QUESTION: What do you get when you bring graduating high school seniors and college freshmen together for a series of game nights?
That's what Target Stores discovered from its novel form of consumer research. It sponsored these gatherings to find out the motivations and emotions that accompany the first trip to college. The activities included a board game about going to college that encouraged students to discuss their feelings. All of this influenced Target's resulting "Todd Oldham Dorm Room" line, which included all kinds of bath, kitchen and other products for freshmen, including a laundry bag that provides instructions on how to do laundry.
I mention this example to show how some retailers are employing creative tools to tap into consumer attitudes and desires. The Target example was cited by Dan Stanek, executive vice president of consultancy Retail Forward, in a recent New York presentation I attended called "The Customer Knowledge Imperative." He described efforts by other companies and used research terms that might scare your average retailer, such as collaging, projective techniques and ethnographic research. But no need for fright. These may be new methods, but they are all aimed at the same simple goal: figuring out customers.
You will see more about unconventional types of consumer feedback in next week's issue of SN (May 5 ). An article in the Brand Marketing section by associate editor Carol Angrisani will describe how some consumer packaged goods marketers are relying on consumers to choose key traits of new products, such as color, shape and flavor.
How do supermarket retailers fare with efforts to use research to tap into consumer desires? The short answer is food retailers are trying harder, but definitely still have room for improvement. Consider the recently unveiled 2003 Marketing Survey from the National Grocers Association, an informative piece of work. The survey's very good news is that retailers are using much more consumer data than in the past from sources including loyalty programs, consumer surveys and focus groups. The problem is there's still need to do more.
NGA asked independent retailers whether they currently use consumer-related data for category management. Some 42% said they do, but that still leaves 58% that do not. Of those employing consumer data, only 42% said they were using frequent shopper data, a figure that is fortunately much higher than the year before, but still not wonderful. What was the biggest source of consumer information used by respondents? It was personal perception of consumers, employed by almost 100%. Again, there's mixed news here. NGA found far more retailers than in the past are taking the time to personally observe consumers, indicating more of a willingness to spend time in stores with customers. But at the same time, there are also more scientific ways to judge shopper behavior.
Granted, this data speaks only to the independent sector. But the lesson is applicable to the wider industry. Retailers are recognizing the need for consumer-driven decision making. But they haven't yet fully embraced the use of conventional consumer research and data, not to mention newer, unconventional methods. They may find that consumers have a lot to say, if asked.