Researching Grocery Store Experiences

Food and Emotions: Grocery Store Experience

This research project was an investigation to see what kinds of relationships people have with food and how that relationship might influence their grocery shopping experience. All team members collaborated on content, strategy, and fabrication of the cultural probes which led our research findings.


I worked with Gillian Johnson and Emily Mongilio.


User Research

We gave an interactive kit to several participants with the goal of starting to understand the different ways in which people experience grocery shopping.


Observations in the Environment

Our research was based on observations in a "deep hanging out" exercise conducted in a local grocery store. We noticed that different relationships between shoppers and the grocery store environment. Some were only there for a few minutes, navigating through with a sense of familiarity and only picking up a few items. Others wandered around for a while, occasionally stopping for some coffee or asking questions to the employees. 

The focus for our class discussions centered around mobile purchasing and home deliveries as ways that make food shopping more efficient and convenient. However, our observations told us a very different story;  grocery shopping is a personal activity that fits in a unique way into individual's lives. Thus, we wanted our research to center around emotional connections related to grocery shopping.

Our main questions for our research were:

What cultural and personal ties do people have to their food? How is it used to foster relationships? Or is it an individual and internal activity?


Designing the Experience

We framed the probe as a personal diary and reflection. It asks the participant before, during, and after their shopping experience so that we can see how emotions and attitudes change through the entire experience. We supplied our participants with everything that they need to complete the tasks, including writing implements and organizational materials like paper clips to group each activity. By giving the participants specific forms with written instructions to fill out, we hoped this would act as a standard to which we could create assumptions from. 

We asked five participants of different backgrounds to participate: two students, two parents, and one young professional. 


Probe Activities

  1. Before and After: Tell us how you're feeling before and after you go to the store.
  2. Grocery List: Make a copy of your grocery list. Highlight what you bought and add any items that were purchased but not included on your original list. Give a quick explanation of why you purchased each item.
  3. Photo Challenge: Take four photos of things or spots in the store that make you feel a strong emotion
  4. Emotional Mapping: Immediately after you return from shopping, draw the layout of the store from memory and place stickers at certain points where you feel a significant change in emotion.
  5. Food for Thought: Sort the cards into the four categories provided: essential, splurge, favorite and occasional.



Packaging  and Delivering

Each probe is housed in a colorful folder, which is easy to transport and keep track of. It also catches any of the small pieces like the paper clips and flashcards that are part of the activities. We also aimed to create a friendly and inviting aesthetic to get the participant excited. 

It comes with everything that they need in order to complete the tasks. We tried to make it as convenient and easy as possible for the participants. Since we want them to open up in the activities, we wanted to avoid any frustration or confusion at any point in the process. 


Participant Feedback: Personal Stories

Our participants returned all of the probes, allowing the team to move on to the next stage: making sense of what we got back and looking out for new insights. Since we received all qualitative information, our team used the method of affinity clustering in order to pick up on patterns and themes between all of the participants.



Affinity Clustering

When sorting through qualitative feedback, it can be difficult to really understand the main takeaways. This method, known as affinity clustering, allowed our team to categorize recurring words, phrases, and attitudes that our participants communicated to us. 

We used various colors of post-it notes to create a visual hierarchy.

Through this organizational method, we were able see the change in emotion throughout the experience of grocery shopping. 

We also pinpointed several areas of the experience that illicit emotional responses: atmosphere, navigation, social interaction, and schedule. 

observation post its.jpg

Key Insights

Food is personal. People have strong associations with certain foods from memories and previous sensory experiences.

Grocery shopping is personal too. The food you buy fits your lifestyle and your needs (and sometimes the lifestyles and needs of those you take care of). 



Continuing to Explore the Problem Space: Generative Workshops

My team created a set of three activities to give to our classmates in order to learn more about people's relationships to food. The activities were casual and fun exercises to get our participants comfortable sharing with us their food shopping experiences.