious cue to convey—especially if the research is branded in any way. Making everyone wear a blue medical mask gives a different room vibe than allowing people to bring their own mask and use it to share a bit about their personality—perhaps as part of an ice-breaker session. There are tools/tricks that moderators can utilize to overcome communication challenges that arise from wearing masks. 


Finding Options to Traveling

Requiring research team members to travel to facilities can also be difficult, with many states imposing quarantine guidelines for travel across state lines. For those able to attend, facilities are recommending reduced numbers for kitchen prep or back room viewing. In our experience, there are many ways to have a “hybrid” experience that allows consumers to come in person for control of products, yet virtually interact with other consumers, researchers and client teams. This eliminates the need for team members and moderators to travel yet allows for an in-person experience from a product perspective. Just because you need consumers to come to a controlled location doesn’t mean the interviewers or moderators also need to be in that location – you can run a video interview with each consumer at their own separate station with the moderator and viewers all remote.  

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Are you struggling with how to execute an in-person protocol during COVID? Give us a call and we can discuss options to keep everyone as safe as possible and help you think through designs which require the least amount of face –to-face interaction for the safety of all involved.