Why Businesses Can Benefit from Learning More About Their Customers

family shopping

Businesses can learn a lot from their customers if they engage with them more, but what’s the best way to gather information?

Learning more about customers can have wide-reaching outcomes, from the reorganisation of stores to the creation of new products. However, don’t take everyone at face value, as the difference between what your customers tell you and what they actually need can sometimes be quite striking.

What Are the Benefits to Learning More About Your Customers?

Learning more about your customers can have an extremely positive effect on your sales. By streamlining your store and handling any potential problems, you can improve your customer experience and mood — and happy shoppers are more likely to make impulse purchases. Customers who view your store as the easiest to shop in will return frequently and could potentially refer others.

On a cautionary note, appearing to know too much about your customers on an individual level can make customers wary or even cause them to shop elsewhere. In 2012 a story emerged that Target’s in-store customer tracking software had predicted a customer’s pregnancy before her family knew and the response was overwhelmingly negative.

What Is the Best Way to Learn About Your Customers?

You might think the best way to quickly gather information from your shoppers is by carrying out a series of surveys, and while this can be effective in some ways, often surveys will miss vital information.

For example, a new, larger-sized box of cereal is brought into a supermarket. From the till roll, the store realises that people are still buying the smaller size of the same cereal, and sometimes buying two or three packets, the equivalent size of the larger packet for a higher price. When surveyed as to why, the consumers give ‘intelligent’ answers; for example, they think that the box is too large for their specific needs and opt for two smaller ones as the large one would probably expire before they finished it. And while this reason works on paper, it doesn’t tell the whole truth.

Consumer Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actually, when customers were viewed by shopping behaviour analysts with CCTV in that area, many of them did pick up the larger box, and picking up a product is halfway to having it in the basket. It was then that they became aware of a flaw in the packaging — the manufacturer hadn’t increased the thickness of the folding carton to go with the increased size, so when customers picked up the box it crumpled or tore in their hand, giving them the impression of a substandard product.

By the time they were surveyed later on, they had little to no memory of having any problems when buying the cereal, so when asked why they didn’t take advantage of the deal their brains invented an answer: the ‘intelligent’ — and untrue — answer. Or, if they did remember, they were embarrassed at having damaged the packaging and so pretended not to have engaged with the product at all.

Surveys Are a Fallible Form of Market Research

Surveys can fail in many ways. As we mostly shop with our short-term memory engaged (how many people can say they clearly remember every aspect of their weekly shop?) and don’t retain anything unremarkable, survey answers are mostly guesswork. If the survey relates to a specific product, alerting the shopper to said product beforehand will change the way they shop for the item, skewing the survey, and not alerting them will allow them to lapse into forgetting and guesswork.

To gather more information about your customers, look externally; in-store, actions speak far louder than words, whether they are avoiding products, picking up products and then rejecting them, or taking them right to the till. Your shoppers may be unable to tell you accurately what they want and need, but their movements and purchases can reveal a lot of crucial information.

About the Author
Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing director of the shopper research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd, an organisation using psychological consumer insight and retail technology to explain and predict customer behaviour. SBXl operates in seventeen countries for hundreds of clients including Mars Chocolate, Tesco and B&Q.

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