Every business should be striving to learn more from their customers because when it comes to the shopping experience, the customer is always right. Identifying the problems your customers have encountered in-store and actioning methods to deal with them can have many benefits, including improved customer satisfaction, higher shopper spend and more repeat customers.
But are you learning from your customers’ shopping experience or just asking them what they want? Traditionally, shops have relied on basic techniques such as in-store surveys to understand shopper behavior but as shopping has evolved, these techniques have become more and more outdated and one-dimensional. Surveys only ask your customers what they want, but what you really need to find out is what they need — two things that are often very different.
What You Can Learn from Your Customers
Real customers are the ideal focus group. When you solve a problem for your customers you are enhancing their shopping experience. Not every issue will affect every demographic — difficulties finding low-sugar baby foods, for example, will impact parents but not teenagers or child-free couples. Nonetheless, any issue common to more than one customer is likely to affect sales.
When you learn more about the challenges and issues that your shoppers face in-store you learn about vital changes you may need to make, whether it is reorganizing the store’s layout or creating new products to meet your customers’ needs.
How the Results of Customer Surveys Are Fallible
While you can sometimes find out about these issues from surveys, the main result of almost every survey you receive will be that customers want low prices. Everyone wants low prices in theory, but if we wanted low prices and were happy to sacrifice convenience, we would all shop at stores such as Aldi and Lidl. What customers really want is good value and convenience — affordable, fresh products laid out in a logical and easy-to-find fashion. If a product that a shopper considers to be essential, such as whole meal pasta, is missing, the shopper is likely to begin buying their entire weekly shop from a competitor, even if the total cost of their shop is higher.
Customers shop with their short term memories engaged. They may come away from an unsuccessful shop with a sense of dissatisfaction but they won’t necessarily remember that they’ve not bought their usual sauce because the shelf was too high to reach or that when they reached for a promotional box of cereal it crumpled in their hand (giving the impression of a substandard product).
When surveyed, customers will try to give the ‘intelligent’ answer — that is, either the answer they think you want to hear or an answer that reflects an overall rather than specific issue, such as lowering prices throughout the store. Once we’ve completed our weekly shop — often carried out in a daze — we forget most of the issues we’ve encountered.
Human beings are also easily embarrassed. If something goes wrong during a shop (such as packaging splitting in the customer’s hand) they don’t tend to broadcast it, even if they aren’t at fault.
The Best Way to Learn from Your Customers Is to Watch Them
In-store, actions always speak louder than words. All a till roll can tell you is that a customer isn’t buying your product, but how can you find out how many are initially drawn to the product but don’t pick it up? Or how many engage with the product, picking it up and examining the packaging, but choose not to buy it?
The most efficient way of finding out customer reactions is via CCTV — seeing how your customers react to the products on offer. From this you can find out if they’re all ignoring the product entirely, meaning that the packaging doesn’t draw the eye, or if they’re engaging with the product but not taking it — this could mean that there is something physically wrong with the packet, such as being too flimsy or having an unpleasant smell or unwanted ingredient.
Unless you approached customers with a survey after every single purchase, you wouldn’t be able to find out what their exact reaction to that situation was. Recording their shop can have two uses. Firstly, if a shopper is shown footage of their shop, they are more likely to remember the moment that the recording captures. Secondly, watching a recording can give you more detail on what the shopper needs, rather than what they want. Did they struggle to reach the product on the shelf? Did they read the packaging for two or three competitors before settling on the product they bought? By analyzing their movements, you can find out what they need from a product and what can cause them to buy — or to leave on the shelf.
Learning more from your customers allows you to make changes to your store, enhancing their shopping experience and improving your sales. By making your store easier to shop in, shopper mood is improved and your customers are more likely to make impulse purchases as well as becoming regular returning shoppers.
Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing director of the shopper research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd, an organization using psychological consumer insight and retail technology to explain and predict customer behaviour. SBXl operates in seventeen countries for hundreds of clients including Mars, Tesco and B&Q.