In a furious retail environment where as many as 80% of brand-buying
decisions are made in store, detailed research can make all the
difference. Cathy Bond reports
All the top supermarket chains have a similar offer: own-brands, themed
point-of-sale activity - and they’ll all be on board with customer clubs
soon,’ says Bob Qureshi, director of The Harris Research Centre’s retail
division. ‘Where’s the point of difference?’
‘Market research is the only way to measure and understand what makes
the shopper tick. That’s crucial when it is said that around 80% of
brand-buying decisions on many regular FMCG products are taken in-
In a retail climate where sticking with a formula simply because it is
successful quickly turns strong brands into also-rans. Market research
can give a crucial competitive edge. As one food retail marketer says:
‘If you keep on looking for customer benefits, it will lift you above
the rest; if you don’t you merge into the wallpaper.’
It’s this finding-out process which has boosted retail market research
into the big league over the past few years. AMSO reports an 18% rise in
retail business among its 33 members during 1995, when total market
research grew by 11%.
Market researchers have been quick to latch on to retail angst,
providing off-the-peg, neatly branded tools that can be adapted to fit
the needs of individual clients aiming to revamp all or part of the
corporate package, from store design to product range, service and
If it sounds like cosmetic work, it’s because few people outside the
market research sector understand quite how deeply its techniques can
dig to find solutions.
Gordon Simmonds Research, for example, uses attitudinal data alongside
conjoint analysis and demographics to develop customer profiles and get
a fix on store perception.
Research International has found a retail market for a research
technique originally developed for fmcg brands. Locator, dubbed a brand
image model, aims to clarify the influence of image attributes on
Sears Group subsidiary Adams Childrenswear used Locator last year to
reposition stores ‘which had started to lose their edge in a market
sector where discounting was taking hold’, according to Maureen Johnson,
managing director of RI’s retail division.
Research kicked in to the project at a very early stage, with prototype
new stores being designed to fit a pattern of customer needs and
expectations, highlighted in RI’s initial work. ‘We needed to make sure
that everything was in place, from brand positioning to product and
services - and how that was communicated to the customer,’ says Johnson.
She points out that traditional retail research has tended to home in on
‘Locator gets the soft as well as hard information because emotional
needs are an important part of the criteria people use when choosing
between retail brands.’ The result is the Adams 2000 store, which is now
being rolled out countrywide.
Some research consultancies have pitched into the melee of
retailer/manufacturer relationships, where lines of communication are
Category management demands different research parameters to match the
new, and supposedly mutual, spirit of co-operation.
According to GSR director Janet Richards, retailers are now researching
the culture and efficiency of potential partner organisations. ‘It’s
rather turned the table on manufacturers,’ she says.
‘A few years ago retailers just wanted to screw suppliers for what they
could get,’ says Allan Breese, client services director of Taylor Nelson
AGB. ‘Now they want to understand what consumers want from product
categories and work with suppliers to improve the offering. It’s led to
a major surge in the need for information - not just retail market share
but where and why undertrading is happening.’
‘There is research input right from the start, from product design to
what sort of promotional material would work,’ says Qureshi. ‘We work in
an increasing number of joint ventures between retailers and
manufacturers. I see it getting to the point where products are
virtually launched in-store.’
He cites a recent project for United Biscuits (UK), which developed an
in-store campaign for the new McVitie’s biscuit countline, Ace, that
virtually saturated Tesco supermarkets in point-of-sale material, from
floor to ceiling and store to petrol station.
‘At least UB went into in-store promotion alone, based on research which
showed how closely shoppers interact with products and promotional
materials. We called it ‘Ace in yer face’,’ says Qureshi. ‘At the
launch, 5% of everyone leaving Tesco stores had bought the product.’
And then there is the retailer’s lethal weapon, the customer database.
It provides warm-to-hot prospects for tightly targeted direct-marketing
campaigns, based on who spends what, when, and in payment for which
particular mix of brands and products in the trolley.
‘In the past, there’s been too much focus on ‘What am I missing?’ as
opposed to ‘What are my customers doing and what else can I do for
them?’,’ says Edwina Humby of DunnHumby Associates, the marketing
database consultancy that is steering Tesco’s Clubcard activities. A
database such as Tesco’s can be manipulated to make customers spend more
on a wider range of products, she says, ‘so it’s very powerful’.
Many companies are already plundering the data contained in customer
databases. ‘We are more frequently being asked to analyse databases
from store cards and it’s relatively easy to pick out samples which are
then used to target further analytical qualitative work,’ says Richards.
Business is brisk, too, in the initial assessment of the impact of
customer clubs, on market share, purchasing habits and consumer
‘We do a lot of work to evaluate how they are used, where new business
is coming from and how they change customers’ behaviour,’ says Breese.
It’s a new toy for retailers, and they are fascinated. But there are
hidden dangers, warns David Sneesby, marketing director of Taylor Nelson
AGB’s marketing services division.
‘If loyalty schemes fall down it’s because they are inward-looking,’ he
says. ‘They bring very detailed information on customers but they won’t
tell a company anything about the people who are not on the database,
although they are just as important in different ways.’
It follows that there will be continued heavy dependence on tracking
studies, because retailers will always need to know what their customers
are doing when they shop with a competitor - and this contributes to the
wealth of qualitative data demanded for customer care programmes, too.
‘There’s a tremendous amount of research being done in customer care as
retailers try to gain the high ground,’ says Ricky Baxter, new business
director of Marketing Direction. According to Richards, it is
increasingly measured on a store-by-store level. ‘Then it can be tied in
with individual performance evaluation and rewards.’
Says Research International’s Johnson: ‘The need to reposition brands
and formulate an effective strategy is what’s driving the retail sector.
They are all trying to create brands and trade them in true marketing
fashion. That’s where the new money is coming from, because the retail
trade is prepared to be much more adventurous.’