Marketing, customer satisfaction and loyalty
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4 retail problems that focus groups cannot solve

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Focus groups are not the magic solution to all your marketing problems. Good market research uses focus group as an additional technique to confirm the results obtained elsewhere; never as an exploratory methodology.

In the retail world, focus groups are unfortunately still widely used. Here are 4 common problems that can’t be solved with this technique.

Assess the importance of waiting time

Waiting time is an essential variable influencing customer satisfaction and profitability in a retail environment. The higher the waiting times, the more likely your customers are to churn (i.e. to leave the store without buying anything).
Yet, “in-store” behavior can’t be assessed after they have occurred through interviewing. They have to be assessed on the spot. Conduct focus groups for this purpose is therefore a methodological nonsense.
The conventional technique for evaluating the correlation between customer satisfaction and waiting time is non-participatory observation in the store. This methodology has been used for over 20 years. Despite evidences from 20 years of research, some marketers still believe that it is possible, to obtain accurate answers from customers on their satisfaction with waiting times. Feelings are mostly unconscious and it is of course futile to expect any insights whatsoever with such a technique. You will find in the scientific article below all the explanations on page 345 in the section “research agenda”.

What are customers looking for in a store?

A focus group isn’t needed to answer this question. Most retailers have access to purchase data, either through the cash register software or through the data from the loyalty program.

Don’t waste your time (and that of your customers) with a focus group to collect data that is already available elsewhere in a more complete and unbiased way. Keep this in mind: when you have the choice, prefer observed data to qualitative data.

What kind of new products would customers like to see in your store ?

This question is typical of retailers seeking diversification.

A focus group will only allow you to raise purchase intentions. Whether these purchase intentions are based on actual needs is unsure. Although these methodological issues have been known since the 1970s, most market research agencies don’t take them into account and still propose to address those questions through focus groups. You will find food for thought in this article.

Face-to-face interviews are a much better technique to understand deep consumers’ needs and propose innovations that may easily adopt.

What is the in-store customers’ behavior?

Neither a focus group not an interview can help to trace back the in-store behavior of the customer. It happens mostly unconsciously.

A great body of research has explored consumer trajectories in a retail environment. None of this research is based on focus group. You will find in this article the RFID-based methodology commonly used to track customers’ actual in-store behavior.

For stores whose dimensions (or configuration) don’t allow the use of RFID, plotting customers trajectories remains a simple but effective way to understand what’s going on. We have used this technique with success in stores up to 15000 sqf (1500m²).

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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