Consumer research: From traditional questionnaires to online research

Mobile telephones and online communities offer new opportunities for research into the behaviour of consumers, in which consumers are given a much more active role.

A great deal of consumer research is done with questionnaires. However, reliable responses are not always obtained. For example, someone who says they are willing to pay more money for a sustainable product may ultimately opt for the cheapest one available at the store.

Research works better via an online community. This allows researchers to track how consumers talk about products. For consumers, it is a fun way to share information about their purchasing decisions. Due to the design of the platform, it simultaneously serves as a reliable source of data for researchers.

An example of this is the FoodProfiler, an app in which consumers keep track of what they eat and drink at certain times and receive tips for a healthy diet in return. Marleen Onwezen, social psychologist at Wageningen Economic Research, previously worked on FoodProfiler and wants to create a similar platform for consumer choices at the supermarket. Onwezen: 'The mobile telephone provides many opportunities to obtain data on customers, e.g. via Twitter. This research gets closer to the consumer than questionnaires do, so we can gradually make adjustments according to the wishes of consumers and customers.'

Virtual supermarket

In previous research, using virtual reality headsets, customers were able to purchase flowers from virtual flower displays, which were based on photos of real flower displays. An emotional text accompanying the flowers turned out to appeal to customers. In contrast to the assumptions of many retailers, customers did not need a wide variety of options.  

Using a virtual supermarket, Onwezen wants to conduct research for clients who would like to know more about food choices made at the supermarket.

We can measure whether presentation impacts decisions. For instance, do people purchase more sustainable rice if it is on a separate display or do they prefer it when it is placed next to regular rice? Does it matter if the percentage of customers who have previously purchased a sustainable product is listed next to it?
Marleen Onwezen, researcher

Living Lab

Onwezen is collaborating on this type of research with Hans van Trijp, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Wageningen University. They meet at the Wageningen Living Lab on behavioural change, a network of researchers at Wageningen University & Research. 'The collaboration with Van Trijp provides me with deeper understanding', says Onwezen. 'Online research is becoming very common and this is interesting for retailers and policy-makers. The data are just waiting to be harvested. However, you still have to do it properly.'

Living lab is a new research approach where we not only use a lab-environment, but where we test behavioural insights in a multi-disciplinairy way and in a 'real-life'-situation with 'real people'. WUR, for instance, uses this method for behavioural research on nutrition and climate change.