In-person intercept interviewing is a popular and rewarding form of quantitative or qualitative data collection deploying convenience sampling which involves the sample being nearby and not pre-recruited.

Interviewers intercept consumers on-site in high-traffic situations and invite them to participate in a short interview-style survey. A qualitative element can be added whereby after an initial interview or screening, respondents can be invited to a more in-depth qualitative interview nearby.

Intercept interviews are particularly useful at the commencement of a project, during the prepare and understand phases to collect existing opinions or experiences, or during promotions to gain responses to very recent experiences of a brand or service.

The benefits

Intercept interviewing allows for consumer opinions, motivations and behaviors to be captured in a real-time, location-relevant and experience-relevant environment. Professional interviewers engage with respondents on-site while they are interacting or immediately after interacting with a company’s products or services. This immediate approach means that memory and emotional responses are particularly accessible and respondents can be highly engaged and able to provide a level of detail that might not be accessible after the event in a more reported situation.

Interviewers can even incorporate a product experience, which might include touching, tasting or viewing products in their typical setting.

The use of in-person interviewers (as opposed to self-complete surveys) has significant benefit in that lower respondent initiative is required. Interviewer-administered surveys are recommended if there are open-ended questions that require probing for a more in-depth response. Interviewers aid the process by providing clarity on question meaning, ensuring the question is answered adequately and aiding recall through prompting. Interviewers can keep respondents engaged and focused on the survey.

Surveys can be self-administered by the respondent. This allows for higher production rate because multiple interviews can be completed at the same time.

In a well-planned intercept study with experienced interviewers, the rate of qualifying respondents is typically high and those focused on a particular brand can be specifically targeted to proven brand purchasers.

Once logistics are in place for intercepts, time between fielding and reporting can be significantly reduced.

The challenges

Shopping mall customers constitute a major share of the market for many products. However, they may not be entirely representative of the population in general and may under-represent lower-income and elderly populations and over-represent young, female, suburban, middle-income and frequent shoppers. Full consideration to sampling bias should be given and, if required, varying times of day for intercepts or adding alternative locations can help counter any risk to sample accuracy.

While the on-site research benefits of this method are clear, this method, conducted in an environment which is not controlled by a data collection company, can present logistical challenges. This article seeks to inform and steer you through the landscape of in-person intercept interviews for success.

The methods

There are primarily four main types of intercept studies: in-store intercepts, street intercepts, mall intercepts and event intercepts.

In-store intercepts

Corporate retailers. In-store intercepts will require permission from the retailer. Such permission is handled by the insight provider. If the retailer is part of a corporation, approval will most likely need to come from a contact at their corporate headquarters, who will then alert the individual store managers of the necessary information (i.e., intercept dates, times, methodology, etc.). An authorization letter on official company letterhead should be provided to your data collection provider for distribution with the interviewers, which will be shown to the manager on duty upon arrival at the store. A recommendation for quality assurance is to have the interviewer send a photo from inside the store to gain approval before starting on the first day of the project.

Independent retailers. A slightly different approach should be used when conducting intercept interviews for a product in an independent store, as the approval will need to come from the owner or manager of that particular store. In such cases, the data collection company will usually contact the store directly to set up an in-person meeting with the owner/manager. At this meeting, they should explain the intentions and methodology of the proposed research, including the incentives their customers will receive for participating. We also recommend arranging a daily incentive for the store owner or manager for allowing the interviewers permission to be in the store and access to their customers.

The length of in-store interviews can vary between 5 minutes to 25 minutes but our recommendation for best chance at success is to stay under 15 minutes. Anything over 15 minutes increases difficulty in cooperation and refusal rates. It is important to note that once a customer has paid and is heading out of the store, they may be less likely to agree to participate in an interview. So, as a general rule, exit interviews should be shorter than interviews conducted during a shopping experience. Interviews that are conducted prior to or during a shopping experience may also create an additional advantage of the customer being able to use their incentive during their current visit.

Street intercepts

Street intercepts in the U.S. are almost always conducted without permission from a governing agency. They require very experienced, street-smart and savvy interviewers who often work in pairs or small groups. Street surveys should be designed carefully, as intercept targets must be able to qualify upon sight-screening.

Potential respondents will not stop to talk to an interviewer unless some form of incentive is promised up front, so there cannot be any disqualifying questions in the survey. A recommendation for quality assurance is to program the survey to include an element for taking a photo of the respondent holding their incentive upon completion. (Note that in the EU, this would constitute “personally identifiable information” and, under the General Data Protection Regulation would not be possible without special respondent consent and even then, this would not be advisable). For higher risk or more sensitive projects, it is common to conduct routine spot checks by supervisors and/or the clients themselves. It is not unusual for interviewers to be asked to leave a location by security or police, so we recommend identifying multiple locations that can be used to allow flexibility and create the best chances of completing quotas.

Mall intercepts

Mall intercepts take place in shopping malls where interviewers intercept a sample of shoppers within the mall, which is considered to be a neutral and natural setting, to invite them to participate in a research study. An initial screener identifies whether the person intercepted qualifies for the study. Mall-intercept interviews allow for qualitative and/or quantitative data collection. Rather than being targeted at people engaging with a product or service (as is the case for in-store intercepts), mall intercepts seek to gain access to the general population and can be used for a broad range of research topics. For those who accept, an interview is conducted either in situ (in a short quantitative survey style) or in a special facility that has been set up in the mall (for longer surveys or qualitative interviews.) Some providers have permanent facilities in malls for such work. Others may rent a space specifically for your study. Mall intercepts can be expensive due to mall rental costs and we recommend that busy shopping days are selected and research is conducted intensively over a few days to ensure the method delivers return on investment.

Event intercepts

Event intercepts include interviews conducted at conferences, concerts, sporting events, auto shows and other mass-gathering occasions. Event intercepts are often ideal for health care targets, both for professionals (at medical conferences) and patients (at medical charity events).

Permission and access to the event are necessary (i.e., an event pass, ticket, booth hire, credentials, contact name of a person to meet upon arrival), but once granted, there are several options for intercept methodology.

  1. Set up a branded booth, either with the data collection company’s brand or the client’s.
  2. Establish a team of interviewers to be stationed near the entrance/exit, or to roam around the venue and probe the crowd.
  3. Hire the data collection company’s intercept interviewers to work in conjunction with one of their moderators by recruiting event attendees to participate in a more in-depth interview.

International intercepts

Data protection laws, logistics and cultural norms around intercept solutions can vary internationally. So, we recommend always working with local trusted experts. If you don’t have the connections or bandwidth to manage such multi-market projects, or are not used to the cultural and budgetary implications of working with international data collection providers, we suggest using the services of a company that provides global intercept interview solutions. Such companies can provide one invoice and one point of contact and have the experience to guide you through the international landscape.

Selecting your intercept interview partners

Select an insight partner who has proven success in obtaining permissions from location managers and turning the data collected from intercept interviews into actionable insights. If your interviews will have a qualitative element that will require an analysis of the data in the form of a report, ensure the company provides a moderator. Alternatively your data collection company may provide senior interviewers experienced and trained in qualitative interviews.

Equally, select a data collection company with proven success in their field and a network of well-trained and experienced interviewers.

We also recommend a partner with technology and/or programming skills to create surveys optimized specifically for intercept interviews for use on tablets or other mobile devices.

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Schlesinger Group has been managing intercept interviews for over 50 years in consumer and health care markets, both in the U.S. and internationally. If you would like to learn more about how intercept studies can help you gain answers to your important business questions and how Schlesinger Group can partner to deliver outstanding results contact:

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