Retail Research Revisited - AIMRI meets in Porto

In March 2007, AIMRI gathered in the elegant splendour of the Hotel Infante de Sagres located in Porto, Portugal. Porto, a thriving industrial city with ancient roots, wonderfully preserved old quarters, and bustling shopping districts, is Portugal's second largest city. The hotel, a short distance to the river Douro and the big lodges of Port wine for which the city is named, was an idyllic venue for the conference entitled, Retail Research Revisited. Snug in the conference room, we sat in our chairs with visions of Tawny's and Vintage Port dancing in air. However, our thirst for knowledge did not succumb to our thirst for Port as a great line up of speakers presented fascinating papers throughout the day.

Nicky Perott presented a fabulous paper entitled, Retail Websites 101. Yes, sometimes going back to the basics provides the most powerful insights. Nicky's paper emphasized that many retailers in launching their retail websites are disconnected with the customer motivations that that led them to shop online in the first place. Customers are looking for what Nicky calls the 3Cs: Convenience, Choice, and Cost Savings. The 3Cs form the pillars upon which any retail website should built, yet countless large and sophisticated retailers have seemingly neglected these simple precepts. In fact, Nicky went on to explain that retailers have been slow to recognize that their websites are critical touch points for the brand, and poorly designed websites have a negative effect on brand health.

Kevin Simpson of EBOX took us through the sobering reality (and excitement) of the growth on the web as a research medium. Nay-sayers of internet research beware for the opportunities offered by the internet in terms of speed, costs, convenience, and innovation far outweigh its perceived methodological shortcomings. A whole society with its own dynamics and behaviour now resides within the Cyber world of the internet, defined by communities such as Myspace or Utube, forums for the exchange of ideas and opinion such as chat rooms and blogs, a rapidly changing lexicon (CUL8R or LOL), a vast network of retail websites, and the list goes on. Internet is the future, is now and the platform must be embraced as a research platform for the market and consumers we so often research are now live online and this is where we must go to find them!

Juergen Bluhm of ProFakt Market Research presented a highly informative paper on the usage of eye tracking technology in the development of pack design and point of sale materials. The advantages of eye tracking is that it provides a quantitative approach to the evaluation of package design with highly actionable findings, unbiased by social connotation or perceived pressure that consumers sometimes feel when put in a test situation. The system records each person's focal point and thus documents the impact of different visual stimuli on brand visibility. Ultimately, ProFakt's system quantifies what shoppers see and what they ignore when looking at a shelf, package, or any marketing collateral; what path their eyes take in scanning; and how quickly they see it. Juergen ended his presentation with three simple jewels of package design wisdom: Keep it simple, avoid brand contradictions, and be visible. Remember, Juergen says, 'Unseen is unsold!'

The presentation of Leonor Ferros de Azevedo of Modelo Continente - 20 Years of change - provided a wonderful look into how the retail scene within Portugal has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, mirroring the country's dramatic change as well. Modelo Continente's philosophy of embracing and anticipating change has been woven into the fabric of the organization's strategic planning through a rigorous consumer research process which integrates the voice of the customer directly into the marketing process culminating in the rapid conversion of consumer needs into business action. This rapid conversion has been crucial to their success as the balance of power between consumers and retailers is now skewed towards consumers who are well aware of their power and do not hesitate to use it. The ethos behind Modelo Continente'™s leadership is an attitude of permanent dissatisfaction with what has already been achieved, a permanent restlessness with their customers, and a permanent quest to listen.

The presentation of Leonor Ferros de Azevedo of Modelo Continente - 20 Years of change - provided a wonderful look into how the retail scene within Portugal has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, mirroring the country's dramatic change as well. Modelo Continente's philosophy of embracing and anticipating change has been woven into the fabric of the organization's strategic planning through a rigorous consumer research process which integrates the voice of the customer directly into the marketing process culminating in the rapid conversion of consumer needs into business action. This rapid conversion has been crucial to their success as the balance of power between consumers and retailers is now skewed towards consumers who are well aware of their power and do not hesitate to use it. The ethos behind Modelo Continente'™s leadership is an attitude of permanent dissatisfaction with what has already been achieved, a permanent restlessness with their customers, and a permanent quest to listen.

Carlos Figueiredo & Miguel Faias of GfK presented an in depth look at how their fact based consulting can help durables manufacturers address disruptive technologies that eventually could threaten their long term profitability. Disruptive technologies are technological innovations, products, or services that eventually overturn the existing dominant technology or product in the market. There are some well know examples of market disruption including the digital camera, the mp3 player, the plasma television, and of course internet! We were provided with an interesting case study of the capsule coffee maker market within Portugal, highlighting the upheaval ushered by Nespresso. The conclusion was that to manufacturers must closely monitor the market in order to identify impending change and develop strategies that will ensure they minimize the operational and strategic gap between financial targets and cruel market realities.

Raul Ramos Pinto of Sogrape gave a heart warming and thirst creating (for Port wine of course) presentation of Sandeman brand marketing strategy! The presentation opened with a superb concise history of Porto wine and its evolution within the global market. He went on to discuss the strategy behind Sandeman, a brand that has over 200 hundred years of history! Sandeman aims to keep improving brand value, grow its global presence as a brand within a mature market and meet the diverse needs of its consumers. Market research plays a central role in delivering on the Sandeman strategy by providing them with a conduit for constantly understanding the market, their image, and the steps necessary to maintain brand relevance. The deep insights Sandeman have generated from their consumer research has culminated in their unique brand position: Sandeman, the genuine taste of a contemporary and sensual lifestyle famous for pleasure.

Joe Seydel of Rosslyn Research took us through the darker side of channel marketing where large manufacturers use their commercial dominance to prevent other brands from entering the market, a practice which runs counter to the spirit of a brand market place based on brand merit. His presentation demonstrated how market research, using a large scale quantitative methodology, was deployed across a number of European markets to support an EU investigation into unfair competitive practices by a large impulse purchase ice cream manufacturer. Rosslyn's rigorous, strict, and disciplined research approach demonstrated the power of market research to support brands even during a difficult period of their lifecycle.

Finally, after a full day of intensive knowledge sharing, our intellectual thirst rewarded, our physical thirst for Port was also satiated. 

John & Corinna Presutti, Confield Research, Essen, Germany

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