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Rediff News  All News  » Business » Check out the consumer reaction first!

Check out the consumer reaction first!

September 05, 2003 10:55 IST

On an average in a national houseware store, a woman with a female companion spends 8 minutes 15 seconds for shopping.

A woman with children spends 7 minutes 19 seconds. A woman alone spends 5 minutes 2 seconds.

And a woman with a man spends just 4 minutes 41 seconds.

Men just want places that allow them to find what they need with a minimum of looking and then get out fast. Men take less pleasure in the journey.

Women are generally more patient and inquisitive, completely at ease in a space that gradually reveals itself.

Buyers spend 9 minutes 29 seconds in an electronic store while non-buyers spend 5 minutes 6 seconds. In a toy store, buyers spend over 17 minutes compared to 10 minutes by non-buyers.

When a supermarket moved its necktie display from close to the entrance to the centre of the store, sales increased dramatically.

This was done after research revealed that most ties were bought by women on an impulse and after casually browsing through the display.

However, when the display was at the entrance, many women were disturbed by shoppers brushing against them while entering the store -- called the 'butt brush effect' -- and so tended to move on rather than continue browsing.

These are but a few findings of Paco Underhill as he undertook large-scale observation studies in many shopping malls and supermarkets across the globe, bringing new insights into the world of shopping and marketing.

Underhill actually brought the principles of a private detective into the consumer world. Just as a private detective, dispassionately, with no preconceived notions or theories, stalks his victim and records every movement, Paco Underhill got young graduates to do exactly that -- track shoppers from the moment they entered the store till they left, recording every little thing they did while there. He also studied hours of recorded tapes of shoppers. And built a world of knowledge about shoppers and their behaviours.

What this does is to shift the paradigm of research from interrogation to observation. And thus open up a whole new world of research.

Interrogative research interprets what consumers think they do while observation research interprets what consumers actually do.

Rather than being a predictor model using consumer views to determine their behaviour, this is a deductive model that uses consumer behaviour to understand consumer motivations and desires.

And thus get closer to action and further from intention. Classic Gallup polls on the day of voting use a similar methodology to determine voting patterns and trends.

In the advertising and marketing world, consumer research is often treated like a lamp post. It is meant to throw light on the path to be taken.

However, it is sometimes used as a drunken man would do -- leaned on like a crutch (mostly by clients) or as a dog uses -- to take a leak on i.e. criticised (mostly by the agency)

History is replete with stories, real and apocryphal, of how products cleared by extensive research like New Coke and Ford Edsel bombed in the market, while products and campaigns doomed to fail like Hot Shot cameras and Sony Walkman became runaway successes.

Yet in a competitive brand world where brands get just one chance to succeed and numerous individual careers and reputations ride on their success, the role of research cannot be undermined or neglected.

Consumer understanding and knowledge will always be a key input to take product and advertising decisions.

So, in future, there will be a need for insightful exploratory research to understand consumers and their lives.

And equally sensitive research to understand consumer reactions to new product and advertising concepts.

The key question is -- are current consumer research techniques adequate to meet the new market needs?

The Indian market is developing. Consumer exposure to advertising and brands is increasing. And with this, cynicism is already creeping in.

Advertising is moving from being a source of information and entertainment to being seen as a source of paid-for commercial messages.

In this scenario, conventional research -- focused group discussions and one-on-one structured questionnaire responses -- has its limitations.

Consumer responses in groups are often guided either by the group-think or by the motivation to sound 'intelligent.'

In more structured questionnaires, responses are often driven by what is top-of-mind and simplest to respond.

The more articulate tend to become more intelligent in responses while the less articulate remain staccato -- rendering information collected this way fairly debatable.

There is no doubt that sensitive probing and interpretation of consumer statements is useful. However, there is, perhaps, a need for a new paradigm of consumer investigation.

It is here that Paco Underhill's world of observation research is likely to provide a new way to investigate consumers, their lives and their response to advertising.

For example, house audits done across occupational segments among Punjabis in Delhi revealed interestingly that there is no difference in ownership of products across self employed professionals, businessmen and service employed.

Similarly, wardrobe audits reveal that an average adult male owns just two or three premium branded shirts, often of different brands, while he owns a single brand of trouser (perhaps once the size is determined, it becomes more convenient to buy trousers of the same brand).

It reconfirms Paco Underhill's findings that men -- unlike women -- tend to be uncomfortable to try and buy.

This is distinctly different from how the same men would talk about brands if they are interrogated -- they would be more erudite -- often mouthing advertising messages!

Auditing women's handbags would reveal a lot more about what they do and what's important to them, than any direct question method.

And just hanging around in college canteens and 'eve's dropping' into collegiate conversations would reveal a lot more about youth than any direct interrogation on their likes and dislikes.

Spending days with a family as a friend and a silent observer will enable better understanding of the individual members lives.

And actually, tracking a family's monthly shopping list will give a 'truer' picture of loyalty and reasons for switches.

Others could be used as observers -- e.g. close friends. A husband can give more insightful observations of a wife's behaviour.

And parents can do the same about their teenage kids, often much better than the youngsters themselves.

While projective techniques attempt to do that -- asking questions to one about specific behaviours of another close one could give more true information.

(For example, a wife's view of her husband's morning state of mind and habits will give a better understanding of his morning routine than asking the man directly.)

While it is easy to see how observation research can help to get a deeper understanding into consumer's lives, the bigger challenge is to devise new means to evaluate advertising.

With crores of rupees riding on the back of most campaigns, the need to check (and cross-check) their validity before release is fairly critical.

The task is to see and evaluate consumer reaction to the advertisement rather than get their opinions on it -- which traditional research techniques tend to elicit.

Not surprisingly, the best feedback on campaigns are the informal comments made by family and friends.

They are the closest to real one can get. Maybe research agencies need to think of methods to get observers planted at homes to quietly watch viewers and their reactions and report back.

Something worth thinking about!

The writer is Country Manager - Discovery, Ogilvy and Mather India. Opinions expressed are his own and not of the organisation he works for.

Madhukar Sabnavis