Market Research for Independents

October 1998

Managing:Your Market

Market Research for Independents

Talk to your best customers and observe them in action to find the "why" behind the buy

Most independent jewelers can't afford expensive market research studies that involve traditional focus groups and phone surveys. The good news is you may not need them. Through a combination of old-fashioned observation and informal chats with your best customers, you may be able to get all the information you need.

Many retailers are going back to a simple method to learn about their customers – watching them shop, reports Inc. magazine in an article titled "The New Market Research." One retailer mentioned in the article visited stores that sold the product he wanted to market. He got enough anecdotal evidence about shopping behavior to tailor a product that became a success.

You can do this kind of observation in your own store. Determine where customers linger – near the product, the display, the nice salesperson? Also observe customers when you visit other jewelry stores around town, on vacation or on business. How much time do they spend at the counter? What product do they most often ask to see. What do they ignore?

From these observations, you start to see some trends that will guide you in selecting popular products, designing head-turning displays or training associates. Don't dismiss this as too touchy-feely for your analytical style – Inc.reports that even the top market-research companies are disenchanted with traditional surveys and focus groups and are opting for more creative research methods.

Experts fear that consumers are less than honest in surveys and focus groups, for fear of looking stupid or not wanting to openly criticize a poorly designed display, a lousy gemstone selection or a dull sales associate. Even consumers who know something is wrong may not be able to say what it is. Their shopping behavior, however, reveals everything.

In addition, marketing gurus say that in today's changing marketplace, consumers' tastes and buying patterns evolve so quickly that old research methods aren't fast enough to point out changes needed to keep up with the market.

Marketers stress that observers must shed their convictions about shoppers' habits for observation to be a success. If you're convinced men won't buy earrings without the woman along, for example, you may miss all the time men are spending lingering at your earring counter when they shop on their own. You may find the gorgeous display concept you paid a lot of money for is invisible to consumers.

Some marketers even go so far as to put video cameras in their stores so they can record and review customer behavior. One furniture retailer was shocked to learn almost everyone shops for furniture in pairs – and that the men usually hate it! She observed countless occasions when the woman looked ready to buy, but her companion was so uncomfortable among the fluffy pillows that he got antsy and begged to leave. This savvy retailer retrofitted her stores with entertainment centers where sports fans can watch live events via cable. There's a lesson here – make everyone comfortable and they'll spend more time and money in your store.

Customer Chats
Sometimes it's OK for customers to know you're doing market research; they may even thank you for it. Toy marketers, for example, run playgroups for kids to test new toys. Clever jewelers could have small parties for their best customers, encouraging them to "play" with new jewelry shipments while sipping tea or champagne. What better way to spend an afternoon or an evening if you're a jewelry fanatic!

The key is listening to customers and watching them shop to see what attracts and repels their attention. Look for specifics – are there clasps that are hard to maneuver or are earrings a pain to put on? You and your buyers may have become such experts at handling jewelry that you forget what makes a piece of jewelry the one a woman wants to wear every day.

Knowing who your customers are and what they really like in jewelry and the jewelry store experience can help build your store's brand image, according to a retail consultant for Arthur Andersen quoted in an article in Stores magazine.

When you understand your customers and what they want, you can tell them what you stand for and how you'll meet their needs. Drive this point home in your advertising and other communications to remind them constantly that you're the store for them.




Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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