Going Beyond Sales Data
Traditionally retailers have relied mainly on sales data to determine their customers’ preferences. While this approach certainly has merit, it leaves many questions unanswered. Would customers prefer different brands if you offered them? Would they visit your stores more often if their shopping experience was more pleasant? Would they come more often if stores were open longer hours? These are the kinds of questions that online surveys can address.
A simple “Where would you go to buy…?” survey can give you a good idea of how customers think of your stores. In this type of survey you give customers four or five options — your store and three or four of your competitors. Then you ask a series of questions. If you operated a department store, you might ask:
- Where would you go to buy underwear?
- Where would you go to buy makeup?
- Where would you go to buy jewelry?
The answers will give you a good idea of how you match up with your competitors.
An online survey can also tell you what products or brands your customers would like to find in your stores. For example, if you operated a clothing store for fashion-conscious women, your survey might show customers a list of designers and ask them to choose the ones they like the most.
Surveys sometimes ask about customer service, but unfortunately the questions they ask are often too general. For example, “How would you rate our customer service?” The answers to questions like that are practically useless. Instead you might ask customers to rate your sales staff in terms of:
- Knowledge of products
If you operate a bricks and mortar store, you can ask customers to rate your establishment in terms of cleanliness and ease of parking. If you’re an online merchant, you can ask which features of your website your customers would like to see changed.
Online surveys can also help you fine tune your advertising to address specific groups of customers. For example, you might ask what newspapers customers subscribe to or what kinds of TV programs they like to watch.
Finding people to take part in surveys is usually not difficult. One of the most effective methods is to create a customer loyalty program of some sort. For example, you might tell customers that you will send them early notices about special sales if they will give you their email address. This approach allows you to do some marketing and market research at the same time.
Surveys Deliver for Safeway.com
Safeway.com is an online store that allows customers to do their grocery shopping without leaving their homes. Groceries are delivered right to their door. The only direct contact the store has with its customers is through the delivery person, who may or may not be a good source of information about customers.
Safeway felt that it didn’t understand its online customers as well as it should, so it hired a consultant to develop an online survey. The survey focused mainly on customer service, asking customers to rate seven key “touch points.”
The survey also helped Safeway refine its website to make it easier for customers to navigate. And it asked some open-ended questions to give customers a chance to say exactly what was on their minds.
In a business like Safeway.com, which has email addresses for all of its customers, creating a mailing list for a survey was easy. And survey software made it easy to analyze the results.
Like many retailers, Safeway.com found online surveys a convenient way to learn how it could do a better job of meeting its customers’ needs.