3 Reasons Why Your Consumer Insights Are Being Ignored
September 12, 2022
Imagine you’re sitting in another line review meeting listening to product creators argue over which style of men’s shorts to drop and which to adopt. Luckily, you prepared for this exact moment. You spent hours combing through consumer data to uncover which inseam for shorts your shoppers prefer. You have all the evidence you need to support the conclusion that short shorts are back!
You let the group know there’s no need to guess anymore and explain your findings. But instead of excitement over the opportunity to deliver exactly what consumers want, you’re met with skeptical looks and a verdict you didn’t expect. Ultimately, the team ignores your recommendation and decides to place their bets on longer shorts instead. Does this sound familiar?
Ignored But Not Alone
Nearly 75% of product and merchant professionals believe their brands must become more data-informed to remain competitive. MakerSights Co-founder and CEO Dan Leahy says, “Today’s top brands use consumer data to inform every assortment decision they make, from seasonal direction to investment depths. The value really is incremental because every decision you make with the consumer in mind makes the next one stronger, easier, and faster.”
Consumer insights professionals have been tasked with making the shift to data-informed product strategies happen, but the job is much easier said than done. Although most companies understand that data is vital to their success, a recent study showed that while 81% of retailers collect data, 84% still struggle to act on it.
This dilemma raises a lot of questions for Consumer Insights teams: What’s the right mix of quantitative and qualitative questions? Is the data easy for others to digest, understand, and act on? Are people even using the insights to make better decisions?
Let’s look at three reasons your consumer insights may be going unheard and underutilized.
Reason #1: Product Creation Teams Aren’t Ready to Hear You
Historically, brands were in control of determining trends and creating demand rather than having to respond to consumer needs and desires. The power was in the hands of the designers and product teams as consumers looked to them to set the tone and guide their purchasing decisions. Leaders in the fashion industry became accustomed to making assortment decisions based on their own opinions, intuition, and experiences.
However, this power dynamic has shifted. Today’s consumers know exactly what they want from brands, and there are thousands of retailers competing to be the first to deliver. The brands that come out on top are those that take a consumer-obsessed approach to product creation, tune into the voice of the consumer, and pay close attention to their ever-evolving needs.
Unfortunately, so much autonomy and esteem can be difficult for product creators to give up. Feelings of frustration and resentment are common during this transition period. No one likes to feel like their creativity is being constrained or hear when they’re wrong, and stakeholders are often so passionate about their opinions and making their voices heard that arguments ensue, putting Consumer Insights teams in a difficult position.
Break Down Barriers
We recommend a three-step approach to break through this barrier and help your product creation team open up to consumer insights:
Grow Relationships and Cultivate Empathy. For New Balance, successfully integrating data into product creation hinged on building trust across teams. As the brand’s Director of Consumer Insights shared at a recent PI Apparel event, “Before we introduced any systems or said here’s a new standard, we were embedded in those go-to-market meetings. We were walking the halls with merchants. We were looking at physical samples with designers. We have a great deal of empathy for all of the touchpoints and all of the decisions that need to be made as we go to market.”
Demonstrate How Insights Can Work in Your Team’s Favor. Typically, your team will have many opinions and gut feelings that are right on point. This presents a terrific opportunity to start by sharing data that backs up these instincts and presenting it as a tool to validate their direction and make more confident decisions. Over time, after you build trust and appreciation for valuable insights, you can begin adding data that offers a contradictory or alternative perspective.
Set Expectations and Share Best Practices. Educate your team about the hurdles and best practices associated with data analysis, and make them aware of common challenges and opportunities they’ll face before they arise. For example, rather than waiting for a stakeholder to exhibit confirmation bias, teach the team about people’s natural tendencies to approach or interpret data in a way that confirms their pre-existing thoughts or beliefs. That way they can learn to spot this behavior in one another, work to actively avoid it, and be more receptive to correction when it occurs.
Reason #2: Brands Need More Micro-level Insights
Consumer Insights teams are tasked with providing product creators with both macro- and micro-level research. Macro-level insights include market dynamics, seasonal trends, and overall sales performance. Micro-level insights include consumer sentiment around specific product design attributes, cannibalizing styles, and products that won't attract any additional or new consumers to the line.
While macro-level insights can be utilized at scale and across various teams and assortments, consumer insights professionals are often buried under an avalanche of ad hoc micro-level requests for answers to questions like:
Do consumers prefer a specific color, print, or pattern with a particular silhouette?
Should this t-shirt include a pocket for audience segment A or audience segment B?
Are two sneaker styles competing for sales and cannibalizing one another?
These types of insights are the most valuable for designers and product teams, but they’re time-consuming and challenging to produce using traditional methods such as focus groups and spreadsheets. Even conventional Customer Experience (CX) technology providers and consumer research consulting firms offer high-level, static reports that take weeks – sometimes months – to deliver rather than timely, actionable, micro-level insights. Because of this, consumer insights professionals often wind up overwhelmed and unable to provide detailed intelligence with the speed and nuance product creators need.
Leverage the Latest Technology
Fortunately, developments in purpose-built, retail-specific Voice of Consumer technology have made it possible for Consumer Insights teams to rapidly collect and evaluate both qualitative and quantitative feedback from diverse consumer segments. This includes consumer sentiment on specific product colorways, patterns, fabrics, silhouettes, and other key details that product creation teams need to craft lines that their target consumers will love.
What’s more, these companies usually have Customer Success experts who partner with Consumer Insights teams and their cross-functional colleagues throughout the consumer testing process. They go beyond transactional reporting and high-level best practices to develop a deep understanding of a brand’s unique business goals and create custom testing strategies and plans that deliver granular, actionable, and statistically-sound insights from target consumers in hours – not weeks or months.
Reason #3: It’s Too Difficult to Make Sense of the Insights
Not everyone is comfortable analyzing or referencing data — and that’s okay! However, this puts a lot of pressure on Consumer Insights teams to translate data for designers and product creators. How much time do you spend manually creating pivot tables and building custom dashboards in an attempt to make data easier to digest? Probably a lot.
That’s why industry-leading Consumer Insights teams turn to Voice of Consumer solutions that were built specifically to answer the kinds of questions that apparel, footwear, and accessories creators have and automatically transform consumer data into dynamic visualizations and intuitive analytics. The resulting graphics make it easy for anyone who is not a data expert to understand and interact with data. Filtering and drag-and-drop functionality update graphs and columns in real-time, enabling product creation teams to double-click into the data and answer many of their own follow-up questions independently.
Not only does this save Consumer Insights teams significant time better spent conducting micro-level analyses or educating the larger organization on the importance of data-informed decision-making, but it also helps ensure that the insights the team provides are actioned in a timely and accurate manner.
Make Data Approachable
Here are a couple of examples of the types of intuitive graphs and charts that can make consumer insights more accessible and approachable for the stakeholders within your brand:
Consumer Sentiment Analysis
Consumer sentiment for each product in the assortment is clearly displayed, with styles with the highest appeal in green, those with average sentiment in gray, and those with the least appeal in orange. (Pro tip: On average, styles in the top 25%, or green, outsell styles in the bottom 25%, or orange, by 2.2x!)
SKU Rationalization with Interactive Reach Measurement
This graph illustrates the incremental Reach of each new style in an assortment, or which product mix appeals to the most consumers using the fewest number of SKUs possible. The clarity of this visualization makes it easy to spot where the long tail begins so you can cut items that don’t attract a significant number of new consumers to the line. Exploring different scenarios that optimize SKU productivity across different regions and channels is as easy as dragging and dropping products in and out of the lineup.
Turn up the Volume on Consumer Insights
The key to creating assortments that consumers love is to listen closely to what they want and need. As options continue to multiply and consumers take control of demand, the need for product creators to tune into the voice of the consumer and work closely with their Consumer Insights teams will become increasingly critical.
As former Stitch Fix General Manager Lisa Bougie puts it: “Businesses that have consumer data at the center of decision-making ultimately make for a prosperous and virtuous cycle that literally benefits every single stakeholder. I honestly have a hard time understanding how any modern brand can stay in business without consumer data and the technologies that ultimately make it easier to capture and consume.”
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