Some people say that mall-intercept research is a study in the art of interrupting people. I prefer to think of it as the study of people in a neutral, natural setting.
If you’ve ever visited a mall (and there are people who haven’t!), you’ve likely seen someone standing in the hallway with a clipboard or a tablet greeting passersby. And, if you’re lucky, that person has asked you to chat with them. That person, of course, is a research interviewer conducting a mall-intercept study.
What ensues is a short conversation or dialogue between the interviewer and the participant, usually in the context of shopping and buying, but often in many other contexts. Political polling, social services research, and government services research are commonly conducted via mall intercepts.
In fact, mall intercept interviews begin even before the interviewer speaks to the potential participant as the interviewer must first target people who meet specific criteria. For instance, a study about children’s clothing might require the interviewer to seek out young adults who are more likely to have small children. On the other hand, a study about adult nutrition might require the interviewer to seek out mature adults to participate.
Once the interviewer has determined that a person meets the targeting needs of the specific study, they will then administer the survey immediately or invite the person to a formal research facility somewhere else in the mall. These research facilities are often located among an assortment of professional offices, e.g., doctors, lawyers, that are often housed in separate areas of malls.
As part of the conversation, mall-intercept interviews permit the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data. Thus, interviewers can ask multiple choice questions, dichotomous questions, rank order, and rating questions. And, the qualitative data can include open-ended questions related to emotions, attitudes, opinions, or any other broad questions.
As with any research methodology, mall-intercept studies have advantages and disadvantages.
- Mall-intercept research can take advantage of facilities that incorporate kitchens for sensory tests such as taste and smell tests, realistic living and dining room scenarios for product testing, eye-tracking and neuroscience studies that use expensive equipment, and more.
- It is easier to encourage someone already in a mall to participate in a central-location study in comparison to telephoning or emailing someone and trying to convince them to come to a mall and participate.
- Highly confidential intellectual property, as well as products and services still under development, can be tested without fear that photographs will be taken or products will be shared with other people.
- Interviewers can validate that they are speaking to a real person, something that can sometimes be difficult with online surveys particularly as chatbots and artificial intelligence become increasingly believable.
- Interviewers can validate some basic demographics of the people they speak with. For example, age, gender, language, language skills, and region can be validated reasonably well. And a good interviewer knows how to ask the sensitive questions if the answer to a demographic answer isn’t obvious.
- Interviewers can probe with open-ended questions to ensure people share a full, descriptive, and thoughtful response.
- Participants who find that a question or answer is not clear can get help from the interviewer.
- Visuals are easily viewed and manipulated, even if those visuals are particularly large or complex.
- For product and shopping research, feedback is gathered ‘in-the-moment,’ while people still have shopping in their frame of mind.
- Mall-intercepts allow you to gather opinions from people who are not members of research panels, including people who are not even aware that research panels exist.
- Beyond basic demographics, identifying target participants still requires screening via questions.
- Interviewer bias will always be a problem as even the best interviewers are human. For instance, an interviewer might feel more comfortable talking to people who are similar to them and be less friendly to people who are less similar to them. This could affect the results.
- Answering a series of questions while standing in the middle of a mall and wishing you were finishing your shopping is not very comfortable. This means that surveys need to be short and interviewers need to be considerate of the situation.
- Malls may be demographically skewed to reflect young, female, suburban, middle-income, frequent shoppers.
- Mall intercept research relies heavily on convenience sampling. Since participants are not randomly selected (e.g., not everyone goes to malls, not everyone has access to a mall), the results cannot be generalized to larger populations.
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