Like any business retailers benefit greatly from consumer and customer insights, but they are in the unique position of having direct contact with customers every day, so in some ways they have it made. Sadly though a lot of retailers don’t fully exploit that unique advantage.

In fact, I’ve found many retailers consider research to be a once-in-a-while exercise that they resort to only when times are bad or to help justify major policy decisions. Many fail even to recognise that traditional research is as much about measuring progress and trends as it is a snap-shot of your customer at a certain point in time. As such it requires a programme of projects stretched over time to provide real value. Most retailers also neglect to sufficiently manage the data they are already gathering through their EPOS, loyalty programmes and websites. Mostly this is because they don’t have a data and analysis strategy. If they did, however modest their efforts at analysis were, they would at least be getting some useful and actionable insights.

Against this background I was interested to see a report in B&T of a talk by Fiona Buchanan, the insights manager at Australian retailer Target, in which she reflects that “Its about time research was more than a one night stand”. Fiona covers retailers’ lack-lustre approach to research but, more interestingly to me, talks about the special value of an on-going customer feedback concept.

I have created a few of these for various retailers over the years and found them to be a great source of continual qualitative insights, but they also have the great added benefit of enhancing your brand perception and customer engagement, even among customers that don’t take part.

My “customer panels” have taken two forms. The first comprises a number of customers recruited using in-store campaigns. These panels meet monthly to discuss issues, products and the competitive environment under the moderation of an (ideally) in-house researcher. The agenda is controlled by the moderator to ensure the sessions are productive and the topics we want to hear about are covered and delegates air their views on given subjects and take away and report on product samples. I have also introduced non-customers to these groups for an extra perspective.

The second format allows for a far bigger sample, but limited depth with a similar agenda being pursued on-line. This is the format that Fiona talks most about in her piece. Whichever approach you take, customer panels definitely provide valuable additional insights and I can’t think why more retailers don’t adopt the idea.  These days no business can afford to waste time and effort with initiatives that aren’t optimised and here is a simple and very cost-effective way of gaining the insights you need to improve your efficiency.

Phil Darby
April 7, 2014

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