retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story yesterday about a study suggesting that traditional market research is less valuable in 21st century America, that it amounts to licking one's finger and holding it up to the wind in an economy that rewards people and companies that instead focus on innovation and telling people what they need and want.

One MNB user responded:

Your comments and observations regarding market research and retailing were spot on!

Two comments. A colleague was part of a team doing research on smartphones in 2007 (i.e. BlackBerry) and their finding after three weeks in the field was that people wanted more & easier to use apps. While leading the way, BlackBerry's apps were surely anything but user friendly. The implication being it is important to know the right questions to ask and how to ask them. Consumers are woefully unable to speak about that which they don't know, but they can still give you useful hints about things with which they are familiar. And lest we forget, the iPhone launched with no apps in 2007(!)

As to your remarks on retailing, heck yes retailers should be advised to follow their passion! I can guarantee you that the experiences of Whole Foods, HEB's Central Market, Starbucks, Trader Joe's and others never arose from focus groups. BUT, that doesn't mean wise researchers and consultants can't take a cue from those retailers' best in class practices to build a more relevant knowledge base of useful information. Many of us in the consulting and market research industry, for example, knew from the moment that it opened that Fresh and Easy was doomed. They we're doing almost everything wrong. And guess what? They have stated publicly that they spent millions of dollars on market research for their concept! F & E offered almost all of the things you would expect consumers to choose on a survey -- fresh, convenient, easy, prepared foods, familiar brands, etc. -- and they failed miserably. All one had to do was spend an hour in F&E and an hour in Trader Joe's to understand the severity of the problem.

The point is that market research can be really effective if the researchers and consultants spend time really understanding their industry. This means doing things that many find too time consuming like spending 3 - 4 days a month wandering around retailers, or visiting the same grocery retailer every night for one month to procure dinner ingredients. Yes, it's work. Many of us forget that once upon a time market research was far more difficult and time consuming. You had to collect data by phone or postal mail. Once received, the data had to be coded by hand, typically entered onto scantron forms or punch cards which were then fed into a mechanical computer. Well executed studies could easily take a year. Now we tell a vendor what we are looking to know via a conference call and get the results in two weeks.

From another reader:

I have done market research for many year for consulting companies..The rush to get the job done, not listening, I mean really listening to the consumer and throwing the younger staff on projects because for the more experienced, it would be a 'waste of talent'!  All this contributes to inaccurate outcomes!  It never used to be like this, but the last 10 years market research has gone right down the tubes!

I have retired from the business!

But another MNB reader disagreed:

On the other hand, I was once told that Steve Burd, retired Safeway Chairman, would not sign off on a new store or remodel investment unless & until there was a consumer market research report to accompany the capex proposal, documenting & authenticating the fit between the store concept being proposed and the local resident consumer base.  Makes sense to me.

Regarding the need for greater cyber-security, I wrote yesterday:

There seems to be no question that in order to stay ahead of the bad guys - and the bad guys seem to be both well-funded and highly motivated - government and industry have to work together and spend together.

Which prompted one inevitable response:

Don't you really think we'd all be far better-off if the government kept its nose out of this?

No. To be honest, I think that's nonsense.

Cyber-security is a lot more than making sure that credit and debit cards used at Target stay secure. There is an element of organized crime and even terrorism here that should have everyone concerned … and if you believe that government should have no role in such things, I think you are severely misguided.
KC's View: