Does Point In Time Research Really Help Anyone?

Once upon a time there was a shopkeeper. He tended his store with great passion and affection. His reverence for his produce was only matched by his passion to serve his customers. He knew them. Knew what they wanted. Knew how to hunt the products that they would buy and how to do a deal to get the best product and the best price. He knew how to excite his customers to see value and reason to buy now. He knew how to cross-sell, up-sell and reward his customers for their custom. Because he talked to them – everyday.

It was a ‘Win! Win! Win!’ scenario and it worked. The suppliers loved it. The shopkeeper loved it. The shoppers loved it. Today we take the corporate view where complex process management and systems have broken this free-flowing paradigm into ‘scalable modules’. And in the course of following value chains and critical paths we have disconnected talking with the shopper from decision-making.

As a result we have institutionalized research as a way of occasionally getting back in touch with what customer’s need and want. Much of this relies on feedback from benchmark studies or qualitative research done infrequently to take a ‘pulse’ reading on what customers think.

It is true that some feedback is better than no feedback – provided you have a very good interpreter.

However point in time research can be a very dangerous thing. Qualitative research is a fantastic tool for understanding language and deciphering the psychology of motivation. However it is an artificial construct and is too often taken beyond its limits. Quantitative consumer research can be just as misleading if done infrequently, out of context or when lacking a framework of relevance.

Put simply, shoppers don’t know what they don’t know. They react – in the specific context they are in when they are forced to react. Much of how shoppers decide and react is unconscious, sub-conscious, emotional and affected by physical, emotional, social and mental states that are wildly varied based a multitude of influences.

When you are a shopkeeper that talks to his shoppers everyday, you know these things. You can see and feel them and tailor your engagement with the shopper accordingly. Artificial dialogue – research – cannot ever capture the sensitivities that you can read face to face, person to person with your shoppers.

Fergal Quinn – founder of Irish supermarket chain Superquinn – was famous for the so-called eccentric practice of holding key meetings in the supermarket, on the shop floor. He insisted that his executives spend time regularly serving customers in the store and talking to them, watching them shop. He added to this framework competitive monitoring and innovation research on a regular basis because making it an everyday input embedded it into the operating rhythm of the business.

Retail isn’t a remote business. It isn’t about the infrequent. It is about connection and everyday. The most useful insight you will ever get comes from experiencing the interaction with your shoppers and finding a way to do that – frequently.