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Research: handle with care.

Because research is becoming so much more important in the operations of distributors and retailers, we are launching a column devoted specifically to the subject. Starting this month, "Research Perspective" will appear from time to time with reports on effective ways to obtain needed information, news of promising new techniques and methodologies, reviews of available services, and analyses of particularly provocative findings.

Research can lead to superior performance, when it is properly conducted and examined. But it can also mislead the casual or careless user. Mother-in-law surveys are notoriously unreliable. And even the simplest kind of research can be trickier than it seems. One reason is that people don't always do the things they say they do--or want the things they say they want. Another reason is that results can be misinterpreted due to the analyst's bias. A case in point is discussed in the first "Research Perspective" column, appearing on page 103 in this issue.

The question we address is fundamental: Can retailers correctly assess the buying motives of their customers and respond appropriately? Judging from a survey taken at last year's FMI convention, the answer is "no." Most grocers, it appears, just aren't psychologically geared to reach the right conclusions about consumer desires and priorities. They have inner feelings which keep them from being objective.

Defensive Attitudes

For example, a large majority of supermarket operators sometimes or often feel: "Customers think we're ripping them off"; and "No matter how hard we try, or what we do, customers don't think twice about taking their business to another store."

Apart from indicating that consumer research shouldn't be a do-it-yourself project, the defensive attitudes revealed in the survey are significant in a broader sense. Eight out of 10 respondents are reported to believe: "No bargains. "Given those opinions, it is not very likely that special amenities will be offered or that extra efforts will be made to improve overall customer relationships.

This is a disturbing prospect. For the sake of the industry's long-term well-being--as well as the consumers' ultiamte satisfaction--the supermarket shopping experience has to become more attractive, not more austere.

Heaven knows, grocers have a right to be upset. They have never received the credit they deserve for enabling Americans to spend less and less of their disposable income for food-at-home. Instead of compliments, they get complaints about things over which they have no control. Nevertheless, they must not allow feelings of resentment to misguide them in regard to customer desires. Operating and merchandising policies based on anger-induced miscalculations are bound to be unsuccessful.

Research will play an ever-increasing role as stores are positioned more precisely in the marketplace. Its practical value will depend in large part on absolute objectivity in analyzing data. IN particular, it will pay to remember a classic dictum: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that ain't so."

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Title Annotation:market research, customer attitudes and grocer attitudes
Author:Walzer, Edgar B.
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Article Type:editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1985
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