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Shopper Intelligence

Retailer Planning: Drowning in Data

Suppliers and insights teams are often distracted by heaps of data, leaving shoppers and their wants out of conversations revolving around brand growth.

In 2017, the Category Management Association adopted the mission of “…help its members drive meaningful category and brand growth by building shopper satisfaction and facilitating strategic collaboration between retailers, suppliers and solution providers.”

Does this beg a question for you?

Since category management first surfaced, for me, there is a glaring gap in the data set for everyone working to create better solutions with their retailers.  That is, measurement of shopper satisfaction.

All consumer goods firms are inundated with a mass of expensive data. Scan data, panel data, loyalty card data and now new metrics from smartphones or cameras. But all of these tell us what shoppers do, not what they want, or what they think. The data doesn’t truly get us towards solutions, the “so what?”

Every other industry has one primary success metric, the net promoter score. A measure of satisfaction. Driven by Bain&Co, there is an entire research industry talking about how customer satisfaction is the one tool you need to drive growth. It should be measured systematically, benchmarked, tracked over time and in best practice leveraged throughout the business. Almost every sector has adopted it, and there is plenty of hard evidence connecting relative satisfaction to growth. As Bain says: “(it) helps everyone focus on earning the passionate loyalty of customers”.

So why in packaged goods do we not have any such measure? Why do manufacturers and retailers seek to create plans together without any outcome metric?

There are at least three main reasons. First, retailers already measure satisfaction, each in their own way (to a greater or lesser extent); but they don’t share this with suppliers. Their internal researchers tend to shrug and think it’s up to suppliers what research they do, basically the attitude of “it’s not my problem”. Nor do many retailers even share this data very far internally (I doubt many buyers are tasked with a sat metric).  It’s definitely not measured at a category level.

Second, it would be very expensive for any one company to measure satisfaction as granular as category by category, which is what anyone manufacturer cares most about. I know Walmart does, but they are probably the only one.  No one is looking for big new costs right now, are they? But surely category level is where category management and shopper marketing work happens, huge investments week in week out? So don’t we need to measure satisfaction at that level?

The third reason is probably the key one – habit. We don’t miss what we never had, and because senior management didn’t grow up thinking about shopper satisfaction as a factual matter, they never ask about it. So middle management doesn’t care about it. Junior management isn’t even trained in it (I remember running training courses with The Partnering Group where the ppt slide on “measurement” literally had a blank under the heading of ‘the shopper’). What gets measured gets done. And conversely, if it’s not measured, frankly it’s pretty much ignored.

The result of this blind spot is significant. It’s not just the fact we miss a nice to have the metric. Actually, what happens is the shopper as the end arbiter of success is often completely missing from internal discussions, absent from plans and skipped over in proposals. Yes, the shopper is talked about, but without data to guide decisions, this is a subjective and somewhat fruitless conversation.

It’s not easy to suggest an entire Industry is missing a piece of the knowledge jigsaw. Particularly when it’s been missing forever, and particularly when the existing data is overwhelming in scale and horrendously expensive. I can understand any research buyer thinking “surely with all this expenditure, I know everything I need to know?”

But I’d ask any CPG manufacturer to take a step back and think if you could only know one thing to talk to your retailer about what would it be? I’d contest that “what do your shoppers want?” is the mission-critical question.  That means talking about shopper satisfaction benchmarks and other direct “voice of the shopper” inputs.

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2 responses to “Retailer Planning: Drowning in Data

  1. You seem to ignore the fact that the goal of category management initiatives are better sales and/or higher profitability. Shopper satisfaction is a necessary condition, but bad stores don’t last, so most stores are sufficiently satisfying. Focusing on increasing satisfaction is no guarantee (and yes, I’ve seen all the Bain research) of increased sales. And asking shoppers what they want in a category has never been shown to produce useful information. Needs are almost always satisfied – it’s a question of marketing.

    1. Thanks for the input Stephen, but I guess you and I will have to agree to disagree. For sure, “bad stores don’t last” but it’s a long slow process that management are tasked with correcting rather than just accepting. Bain to my mind (and most retailers’) have proven that satisfaction is linked to sales and profitability. Not a guarantee, certainly, but a lead indicator. We’d not advise asking shoppers directly “what do you want”; rather we’d extrapolate this conclusion from other measures. But without data, it’s just guesswork.

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