In today’s retail world, it’s important you stand out and stay ahead of your competition, but that is becoming increasingly harder to do, as speed is a necessity and competition intensifies. You may be investing resources, effort and money responding to what your competitors are doing, but are you sure of what’s in it for the customer? The real problem could be that you might not be spending enough time understanding what your ‘customer problem’ is.
First problem find, not problem solve
You can probably articulate your retail problems – falling revenues or margin decline – but what are the customer problems you are trying to solve? And how do you find them? These questions are your key to growth and competitive advantage.
The sweet spot lies between a retail problem and a customer problem – a solution that you can commercialise, which consumers actually want or need. The answer is to first problem find, not problem solve.
If we don’t take the time to dig deep, to observe and figure out what is really going on for customers, then we throw time, money and resources into something that may fail to have any impact on our business at all – except wasted time, money and resources.
Step into their shoes
You need to be able to walk in the shoes of your customer. To find clues and collect insights that build a holistic picture of your customers’ experiences. You must spend time discovering their hopes, fears and values, and viewing the world through their eyes, noticing what delights them and observing their irritations and frustrations.
You need to curiously observe what people say, and what they do, and seek to understand what matters to them. This is the best starting point to finding the right problems to solve.
It is not always practical to spend time in people’s homes or shadow them on a customer experience, but you can still gather clues using empathy to personally step through a customer experience.
For example, several years ago, Coles Supermarkets launched its $150 basket shop. John Durkan, Managing Director of Coles, gave senior management the ultimate challenge: to buy a week’s worth of groceries for just $150, that’s how much a low-income family has to spend at the supermarket, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Expenditure Survey.
Natalie Mitchell, Research Manager at Coles, explained how the research program worked.
“We would explain that you’ve got a family of four, with two teenage kids, and we need you to buy six dinners, school lunches, and assume everything is in the pantry, so you don’t have to buy salt and pepper and flour. You’ve got to buy a toothbrush; you’re out of shampoo, you’re out of toothpaste, and a couple of other items like that. And your kids are having an Xbox party this week. Executives would then be given a 45-minute time limit in which to complete their task, to replicate the shopping experience of busy mums and dads.”
Reports back from the experience included comments like ‘frustrating’ because multi-buy specials forced to buy more to get a good price.
While others lamented the challenge of trying to buy healthy, fresh options and watching the price of fresh produce eat away at the budget.
In the background, the Coles research team invited mums to critique the executive trolleys and give them scores.
Natalie explained, “There were some executives who would buy two litres of milk for the week and a mum would say, ‘How is that going to feed two teenage sons? You can’t have two apples; we needed 20.’ It was a real eye-opener for the executives who found a number of issues from being directly involved in the activity.”
Curiosity is the tool we use to find our customer’s most valuable problems; to turn our insights into opportunities. You need to become curious to identify what matters most to your customers.
Having this deep understanding of your customer needs and problems is essential to inspiring growth. When you understand your real customer problems (not the perceived ones), then you start to solve their problems and begin to stimulate growth opportunities for your retail business, by implementing initiatives that will truly benefit (not drain) your bottom line.
About the Author
Evette Cordy is curious – and she’s passionate about making you curious, too. As an innovation expert, registered psychologist, chief investigator and co-founder at Agents of Spring, she identifies opportunities and facilitates new ways of thinking in organisations. Visit www.agentsofspring.com