How many steps from the truth?

A shopper in a supermarket puts a bottle of red wine into her trolley. It’s an Argentinian Malbec, and she’s planning to drink it, on her own, in front of the TV tonight. Her husband is going out, and she’s looking forward to the peace and quiet. She chose it because a ‘wine connoisseur’ friend of hers bought it once, and she liked the taste.

A market researcher approaches her and asks her why she chose that particular bottle. Although she knows better, she doesn’t want to admit that she’ll be drinking on her own, so she says that she has a friend coming over.

Everybody take one step away from the truth.

She also says that she chose it because of the special offer. She does genuinely believe this to be true, but the reality is that she made her choice largely because it makes her feel a bit like a wine connoisseur herself, just like her friend.

Everybody take another step away from the truth.

The market researcher probes about pack design, country of origin, grape, purchase occasions and purchase frequency.

The shopper says the pack design made no difference to her choice, (not true even though she truly believes this), that the country is important because she likes new world wines (true), that the grape variety is important, (true but only superficially), and that she buys this variety maybe once a month, when her friend comes over (not true).

Everybody take one step forward and two steps back.

As this was a category-specific study, the researcher didn’t ask about other categories considered, so the shopper doesn’t talk about the chocolate bar she’s also planning to buy.

Take another step back.

Later, the researcher crafts these responses into a powerpoint presentation, ready for the client debrief. All the key points are summarised into headline trends.
Our shopper is defined as a monthly, sociable drinker, for whom grape is important, but price and special offer are key. She may even be allocated to a segment, (our researcher friend calls our shopper a Sociable Sipper).

Take another step back.

The research debrief takes place at the client’s head office, in the board room. The presentation includes a number of samples of video footage.

Take one step closer to the truth.


the footage has been carefully selected to prove that price and special offer are the key drivers.

Ok, so where are we?

We’ve seen evidence of actual shoppers saying actual things in an actual supermarket environment. How could this be anything other than the truth?

Well, it all depends on how clearly we can recognise the inherent biases. That there’s a big difference between what shoppers think, what they say, and what they do. That there’s a difference between what a shopper says, and what a researcher hears. That there’s a big difference between a board room full of senior executives, and your local supermarket.

Of course, there are a whole range of research and analysis techniques that can help to minimise the number of steps between the client’s board room, and the truth.

The trick is to realise how many steps away you are. Or that these steps even exist in the first place.

We need this understanding, because otherwise we’ll be stepping backwards and forwards around the truth like we’re doing the hokey cokey.

And that’s what it’s all about