Focus groups are fine, but they usually occur well after the customer makes a purchase, uses a product or visits a store--when memories aren't nearly as sharp. Here's an alternative that may yield deeper insight into the factors affecting customers' purchasing decisions: on-site group interviews that provide immediate feedback and reveal customers' true feelings about products, the environment where they were purchased and how they are used.
Doyle Research Associates Inc., a marketing research firm in Chicago, specializes in the concept. Its ShopTalk service involves conducting in-store or on-location group discussions with customers when clues about what led them to make a purchase are fresh in their minds.
"People's [real] behavior may be different from what they say in a focus group," says Doyle's marketing and sales director Lynn Kaladjian. For instance, would a 12-year-old boy surrounded by his peers freely admit that his bed is covered with stuffed animals? Hardly.
In-the-moment focus groups and observational research are nothing new, but they're becoming increasingly valuable tools for marketers who want to know more than a customer's age, income and educational level. Retailers, for example, should be concerned with how customers feel when they're shopping. Do they feel rushed or at ease? Do they like the lighting and music? Are any fragrances affecting their shopping experience, making them more or less likely to buy? What product attributes do they consider when comparing brands? How do in-store displays sway or deter purchases?
Aside from hiring a research firm to poll customers, what can you do?
- Spend time in the aisles.
- Ask customers how they feel about your store.
- If people are spending a lot of time in a particular aisle, find out why.
- Observe, observe, observe. With kids, who aren't always very verbal, behavior is often more telling than spoken feedback.
Whatever you do, make yourself available, and consider offering customers an incentive to talk to you. After all, you'll never know how they feel if you don't ask.