When things at work are tough and you day-dream about your alternative career, what are you doing in it? In my (rose-tinted, ultra-sentimental) version, I run a deli selling cupcakes and artisan goat’s cheese on the high street in Earlsfield. If that were my job, I’d know that everyone who bought something was getting the deli experience I wanted them to, because I’d be in charge of the exact cupcakes and artisan artisan goat’s cheese inside, the way they were presented to you, and what it was like to spend time in my store.
I’d know they were getting what they wanted, because I’d know my customers and I’d give it to them.
But what if I was running a retail chain? Big retailers set themselves expectations about the way you experience their stores, but without the right research, they don’t know if customers are getting that experience.
We worked with a retailer recently to explore exactly this. What did consumers think of the client’s stores and how it felt to shop there? How the different areas of the store make them feel? What different colours and emotions summed up our client and its competitors? What did first-timers make of their inaugural visit to one of our client’s stores? Through accompanied store visits and a neat little montage of vox pops, we were able to really understand their preferences as shoppers, and what ran through their minds as they played the shopper role. Standing alongside them in the aisles, watching, listening and asking as they went about their weekly shop gave us rich, nuanced insights that we wouldn’t have got any other way.
Without giving too much away, some perceptions emerged loudly and clearly. Shoppers demanded the best-quality goods – of course they did; nobody ever wants to compromise on that. But consumers’ decisions can also take us by surprise when we really understand what shapes them. Irregularly-shaped vegetables, they told us, called to mind sun-drenched Mediterranean markets, wholesome home-grown goodness, and more innocent times. ‘Goodness’ doesn’t mean perfectly-formed beauty; it’s more about authenticity.
In my escapist reverie about selling cupcakes, I know my customers, and I’ve furnished myself with a perfect understanding of the way their ideals change and are influenced. Real-life retailers need to track their customers’ ideals constantly. And to do that, you need to stay close – literally.